Why should I quit?

Cancer

Nearly everyone knows that smoking can cause lung cancer, but few people realize it is also a risk factor for many other kinds of cancer too, including cancer of the mouth, voice box (larynx), throat (pharynx), esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas, cervix, stomach, and some leukemias.

Lung diseases

Pneumonia is included in the list of diseases known to be caused by smoking. Smoking also increases your risk of getting lung diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These diseases are grouped together under the term COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). COPD causes on-going (chronic) illness and disability, and worsens over time -- sometimes becoming fatal. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis can be found in people as young as 40, but are usually found later in life, when the symptoms get much worse. Long-term smokers have the highest risk of developing severe COPD.

Heart attacks, strokes, and blood vessel diseases

Smokers are twice as likely to die from heart attacks as are non-smokers. And smoking is a major risk factor for peripheral vascular disease, a narrowing of the blood vessels that carry blood to the leg and arm muscles. Smoking also affects the walls of the vessels that carry blood to the brain (carotid arteries), which can cause strokes. Men who smoke are more likely to develop erectile dysfunction (impotence) because of blood vessel disease.

Blindness and other problems

Smoking causes an increased risk of macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of blindness in older people. It also causes premature wrinkling of the skin, bad breath, gum and tooth problems, bad-smelling clothes and hair, yellow fingernails.

Special risks to women and babies

Women have some unique risks linked to smoking. Women over 35 who smoke and use birth control pills have a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and blood clots of the legs. Women who smoke are more likely to miscarry (lose the baby) or have a lower birth-weight baby. And low birth-weight babies are more likely to die, or have learning and physical problems.

Years of life lost due to smoking

Based on data collected in the late 1990s, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that adult male smokers lost an average of 13.2 years of life and female smokers lost 14.5 years of life because of smoking. And given the diseases that smoking can cause, it can steal your quality of life long before you die. Smoking-related illness can limit your activities by making it harder to breathe, get around, work, or play.

Why quit now?

No matter how old you are or how long you've smoked, quitting can help you live longer and be healthier. People who stop smoking before age 50 cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half compared with those who keep smoking. Ex-smokers enjoy a higher quality of life with fewer illnesses from cold and flu viruses, better self-reported health, and reduced rates of bronchitis and pneumonia.

For decades the Surgeon General has reported the health risks linked to smoking. In 1990, the Surgeon General concluded:

* Quitting smoking has major and immediate health benefits for men and women of all ages. These benefits apply to people who already have smoking-related disease and those who don't.
* Ex-smokers live longer than people who keep smoking.
* Quitting smoking lowers the risk of lung cancer, other cancers, heart attack, stroke, and chronic lung disease.
* Women who stop smoking before pregnancy or during the first 3 to 4 months of pregnancy reduce their risk of having a low birth-weight baby to that of women who never smoked.
* The health benefits of quitting smoking are far greater than any risks from the small weight gain (usually less than 10 pounds) or any emotional or psychological problems that may follow quitting.