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Smokers Concerns May Hinder Quitting

Breaking News - November 2005 - Week 3

(Nov 16, 2005)

Healthcare in  the News

-- Mistaken beliefs - most often about nicotine - often hurt smokers who are trying to give up the habit, say experts.

Picture of cigarettes

New reports show challenges of quitting smoking as Americans recognize the American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout on Nov. 17.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) is urging millions of smokers across the country to give up smoking for the day and hopefully for good.

For nearly three decades, the ACS has designated the third Thursday of each November as a day for smokers nationwide to kick the deadly habit of smoking. This year, the ACS is also encouraging communities to protect the health of all Americans by supporting smoke-free policies.

Some Believe Nicotine a Cancer Risk

A new study shows that some smokers are reluctant to use nicotine patches or gum because they think nicotine causes cancer, says Virginia Reichert, director of the Center for Tobacco Control at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.

The study was presented at the recent annual international scientific assembly of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP).

A study of over 1,100 middle-aged smokers who enrolled in the center's program found that nicotine-cancer misconception much more common among women, with 72 percent of them believing it, compared to 60 percent of men, comments Ms. Reichert.

And the same percentage of women smoke "light" cigarettes, mistakenly believing them to be less harmful, compared to 63 percent of the men, she says.

Nicotine is dangerous, but not for any link to cancer, which does not exist, explains Ms. Reichert. It does its damage by addicting people to tobacco, "and when you're smoking you're inhaling 4,000 chemicals a day," she says. Many of those chemicals are carcinogenic (cancer-causing).

"Nicotine is the most addictive chemical we know, more addictive than heroin or cocaine," and too many physicians who try to help smokers underestimate that addictive power, notes Ms. Reichert. "You've got to do more than give them a brochure and walk away."

The data on misinformation came from a six-week program involving heavy smokers in their mid-40s, who smoked an average of a pack and a half a day. At the start of the program, participants filled out a questionnaire to gauge their knowledge and beliefs about smoking.

Women were more likely than men to worry about smoking giving them cancer - 75 percent versus 64 percent. They were also more likely than men to worry that quitting would cause them to gain weight - 41 percent vs. 15 percent - and to worry about being able to handle stress without cigarettes - 63 percent to 55 percent.

Taking a Holistic Approach

With a program that includes medical management, behavior modification, use of nicotine patches and/or gum and diet, "most smokers who quit can expect to avoid withdrawal symptoms and minimize weight gain," says Ms. Reichert.

The program was equally successful for men and women, with a quit rate of 59 percent for women and 55 percent for men.

A major reason for that success is the ability to wean smokers away from getting nicotine from tobacco, Ms. Reichert notes. Patches, gums, and even nicotine inhalers can still supply "the drug they are addicted to in small amounts," she says.

The amounts should be small because nicotine does pose dangers, says Dr. Diane Stover, director of the pulmonary service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

It constricts blood vessels and promotes formation of blood clots that can lead to heart attacks and other major cardiovascular problems, says Dr. Stover.

Still, nicotine replacement "is a bridge to stop smoking, and then you take away the nicotine," Dr. Stover says.

Despite all the evidence about the ill effects of smoking, it is still necessary to spell them out for many people, Dr. Stover says. "When you talk to people about the dangers of smoking, they'll say, 'I knew it was not healthy to smoke, but I really didn't know why.' "

According to Dr. W. Michael Alberts, president of the ACCP, "Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer and is a risk factor for numerous other health conditions."

"As health-care providers," continues Dr. Alberts, "it is our responsibility to encourage our smoking patients to quit, and when they are ready to quit, refer them to smoking cessation programs that provide comprehensive care."

Always consult your physician for more information.


For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.


Smoking Facts

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), cigarette smoking causes 87 percent of lung cancer deaths and is responsible for most cancers of the larynx, oral cavity and pharynx, esophagus, and bladder.

Secondhand smoke is responsible for an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths among US nonsmokers each year.

Tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemical agents, including over 60 substances that are known to cause cancer.

The risk of developing smoking-related cancers, as well as noncancerous diseases, increases with total lifetime exposure to cigarette smoke, states the NCI.

Smoking cessation has major and immediate health benefits, including decreasing the risk of lung and other cancers, heart attack, stroke, and chronic lung disease.

Tobacco use, particularly cigarette smoking, is the single most preventable cause of death in the US, according to the NCI.

Cigarette smoking alone is directly responsible for approximately 30 percent of all cancer deaths annually in the US.

Cigarette smoking also causes chronic lung disease (emphysema and chronic bronchitis), cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cataracts.

Smoking during pregnancy can cause stillbirth, low birthweight, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and other serious pregnancy complications.

Quitting smoking greatly reduces a person’s risk of developing the diseases mentioned, and can limit adverse health effects on the developing child.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), all cigarettes can damage the human body.

Any amount of smoke is dangerous. Cigarettes are perhaps the only legal product whose advertised and intended use - smoking - is harmful to the body and causes cancer.

The ACS states that although some people try to make their smoking habit safer by smoking fewer cigarettes, most smokers find that hard to do.

Research has found that even smoking as few as one to four cigarettes a day can have serious health consequences, including an increased risk of heart disease and a higher risk of dying at an earlier age.

Some persons think that switching from high-tar and high-nicotine cigarettes to those with low tar and nicotine makes smoking safer, the ACS states, but this is not true.

When people switch to brands with lower tar and nicotine, they often end up smoking more cigarettes, or more of each cigarette, to get the same nicotine dose as before.

A low-tar cigarette can be just as harmful as a high-tar cigarette because a person often takes deeper puffs, puffs more frequently, or smokes them to a shorter butt length.

Studies have not found that the risk of lung cancer is any lower in smokers of “light” or low-tar cigarettes, the ACS notes.

Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

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