As a child of the sixties, it’s not strange that I was born to parents who smoked. Smoking was so common then it’s hard to remember anyone making something other than an ashtray when we did pottery for art class. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that by 1970 almost 40 percent of people over 18 smoked.
Another product of the sixties of a different sort was the U.S. Surgeon General’s report that linked smoking as a cause of cancer. Now, 50 years later, you would think hardly anyone smoked. Unfortunately, statistics show that in 2010 about 19% of adults still did.
Tobacco is the No. 1 actual cause of death among Americans. Smoking contributes to heart disease, cancer, stroke and lung disease. Pregnant women who smoke put their babies at higher risk for premature birth, low birth weight, still birth and sudden infant death syndrome.
If this reads like an assault on smoking, it is. Too many people that I care about still smoke. I want them to quit. They have tried and tried and haven’t found the right combination to break the addiction.
There is good news: Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death. With an emphasis on preventable, I call that an area of opportunity.
Mark Twain said: “Giving up smoking is easy. I’ve done it thousands of times.”
I recognize that quitting smoking isn’t easy, but smokers should recognize that people want to help.
Ravi Nallamothu, MD, a pulmonologist with Banner Health Clinic in Loveland, CO, oversees a smoking cessation clinic. People come to him for help to quit smoking. Sometimes they have had a health scare and landed in the hospital. Sometimes they are referred to him by their primary care physician. Some find that their breathing just keeps getting worse. Sometimes they just decide it’s time.
Dr. Ravi says smoking cessation requires a dual approach involving counseling and medication. Through counseling, a provider can help the smoker identify triggers behind smoking. For instance, people who are constantly exposed to smoking at home or work are more likely to smoke. Another trigger might be boredom. “We address those and find the motivation for quitting. Then we set a quit date,” Dr. Ravi says.
People are more likely to succeed if they combine counseling with the use of medications. Patients can use nicotine replacement therapies or medications such as Chantix or Wellbutrin that help reduce the urge to smoke.
Patients who are concerned about the cost should consider a few points. First, help from someone like Dr. Ravi is covered through Medicare and Medicaid. Private insurance coverage varies. Nicotine replacement therapies can be accessed for free through public health smoking cessation programs like 1-800-QUIT-NOW. The cost for medications also is often covered by many insurance plans, and the total net cost is far less than the cost of a year’s supply of cigarettes.
What are the costs of not quitting? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that between 2009 and 2012, costs from smoking were more than $289 billion annually. That includes $133 billion spent each year on medical care and more than $156 billion annually in lost productivity.
Then there’s lost quality of life for the smoker and his or her family.
Cigarettes are part of a lucrative industry that won’t lose this battle without a fight. There are too many people who have put up their own fight, but in the end died from illnesses caused by smoking.
With the right combination of motivation, professional support and aids, current smokers should take steps to kick their habit now.