Smoking:  Reasons to Quit 

Paul Loethen, M.D., Surgeon 

By Paul Loethen, M.D. 
Board Certified General Surgeon
Saint Anthony's Physician Group 


      You’ve undoubtedly seen the statistics: 400,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related illnesses. That’s one smoker dying every 80 seconds.     

      Back in the Mad Men era, when smoking was the “cool” thing to do, smokers were uninformed about the health risks...and would not have believed them if they had been told. Since 1965, the prevalence of smoking has declined by more than 50 percent, and it’s safe to say that most of the 46.6 million smokers would quit if they could.    

      Smoking cessation programs and products are available. But to help you make that step, you might want to make a list of your reasons for wanting to quit.    

      1. YOU’LL LIVE LONGER. Smoking has been identified as the single greatest preventable reason for early death. Smoking, if you continue, will shave 13.2 years off your life, if you’re a man, and 14.5 years if you’re a woman.    

      The smoke that you inhale, from your own cigarette or that of a smoker nearby, contains more than 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer.    

      Smoking accounts for about 90 percent of lung cancer deaths. It also plays a major role in pancreatic cancer, as well as cervical, bladder, kidney, stomach, throat, esophageal and laryngeal cancers.    

      The effects of smoking impact recovery after surgical procedures: Smoking causes wound infection and increased hernia formation after surgery, secondary to poor oxygen delivery.    

      The smoker’s cough that you take for granted, will, if you continue to smoke, probably lead to emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Unfortunately, you may end up with chronic lung disease even after you quit – depending on how long you have smoked.    

      As devastating as the lung consequences are, smoking’s effect on the heart and blood vessels is just as damaging. The nicotine in tobacco increases heart rate and blood pressure while decreasing oxygen flow to the heart and damaging the linings of blood vessels so that they function less effectively. One of every five American deaths from heart disease can be traced directly to smoking.     

      2. YOU’LL BE PROTECTING YOUR FAMILY, FRIENDS AND CO-WORKERS: Those who were children in the Mad Men era may gag today at the memory of being trapped in an automobile with one – or even two – smoking parents. If those memories have kept them from smoking themselves, they are fortunate.    

      Children of parents who smoke are more vulnerable to asthma, colds and ear infections. They also have a higher than usual rate of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).     

      The nicotine in cigarettes constricts blood vessels in the umbilical cord and uterus, decreasing oxygen available to the fetus. Mothers who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have pre-term, low-birth-weight and still births. Infants of mothers who smoked have impaired lung function and heart rates 30 percent higher than other children. Smoking during pregnancy and after birth is a major risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome.    

      In one study, children of mothers who smoked had significantly lower scores on tests of academic performance. Other studies have found more behavior problems among such children.    

      Second-hand smoke in the environment is responsible for 3,400 lung cancer and 46,000 heart disease deaths in American adult non-smokers every year. That’s the reason smoking is now forbidden in an increasing number of working environments and public places.    

      3. YOU’LL LOOK AND FEEL BETTER: When you were a teenager, you may have thought you looked cool when you squinted and pursed your lips to exhale smoke. After you’ve smoked for a few years, you notice that those facial expressions have become etched on your face in a less than desirable way.    

      Smoking impairs the flow of blood and oxygen to the skin and causes a breakdown of collagen and elastin, the fibers that give skin its elasticity.     

      Within 10 years of your first cigarette – or sooner – your skin will start to show the signs of premature aging – wrinkles, sags, a lifeless tone and yellow pallor. This may be most apparent on the face but will also appear elsewhere on the body such as the inside of your arms.    

      If you’ve been smoking awhile, your skin may never recover, but you can slow progression of the damage. And you’ll appreciate other cosmetic changes: no more stained teeth, ash tray breath or stinky clothes or hair.    

      You’ll sleep better, with less snoring; you’ll lose your morning cough and you will be able to climb stairs and walk without getting breathless. You’ll have more energy, will be able to exercise more. And food will smell and taste better.    

      One of the biggest bonuses is that you’ll never again have to sneak outside to the far corners of the parking lot, sometimes into a driving rain or snowstorm, to get a few desperate puffs on a cigarette.    

      3. YOU’LL BE SAVING YOURSELF AND OTHERS A LOT OF MONEY: You may not notice the pack-by-pack drain on your budget, but if you’re a pack-a-day smoker, you’re spending at least $1,500 to $2,000 a year. As tobacco taxes continue to increase, your toll will only increase.    

      But that only skims the surface of your smoking-related costs. Your health care costs are substantially increased, and you’re paying more for your life and homeowners as well as your health insurance. The overall drain on the country’s health care system has been tagged at $150 billion a year.     

      Your laundry and dry cleaning costs will come down when you quit, and you’ll spend less money cleaning and painting the inside of your home.    

      Most of the financial benefits of quitting start showing up the minute you quit. Start soon enough, and you’ll make a substantial contribution to your retirement fund. That may be necessary to support you through your extended life span.    

      Even if you continue to smoke until age 60, studies show, you’ll extend your life by quitting. If you quit by age 50, you’ll reduce your chance of dying prematurely from a smoking-related disease by 50 percent. Quit by age 30, and your reduced risk will be 90 percent.    


Dr. Loethen is a board-certified general surgeon with Saint Anthony’s Physician Group. For an appointment with Dr. Loethen, call 618-465-9024. 


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