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Tobacco: Behind the Smokescreen

Tobacco:
Behind the Smokescreen



What happens when I smoke a cigarette?
What will happen if I keep smoking?
How are girls affected?
Why is it so hard to quit?
What are some tips on quitting?


You've heard it all before: tobacco is the number one cause of preventable deaths in the United States. It can lead to lung, mouth, and throat cancer as well as heart and lung disease. It gives you bad breath, yellow fingers, facial wrinkles, and smelly clothes. So why try it? Research shows that if you don't start smoking when you're young, chances are, you never will. But 90 percent of new smokers are children and teens.

It may seem like everyone smokes. In fact, 87 percent of middle-schoolers and 65 percent of high-schoolers don't use tobacco. Smoking can make it hard for you to make friends or get a date. Most young people say they think smoking is a nasty, unattractive habit. Two-thirds of teens say that seeing someone smoke turns them off, and more than four-fifths say that they would rather date nonsmokers. back to top

What happens when I smoke a cigarette?
Nicotine is the habit-forming substance in tobacco. It narrows the blood vessels and puts extra strain on the heart. This can cause shortness of breath, and it reduces the amount of oxygen that is available for the muscles to use. Sports performance can suffer as a result. Smokers run more slowly than nonsmokers, and they can't run as far.

Smoking is also hazardous to a person's bank account. A typical smoker spends about $700 a year on cigarettes. Think of all the clothes you could buy or movies you could see with that money. Or think of it this way: if you put $700 a year into a savings account that earns 5 percent interest, you would have more than $25,000 in 20 years. back to top

What will happen if I keep smoking?
Every day, more than 3,000 teens in the United States smoke their first cigarette. They are taking the first step down a deadly road. One-third of these new smokers will eventually die of tobacco-related diseases. All told, tobacco claims more than 400,000 lives in the United States every year. That's more than alcohol, crack, heroin, murder, suicide, car accidents, and AIDS combined. back to top

How are girls affected?
At least 1.5 million teenage girls and about 22 million adult women currently smoke cigarettes. The earlier a girl starts smoking, the more heavily she is likely to do so as an adult. Unfortunately, these girls and women face some serious health threats. The statistics are really scary. About 67,000 women now die every year from lung cancer, which has passed breast cancer as the top cause of cancer deaths in females. Nearly 90 percent of lung cancer deaths can be traced to smoking, and things are getting worse. The death rate from lung cancer among women has skyrocketed by more than 400 percent over the last three decades, and it continues to rise.

Along with its other effects, tobacco can harm the female reproductive organs. Women who smoke may find it harder to get pregnant. When they do become pregnant, they have an increased risk of having a miscarriage, giving birth too early, and having the baby die at birth or soon after. The babies are also more likely to have a low birth weight, which puts them at higher risk for health problems. back to top

Why is it so hard to quit?
Nicotine is as addictive as cocaine or heroin. It produces good feelings that make you want to smoke more. As the body adapts to nicotine, a smoker needs to increase the amount of smoking he or she does to get this same pleasurable effect. When the smoker tries to cut back or quit, the lack of nicotine leads to withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can include depression, frustration, anger, crankiness, sleeping problems, restlessness, trouble concentrating, headache, tiredness, and increased appetite.

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from days to weeks, but they don't go on forever. There are a lot of good reasons to ride out this tough stage and quit for good, and there are people who can help. back to top

What are some tips on quitting?
  • When you are ready to stop smoking, pick a quit date. Then tell everyone you are going to stop smoking on that day. When the big day arrives, throw away all of your cigarettes, lighters, and ashtrays. For the first few days, try to avoid the places where you used to smoke. If your friends or family members smoke, ask them not to do so around you or offer you a cigarette. Turn your room into a no-smoking zone, and spend as much time as you can in places where smoking isn't allowed.
  • Don't use other tobacco products, like smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco or snuff), kreteks (clove cigarettes), or bidis (small, flavored cigarettes from India) to help you quit smoking. These products cause the same health problems as cigarettes.
  • If you feel cranky or restless, exercise and stay busy. If you feel tired, take naps and get plenty of rest. If you feel depressed, call a friend or talk with someone else who understands what you're going through. Find fun, healthy activities to take the place of smoking. Watch out for the temptation to pig out on junk food, though. Instead, eat regular meals, and stay away from candy and sweets. Drink extra water, especially at mealtime, and keep active. Take a walk or ride your bike.
Remember that the toughest phase will end. However, you may still be tempted to go back to smoking if something stressful happens. Plan ahead for better ways to handle stress, such as chewing sugarless gum or taking deep breaths. If you do have a lapse and smoke a cigarette, don't give up. Many people have to quit several times before they succeed for good. If you try these tips and still have trouble giving up smoking, talk with your health care provider. Ask whether using nicotine gum or patches may be right for you. Your health care provider may also refer you to a support group or counselor who can help you kick the smoking habit. back to top

Last Modified Date: 3/30/2001
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