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Smoking: quitting is key

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Nov. 16 is the American Cancer Society’s “Great American Smoke Out,” a day that encourages smokers to quit. Quitting smoking can cause positive health effects within minutes, such as lowered heart rate and blood pressure. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class William Tracy)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- --

For decades, we’ve been hearing about the health risks of smoking; how it causes cancer, how it isn’t “cool” or “hip” to be habitually addicted to a reckless habit. It is information drilled into us over and over again, yet some still choose to smoke - I used to be one of them.

Setting a deadline to quit is difficult; this article is mine. If you want to quit, but can’t decide when, the American Cancer Society has a date for you.

Nov. 16 is known as the “Great American Smoke Out,” a day that encourages millions of Americans to quit by reminding them of the health benefits.

I was not aware of this day when I first picked up smoking.

For me, how I started smoking is as cliché as it gets. I was a freshman in high school hanging out with seniors trying to be “cool” and caving into peer pressure. In tribute to an old rock song, my friends and I would smoke in the boys’ room in-between classes.

I remember my first cigarettes, feeling the initial head rush, the coughing. Yet I persisted. In fact I was so persistent, (I’m a little embarrassed to admit this,) since I wasn’t 18 at the time, my friends and I used to hang outside gas stations and other businesses and take half-smoked cigarettes out of the ash pits and smoke them.

So, if you ever happened to be in Englewood, Florida, years ago and left a cigarette in an ash pit to smoke after you ate or something, only to find it no longer existed; let me just apologize, it could have been me. Though, hopefully, you stopped smoking since.

When I turned 18, I was excited I could finally leave my scavenging days behind and buy cigarettes myself. I waltzed into the corner store and felt like the coolest guy in town.

I smoked everywhere - in the car, home, during walks, right after exercise, in the park, riding my bike or walking my dog. I smoked when I was happy, sad, angry and especially when anxious or stressed.

I would make excuses, like how I was drawn to the smell, how it reminded me of my childhood growing up in a family of chain-smokers. I would say “this will help me clear my thoughts,” or “this will help pass the time.”

Occasionally, I would take an introspective look - remind myself of how this habit brought premature ends to members of my family, and countless other people. I pondered how it rules my life.

I was always aware, and I always wanted to quit, (7/10 of smokers do), but the prospect of not having a cigarette waiting for me after work drove me nuts.

I tried to quit at least six times before, most smokers average six or seven attempts. The longest I made it was around three months, but only because I was in basic training and the early phases of technical school prohibited smoking.

When I advanced phases and was allowed to smoke again, I waltzed into the corner store and felt like the coolest guy on base.

Smoking has more or less stayed with me ever since. As I write, this is only my first week without a cigarette. So believe me when I say I know how it feels to have the urge to smoke.

It’s hard to quit, but what helps me is reminding myself every time I get the urge of what the habit has done to my family, how many minutes of my life I’ve sacrificed smoking, how many late appointments and family meals I’ve missed.

My story is just one of many. Today, approximately 40 million Americans still smoke.

Each one has their own reasons why, and every story varies. However, one thing remains constant - above all other negatives, smoking is bad for your health and the health of those around you.

Take it from the experts.

“Our whole body is being contaminated when we smoke, nicotine is an addiction,” said Peggy Diaz de Leon, Schriever health promotions coordinator, and former smoker. “It’s not just cigarettes, any form of tobacco of any kind is bad for you.”

Fortunately, there are resources to help all of us with the quitting process.

Diaz de Leon helps Schriever Airmen quit by referring them to personalized one-on-one counselling and helping set-up quitting smoking tools, such as free nicotine gum and patches.

“When I was in the military, they used to have C-rations and inside they would have cigarettes,” she said. “When we had a break, our leaders would say ‘smoke if you got them.’ Everybody used to smoke.

“It’s not the same environment anymore. Now, the military is more than happy to assist anyone who has a desire to quit.”

She hopes the smoke out will make a large impact at Schriever. This impact will be measured with a board outside the dining facility for smokers to write their name on as a pledge to quit.

“We are trying to encourage smoking cessation for the rest of the year, or to make that day the final quit day and not smoke at all,” Diaz de Leon said. “If we can get just one person to quit, that would be awesome.”

According to the ACS, within 20 minutes of quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure drop. After 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood returns to normal. Within two weeks to 3 months, your blood circulation improves and your lung function increases. After ten years, the risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking.

Things only improve from there.

Diaz de Leon shared how she coped with the urge to smoke soon after quitting.

“It was hard, you have to change your lifestyle,” she said. “The smell still gets to me. Avoid people you used to smoke with, and stay away from places where you used to smoke. Alcohol and smoking go hand-in-hand, so avoid a lot of drinking.”

She encourages all smokers to drop the habit.

“Smoking is not cool, even if you may think so while you’re doing it,” she said. “Quitting was the perfect thing for me, I’m glad I did.”

While my deadline has passed, you can bet I’ll be there to write my name on the pledge board Nov. 16. If you are a smoker looking to quit, I hope you will too.

For more information about resources to help quit, contact Diaz de Leon at 567-4292.

To find out more information about the benefits of quitting smoking and the “Great American Smoke Out,” visit the ACS’s website here

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