By Richard Harkness
If you're a smoker, did you take part in the recent Great American Smokeout sponsored annually by the American Cancer Society? The idea was to stop smoking for a day - to start the ball rolling toward stopping for good.
If not, you may have thought you were free from such well-intentioned goading for another full year. Not so fast.
Because the media would be saturated with the message that day, this delayed column is my sneaky way of trying to snare those who might have missed taking advantage of that opportunity.
Tobacco use in young people continues to rise, and a primary aim of this annual campaign is to get out the "don't ever start smoking" message to kids and teenagers and to correct the misperception that smoking is a rite of passage to
adulthood. Most tobacco use (cigarettes, chewing tobacco or snuff, cigars) begins before the age of 18, and kids who don't use tobacco during their adolescent years are less likely to start.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that kids be taught the dangers of tobacco use even earlier, beginning in kindergarten and during each school year thereafter.
Smoking is a lightning rod for cancer and heart disease. It's also been associated with causing erectile dysfunction in men and it may also diminish sexual function in women.
New information about the health hazards of secondhand smoke continues to waft up. One study found that nonsmoking wives of smokers had a 30 percent greater chance of developing lung cancer than women who lived in tobacco-free households; the longer a woman lived with a smoker, the greater her risk. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at greater risk for lung infections, asthma and breathing difficulties.
Growing public awareness of these health concerns has resulted in a steady increase in the number of places being declared off-limits to smokers.
Most smokers greatly desire to quit. The problem is that the nicotine in tobacco is as much or more addictive than any other chemical substance.
Some people can manage to quit on their own, but most have the best chance of quitting with organized counseling and support. Medications are available that can minimize withdrawal symptoms or reduce the craving to light up. In many communities, you can take advantage of free or low-cost counseling services to help you quit.
To seek help, start with the local office of the American Cancer Society or call (800) 227-2345 for the national office (on the Web, visit www.cancer.org) .
If you missed quitting on the "official" day, know that any day is just as good to start watching those cigarettes fade away in the rearview mirror.
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