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It's never too late to quit - today is the Great American Smokeout

November 17, 2016

The Great American Smokeout has arrived.

Every year, on the third Thursday of November (this year on Nov. 17), smokers across the nation participate in the American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout event to try to quit smoking.

Just about everyone should know by now that smoking is a major cause of lung cancer. But, what some don’t realize is that smoking is also a major cause of heart disease.

“Smoking is the cause of one of every three deaths from cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Quinn Pack, a preventive cardiologist in the Heart & Vascular Program at Baystate Medical Center.

Smoking isn't just about lung cancer

“Smoking can result in all kinds of health problems, such as blood clots in the lungs or legs. Inhaled smoke doesn’t just travel into your lungs, but throughout your entire body. So, it’s a big misconception that smoking is only about lung cancer,” said Dr. Pack.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking can:

  • Raise triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood)
  • Lower "good" cholesterol (HDL)
  • Make blood sticky and more likely to clot, which can block blood flow to the heart and brain
  • Damage cells that line the blood vessels
  • Increase the buildup of plaque (fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances) in blood vessels
  • Cause thickening and narrowing of blood vessels.

It's never too late to quit

Dr. Pack said if you are considering quitting, but are older and have been smoking for a long time, there is no age beyond which it is too late to quit.

“There is no time like the present to quit. Medical studies have shown clearly that those in their sixties and seventies benefit from quitting. So, don’t delay. Do it now and you’ll be glad you did,” said Dr. Pack

The American Cancer Society lists a number of ways your body recovers after quitting.

Here’s a look at just some of them:

  • After 20 minutes your heart rate and blood pressure drop.
  • In 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
  • In two weeks to three months, your circulation improves, and your lung function increases.
  • In 1-9 months, coughing and shortness of breath decreases, cilla start to regain normal functioning in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs, and reduce the risk of infection.
  • In one year, the excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of someone who continues to smoke and your heart attack risk drops dramatically.

Help to stop smoking

Dr. Pack has three suggestions for those who want to stop smoking.

“First, if you can’t quit on the Smokeout date for some reason, choose another day, perhaps one that has special meaning for you like your birthday or wedding anniversary, and stick with it,” said Dr. Pack.

“Also, talk with your doctor and get some help. There are nicotine patches, nicotine gum, and various drugs and medications. If used correctly, these can double, triple or even quadruple your success rate in quitting,” added Dr. Pack.

Lastly, the Baystate cardiologist recommends calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help. The toll-free number is operated by the National Cancer Institute and will connect you directly to your state’s tobacco quitline. State quitlines provide a variety of services, including brief advice about quitting, individual counseling, information on cessation medications (which can help callers decide whether to use cessation medications in their quit attempt and which medications to use, as well as helping them understand how to use these medications correctly), free or discounted medications, self-help materials, and referrals to other cessation resources.