Resolve to quit smoking for your health

Part 2 in our 12-month series on resolutions for real health improvement

By Dr. James Beckerman, M.D., Providence St. Vincent Heart Clinic – Cardiology, part of Providence Heart and Vascular Institute

If you really want to get healthy and you still smoke, you know what you need to do. Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do to improve your health in general, and your heart health in particular. It’s also a noble thing to do for the people you love, who are exposed to higher health risks every time you light up around them. Since February is American Heart Month, the timing is right: For your heart, and for the people near and dear to your heart, your resolution for February is to quit smoking.

Nonsmokers – you have a job to do, too. Your resolution for February is to have a heart-to-heart talk with the smokers in your life. Be honest about how their smoking affects you. Offer your support and encouragement to help them quit. And for your own health, from this month on, refuse to be a secondhand smoker any longer.

Quit for your heart

In addition to its well-known connection to lung and other cancers, smoking is one of the chief causes of heart disease, the No. 1 killer in this country.

Smoking reduces the supply of oxygen to your heart, elevates your blood pressure and heart rate, increases clotting and causes damage to the cells that line your coronary arteries – all of which leads to heart disease. According to the American Cancer Society, smokers are twice as likely as nonsmokers to have a heart attack, and five times more likely to die suddenly from a heart attack.

But here’s the good part: All of these risks start to decline as soon as you quit. By the end of your first year as a proud ex-smoker, your risk has experienced a sharp reduction. After 10 smoke-free years, your risk will be almost as low as it would be if you had never smoked.

Quit for the people near and dear to your heart

The health consequences of smoking extend beyond the smoker, affecting the nonsmokers who live with and spend time with them as well. Smokers and nonsmokers alike should be aware of these statistics:

  • The smoke that floats into the air from an idling cigarette contains much higher concentrations of toxic substances than inhaled smoke, including twice as much tar and nicotine, three times as much benzopyrene (a suspected cancer-causing agent) and 50 times as much ammonia. Just breathing that smoky air can elevate the heart rate and blood pressure of a nonsmoker.
  • According to Michael Thun, M.D., an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, nonsmokers who marry smokers increase their lung cancer risk by an average of 20 percent.
  • “Passive smoking” – that is, inhaling the smoke in the air from someone else’s cigarette – kills more than 600,000 people every year, including an estimated 379,000 deaths from heart disease, 165,000 deaths from lower respiratory disease, 36,900 deaths from asthma and 21,400 deaths from lung cancer.
  • About 165,000 children worldwide die of smoke-related respiratory infections every year.

For nonsmokers, these statistics underscore the importance of avoiding passive smoke. It’s time to lay down the law about the air you breathe. This month, make it known: smoking in your home, in your car and around your children is not allowed. Period.

Resources to help you quit

Tobacco addiction is very powerful, and each smoker needs to find his or her own personal, powerful motivation to break the addiction. Quitting may not be easy, but it’s so important that even if you’ve tried and failed before, you just need to try again. Sometimes, it takes several attempts to finally quit for good. Set a quit date this month, and fix your sights on success.

Start by reading “Best bets to help you quit smoking for good,” an article written by one of my Providence colleagues. It will give you up-to-date information on the most effective ways to quit as well as links to resources that will help you break your addiction for good. I encourage you to take advantage of every supportive resource available – the more support you have, the more likely you’ll be to succeed. I, for one, am rooting for your success.

James Beckerman, a cardiologist with the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute in Portland, Ore., is the author of “The Flex Diet.” You can learn more about him and his weight-loss philosophies at www.theflexdiet.com.