Lung gone: Why and how to quit smoking in the year 2016

There is The Biggest Loser; why isn’t there The Biggest Quitter? Well, now you can be the biggest quitter when you finally give up smoking for good. It may be easier said than done, but giving up tobacco is all in the mind. With that in, well, mind, let’s try a sort of aversion therapy – kind of like when Alex DeLarge was subjected to the Ludovico Technique. I want you to read this, and next time you think about smoking, think about all of the things that little burning cylinder does to you and those around you, as detailed below.

Why quit smoking

Surgeon General’s findings on smoking and health

·         There is no safe level of exposure to cigarette smoke.  Any exposure to tobacco smoke is harmful – even an occasional cigarette after sex or secondhand smoke.

·         Damage from tobacco smoke is immediate. Tobacco smoke has over more than 7,000 chemicals and chemical compounds that reach your lungs with every inhale. Your blood then circulates the poisons all through your body, damaging DNA which can cause cancer; damaging blood vessels and causing clotting, which can in turn cause heart attacks and strokes; and damaging the lungs, which can cause asthma attacks, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.

·         The longer you smoke the more you damage yourself. Both the risk and the severity of many diseases caused by smoking are in direct proportion to how long you have smoked and the number of cigarettes smoked per day.

·         Cigarettes are designed to be addictive. The design and contents of tobacco products make them more attractive and addictive than ever before. Nicotine addiction keeps people smoking even if they want to quit.

·         Even low levels of exposure, including secondhand tobacco smoke, are dangerous. You don’t have to be a heavy smoker or a long-time smoker to have a smoking-related disease or have a heart attack or smoke-triggered stroke triggered.

·         No safe cigarette is safe.

On nicotine dependence

·         The majority of smokers become addicted to nicotine, a naturally-occurring drug found in tobacco.

·         Research indicates that nicotine may be as addictive as heroin, cocaine, and alcohol. In fact, more people are addicted to nicotine in the United States than any other drug.

·         People often quit smoking only to pick it up again to relieve the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, which include irritability, anger, anxiety, having trouble thinking, craving tobacco and related products, and feeling hungrier than usual.

Smoking and Cancer

It would be bad enough if smoking only caused cancer in the lungs. As it turns out, though, smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body – they don’t call them cancer sticks for nothing –, including:

·         The trachea.

·         The bronchus.

·         The esophagus.

·         The oral cavity.

·         The lips.

·         The nasopharynx.

·         The stomach.

·         The bladder.

·         The pancreas.

·         The kidneys.

·         The liver.

·         The uterus.

·         The cervix.

·         The colon and rectum.

·         And it also causes leukemia.

Of the more than 7,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, some 70 can cause cancer – which is not to say that the remaining 6930 are as pure as the driven snow.

·         DNA. As mentioned above, the toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke can damage the DNA and cause cells to grow abnormally. In normal circumstances the body releases special cells that kill the cells growing out of control, but tobacco smoke hinders that defense mechanism and enables the abnormal cells to keep growing unchecked.

·         Lung cancer. This is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women. One out of every three cancer deaths in this U.S. is from smoking, and about 9 out of 10 lung cancers are caused by smoking.

·         Other cancers. Evidence has linked smoking to liver and colorectal cancers, the latter of which is the second deadliest cancer among those affecting both men and women. Studies have also suggested that smoking may cause breast cancer, and that prostate cancer patients who smoke may be likelier to die from the condition than former smokers.

·         Treatment. People who continue smoking during cancer treatment are more likely to die from their original cancer as well as from a secondary cancer, and of all other causes than former smokers and people who have never smoked.

Smoking and Breathing

Tobacco smoke immediately damages the body’s cells and tissue, especially those lining the path between the mouth and the lungs’ air sacs. Continual exposure to the chemicals in tobacco smoke leaves damaged lung tissue little chance for recovery.  

Smoking-related respiratory disease

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Shortened to COPD, this is an umbrella term for a variety of underlying conditions, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The airways are damaged almost beyond repair, and the lungs lose their elasticity. Symptoms include:

·         Shortness of breath.

·         Coughing.

·         Difficulty exercising.

·         air trapped in their lungs

·         Swollen airways.

·         Scar tissue.

·         Trouble performing daily activities like walking and dressing.

COPD eventually leads to low blood oxygen levels and increases the risk of lung cancer and heart disease. Almost 8 in 10 COPD deaths are a result of smoking.


This is a well known airborne infection of the lungs. What you may not know is that evidence strongly suggests that people who smoke have a higher risk of contracting tuberculosis and dying as a result.


Research indicates that young people who smoke are more likely to develop asthma – which affects over 11% of American high school students. Secondhand smoke can trigger asthma attacks.

Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke develop more respiratory infections that children who aren’t.


Smoking and Heart Disease

Smoking is quick to damage the heart and blood vessels, and causes a buildup of plaque that can narrow and block the arteries – known as coronary heart disease, part of a group of conditions called cardiovascular disease (CVD) and which includes hypertension, heart attack, stroke, and angina. Smoking, even as few as five cigarettes a day, can lead to the early stages of CVD. The more cigarettes you smoke a day and the longer your smoke, the higher your risk of developing CVD. Even worse, more than 33,000 non-smokers die each year in the U.S. from coronary heart disease caused by secondhand smoke exposure.

Smoking-related cardiovascular diseases

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)

Tobacco smoke causes the cells lining the blood vessels to swell. As a result the arteries narrow and blood flow to the legs, feet, arms, or hands is reduced. People with PAD may experience pain when walking, and in serious cases develop gangrene due to the death of oxygen-deprived cells.

Coronary heart disease

Chemicals in tobacco smoke thicken the blood and cause it to form clots inside veins and arteries, even when clotting – an otherwise natural function – is not necessary. Clots can form where there is plaque, the formation of which smoking also promotes. Clots can easily block arteries that are already narrowed from smoking. Blocked arteries means the oxygen supply to regional organs is cut off. If that organ happens to be the heart, heart attack and sudden death are not far off.


Strokes occur when arteries that convey blood to the brain are blocked or narrowed by a clot – starting to see a trend here? – or when a blood vessel leaks or ruptures inside the brain. A stroke can cause permanent dain bramage and death. Deaths from strokes are more common in smokers than in former smokers or people who have never smoked.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm

Smoking is known to harden the abdominal aorta – which carries blood to the abdomen, pelvis, and legs – and cause an aneurysm. A burst abdominal aortic aneurysm leads life-threatening bleeding. Most deaths from abdominal aortic

aneurysm are caused by smoking and other tobacco use.


Smoking and fertility and pregnancy

Women who smoke have difficulties becoming pregnant because, as studies have suggested, smoking affects hormone production. And women smokers who do get pregnant but continue smoking during gestation endanger their unborn children. And newborns that are exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome.

Smoking and reproduction

Pregnancy complications

Ectopic pregnancy, in which the fertilized egg attaches in the fallopian tubes or to other organs outside the womb instead of moving to the uterus, is invariably fatal to the fetus and is also dangerous to the mother. Miscarriage, preterm delivery, and low birth weight are other potential complications.

Birth defects

Cleft lips and/or cleft palates may be expected in babies of mothers who smoke during early pregnancy.

Male sexuality

Smoking is one of the causes that 18 million men over the age of 20 suffer from erectile dysfunction. Proper circulation is essential to achieve an erection, and as we’ve seen time and again, smoking has a way of screwing up your blood flow. In addition, tobacco smoke damages sperm DNA which can result in infertility.


Other smoking-related complications

·         Diabetes. Smokers have a 30%-40% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than non-smokers. By itself, diabetes can cause heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and nerve and blood vessel damage of the feet and legs. But people with diabetes who smoke are more likely to experience eye disease that can cause blindness; nerve damage that can cause numbness, pain, weakness, and poor circulation; and amputations. Diabetic smokers are more likely to have kidney failure than non-smokers as well.

·         Immune system. Smoking weakens the immune system, making the body less adept at fighting conditions ranging from a cold to cancer. Smokers have more respiratory infections, need to see the doctor more often, are admitted to the hospital more often, and have worse health overall than smokers. Cigarette smoke can also cause autoimmune disorders.

·         Eye disease. Tobacco smoke chemicals damage the minuscule blood vessels in the eye, preventing them from conveying enough oxygen throughout the ocular globe. Smoking can cause age-related macular degeneration – an eye condition that causes vision loss in the center of the field of vision – and cataracts, of which we all have heard.

Quitting smoking

Now that we have seen all of the evils of smoking, let’ have a look at the benefits of quitting, shall we:

·         Reduced risk for lung cancer and many other types of cancer.    

·         Decreased risk for heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.    

·         Lowered heart disease risk within 1-2 years of quitting.    

·         Reduced respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. While these symptoms may not disappear, they do not progress at the same rate among people who quit compared with those who continue to smoke.    

·         Lowered risk of developing some lung diseases (like our friend chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).     Decreased risk for infertility in women of childbearing age. Women who stop smoking during pregnancy also reduce their risk of having a low birth weight baby.

·         Reduced risk of early death.

Giving up tobacco is one of the hardest things one can attempt, but it isn’t impossible, and numbers, like hips, don’t lie:

Attempts to quit by smokers

Among all current U.S. adult cigarette smokers, nearly 7in  10 (68.8%) reported in 2010 that they wanted to quit completely

·         Since 2002, former smokers have greatly outnumbered current smokers.

% of adult daily cigarette smokers who stopped smoking for more than 1 day in 2012 because they were trying to quit

·         More than 4 in 10 (42.7%) of all adult smokers.    

·         Nearly 5 in 10 (48.5%) smokers aged 18–24 years.    

·         More than 4 in 10 (46.8%) smokers aged 25–44 years.    

·         Nearly 4 in 10 (38.8%) smokers aged 45–64 years.    

·         More than 3 in 10 (34.6%) smokers aged 65 years or older.

% of high school cigarette smokers who tried to stop smoking in the past 12 months

·         Nearly 5 in 10 (48%) of all high school students who smoke.


How to quit smoking

If you still don’t want to quit after reading all of the above, then not only do you have a death wish but you also want to take as many people down with you as you can. But if that’s not the case, then let’s proceed to the how to quit part – and afterward maybe we’ll move on to ‘how to recognize different types of trees from quite a long way away.’

Quitting smoking

Develop a plan

·         Set a date to quit, preferably within two weeks.

·         Tell relatives and friends who can support you that you’re quitting.

·         List your reasons for quitting – e.g., saving money, watching your children grow, not going blind, being able to have an erection, etc.

·         Identify triggers that make you want to smoke and avoid them.

·         Remove tobacco products from home, car, and office (including that pack taped to the inner wall of the toilet tank).

·         Anticipate the symptoms of withdrawal.

·         Ask others not to smoke around you – conversely, do not linger around people who smoke.

Use free resources

·         1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or 1-855-DÉJELO-YA (1-855-335-3569) (in case you smoke Cigarrillos Faros).    

·         Smokefree TXT.    

·         Online help.    

·         Smokefree App.


·         Pregnant women or women who are nursing, and people who have a serious medical condition, are using other medications, or younger than 18 should consult a doctor before using medications that can relieve withdrawal symptoms and reduce the sinister urge to smoke.

·         Prescription nicotine medications include inhalers and nasal sprays.

·         Prescription non-nicotine medications include bupropion and varenicline tartrate.

Nicotine replacement therapies


Paradoxically, most smokers are able to quit without using a treatment backed by scientific research. That being said, the following have been proven to be effective for smokers looking for help quitting:

·         Brief help by a physician (as brief as 10 minutes or less to give a patient advice and assistance about quitting).

·         Individual, group, or telephone counseling.

·         Behavioral therapies (such as training in problem solving).    

·         Treatments with more person-to-person contact and more intensity (such as more or longer counseling sessions).

·         Programs to deliver treatments using mobile phones.

Counseling and medication are effective treatments for tobacco dependence, and even more so if used in combination rather than one or the other.





January 11th, 1964

First Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health.


42% of American adults smoke.


The U.S. is the first country to require warning labels on cigarettes.


U.S. Fairness Doctrine requires public service announcements about smoking’s health risks to counter tobacco ads on radio and TV.


The National Association of Broadcasters agrees to phase out cigarette ads on TV and radio.



37% of American adults smoke.

Congress passes the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, banning cigarette ads on TV and radio, and strengthens the Surgeon General’s warning label on cigarette packs.


The last cigarette ad airs on U.S. TV during The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.


Surgeon General’s Report discusses secondhand smoke as a health risk.


Arizona is the first state to restrict smoking in some public places.


The Army and the Navy stop providing cigarette rations to their troops.


33% of American adults smoke.


Surgeon General’s Report examines changes in how cigarettes are made and what they contain.


The Surgeon General’s warning on cigarette packs is replaced with four health warnings that appear on a rotating basis.


First Surgeon General’s Report dedicated to the health effects of secondhand smoke released.



Proposition 99 passes in California, first tobacco tax to dedicate funds for a state tobacco control program.

The Surgeon General’s Report concludes that nicotine is addictive.




26% of American adults smoke.

R.J. Reynolds ends a marketing test targeting African Americans in response to protests organized by Uptown Coalition.

Congress makes domestic airline flights smoke-free.

San Luis Obispo, California, passes first smoke-free restaurant law.


The National Cancer Institute launches the ASSIST program, supporting tobacco control programs in 17 states.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies secondhand smoke as a Group A carcinogen.


The White House becomes smoke-free.



Mississippi files first state lawsuit against U.S. tobacco companies to recover Medicaid costs for smoking-related illnesses.

Seven tobacco company executives testify to Congress that they believe nicotine is NOT addictive.


California passes first statewide smoke-free restaurant and bar law.


The FDA makes first attempt to regulate manufacture, sale and marketing of tobacco products.




Forty-six states and four tobacco companies sign Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement requiring tobacco companies to reimburse a portion of state Medicaid costs resulting from smoking.

Surgeon General’s Report examines tobacco use and disease among racial/ethnic minority groups.




The U.S. Department of Justice files lawsuit against major U.S. tobacco companies for deceiving Americans about health hazards of smoking and secondhand smoke.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launches the National Tobacco Control Program, supporting tobacco control programs in 50 states.

Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement bans outdoor and transit billboard ads for tobacco products.


23% of American adults smoke


Surgeon General’s Report calls smoking-related disease in women a full-blown epidemic.


The World Health Organization adopts the first international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.


New York passes first fire-safe cigarette law, requiring cigarettes to have fire-retardant bands in the paper wrapper that slow burn rates and prevent accidental fires.


A federal court finds major U.S. tobacco companies guilty of deceiving public on dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke.


The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act is signed into law, directing the FDA to regulate the manufacture, marketing, and sale of tobacco products.

Congress authorizes the biggest federal tobacco excise tax in U.S. history.



19% of Adult Americans smoke.

Half of U.S. states and the District of Columbia have adopted comprehensive smoke-free laws.



Surgeon General’s Report concludes that tobacco marketing causes smoking among youth and young adults.

The CDC launches Tips From Former Smokers, the first federally funded national tobacco education campaign.


18% of American adults smoke.


Related: Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do? Core health measures