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Quit smoking: The time is now

Posted 11/7/2012   Updated 11/7/2012 Email story   Print story


by Will Carpenter
Health and Wellness Center

11/7/2012 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Many people wait to make their New Year's resolution in January, and a number of those resolutions will be to stop the use of tobacco. However, New Year's is eight weeks away. Rather than waiting, Hanscom personnel are encouraged to take the steps to quit by Jan. 1 and begin the new year with one goal already completed.

Nov. 15 is the Great American Smokeout. This day is dedicated to members who are ready to make a change and quit smoking. The most important thing anyone can do to have a healthy lifestyle and reduce the risk of disease is to stop using tobacco.

Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death in America. Approximately 63,000 Airmen, or 20.4 percent, use some form of tobacco. Hanscom has 190, or 13.5 percent, active duty personnel who actively use tobacco products.

Tobacco places the user at risk for numerous cancers and lung diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smokers are not the only ones affected. Secondhand smoke causes 3,400 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. each year. The following, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are causes and numbers of deaths directly attributed to smoking.

Lip, mouth, and throat cancer: 4,868
Cancer of the stomach, esophagus, and pancreas: 17,319
Chronic airway obstruction: 75,074
Heart disease: 107,744
Lung cancer; cancer of the trachea or bronchus: 123,836
All diseases and conditions caused by smoking, including those affecting children: 437,902

Smoking not only increases user's risk of disease, but can also impact performance. Tobacco use negatively impacts run times on the Air Force Physical Fitness Test. The longer a member smokes, the worse run times become. In 25 to 29 year old smokers, their run averaged 30 seconds slower than nonsmokers on the PFT. By the time members reach the 40 to 44 year old category, the difference is upwards of one minute.

The cardiovascular component of the physical fitness test is 60 percent of the overall score. The easiest way to increase the score, and run time, is to quit tobacco use.

A common misconception is that it takes months or years to reap the benefits of quitting tobacco. However, nicotine is completely out of the body in 72 hours. The following illustrates the health benefits from quitting.

Tobacco free timeframe and benefits:
20 minutes: Heart rate and blood pressure decrease
12 hours: Carbon monoxide level is normal
2-12 weeks: Circulation improves and lung functions increases
1-9 months: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease
1 year: Coronary heart disease risk is half that of a smoker
5 years: Risk of stroke equals that of a non-smoker
10 years: Lung cancer death rate is half that of a smoker
15 years: Risk of coronary heart disease is the same as non-smoker

Users who decide to quit smoking will go through four main stages during the process: Thinking about quitting, preparing to quit, quitting and staying tobacco free.

During the first stage, users will contemplate reasons to attempt quitting. Creating a list of reasons can be utilized to help motivate a person through the other three stages of change.

At the preparing to quit stage, it is important to recognize triggers and set a quit date. Triggers are causes, situations or instances that push a person to utilize tobacco. A quit date is important because it establishes a timeline. Once someone has a target date, they are more likely to understand that quitting is a possibility.

During the quitting stage users should set themselves up for success. Tips for this would include: Skipping the smoke pit during a work break, keeping your hands busy and having an escape plan if a situation becomes difficult.

The final stage, staying tobacco free, is a day-to-day process. Something that has been part of one's daily life for so long will not just go away, but each successful day brings a person one step closer to being a success story. It may be difficult to stay motivated through this process. One way to combat this is to tell people who are close to you about your efforts. Friends, family and co-workers are a great source to encourage someone along their journey.

Smokers should remember that relapses do sometimes happen, but it is important to not give up and learn from every situation. They should also look at cost savings by placing the usual tobacco costs in a jar. At the end of a tobacco free month, reward yourself. The average airman 1st class spends the equivalent of one month's base salary on tobacco products annually.

There are a number of resources available to help people quit within the Hanscom community. The Health and Wellness Center offers a tobacco cessation course the first three Wednesdays of the month from noon to 1 p.m. A medical provider is available for the first and third classes to assist with medications for active duty members, dependants and retirees should they choose them as part of their quit effort.

For the civilian and contractor work force, they may still attend the classes but will receive medications through their private doctor.

The class allows attendees to meet others who have the same goals. It gives them techniques to ensure people may quit for the long term.

The American Lung Association offers the Freedom From Smoking Course, which is an online support program consisting of eight different self-paced lessons designed to help with the day-to-day difficulties of quitting and provide methods to aid people in the quitting process. This is a helpful tool for individuals who are too busy to attend class sessions. More information is available at www.lungusa.org.

Finally, there is a 24/7 quit line available for use at 1-866-QUIT-YES (1-866-784-8937).

For further information about quitting smoking or to sign up for a class, contact the HAWC at 781-225-6374 or 66.mds.hawc@hanscom.af.mil.

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