If you think no one smokes anymore, think again; 43.8 million Americans are still puffing away on cigarettes. That’s nearly one in every five adults—but not all of them smoke every day. Up to 30 percent, in fact, are “social smokers,” those who indulge in their tobacco cravings occasionally, often in social situations.
But even social smokers need to quit, says the American Cancer Society (ACS). November 15 marks the 37th Great American Smokeout, a day spotlighting the benefits of snuffing out the cigarette habit—including lower blood pressure; better circulation; easier breathing; and reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and several types of cancer.
Need even more motivation? Puffing even one cigarette a day boosts heart attack risk by 63 percent; smoking 20 cigarettes a day quadruples it. And smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the US. Every year, smoking and exposure to secondhand tobacco fumes kill 443,000 Americans, according to the CDC.
For years, weekend smokers may have believed their habit was far less dangerous than smoking “full-time,” but a 2008 University of Georgia study proved them wrong. Published in the journal Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, it showed that arteries of occasional smokers have impaired blood flow, even when participants hadn’t smoked a cigarette in several days.
More recently, researchers at Northumbria University, publishing in the 2011 Open Addiction Journal, asked regular smokers, occasional smokers, and nonsmokers to perform a series of memory-related tasks. Not only did the occasional smokers score significantly lower than nonsmokers, researchers also found no difference between the scores of social smokers and those who use tobacco regularly. The message was clear; people who want to stay mentally sharp have to put down their cigarettes for good.
A new Oxford University study of women and longevity offers solid evidence that quitting early can add years to your life. Researchers examined the lifestyles and smoking habits of 1.2 million women between the ages of 50 to 69. About half of the women had never smoked.
The findings overwhelmingly supported stopping tobacco use. Those who quit smoking before they turned 40 reduced their risk of dying prematurely by 90 percent—and those who quit before age 30 lowered their risk by a stunning 97 percent! A separate study, published in the journal Lancet and also released in the last month, affirmed the Oxford research, concluding that women who quit smoking can lengthen their lives by at least a decade.
One of the most often-cited reasons for continuing to smoke is the fear of gaining weight. A June, 2011 study by the Yale University School of Medicine showed that nicotine reduces eating—and, consequently, helps cut down on body fat—by binding with the brain switches that regulate our satiety. Until a safe drug is discovered that can give us the same feeling of fullness, experts recommend these tips:
If you’ve decided to join the 3 million Americans who quit every year, you already know about going “cold turkey,” which only works for about 5 percent of smokers. Adding nicotine patches or gum doubles your chance of success to 10 percent—but if you’re ready to try a new tactic, here are some high-tech approaches:
The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health has created stop-smoking apps that could be valuable tools in your arsenal:
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