Aging Well: It's never too late to quit smoking

Resources

• The Colorado QuitLine offers free coaching and nicotine patches to help people quit smoking or using tobacco. Call 1-800-784-8669 or visit www.coquitline.org.

• The Visiting Nurse Association provides free Quit Kits (patches or gum not included) and ongoing support. Visit the Steamboat VNA office at 940 Central Park Drive, Suite 101; or call 879-1632; or the Craig VNA office at 745 Russell St., 824-8233.

Benefits of quitting smoking:

• 20 minutes after quitting: Heart rate and blood pressure drop.

• 12 hours after: Carbon monoxide level in the blood drops to normal.

• 2 weeks to 3 months after: Circulation and lung function improve.

• 1 to 9 month after: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia in the lungs are better able to prevent infection.

• 1 year after: The risk of coronary heart disease is reduced 50 percent.

• 5 to 15 years after: Stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker.

• 10 years after: Risk of dying of lung cancer is reduced 30 to 50 percent. Risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix and pancreas also decrease.

• 15 years after: The risk of coronary heart disease is the same as a nonsmoker's.

Sources: U.S. Surgeon General's Reports, 1988 and 1990; "Effect of Smoking on Arterial Stiffness and Pulse Pressure Amplification," a report by A. Mahumud and J. Feely.

This article contains information from the American Lung Association at www.lungusa.org.

"Quitting smoking is easy; I've done it hundreds of times." - Mark Twain

Some people may have dates on their mind this Valentine's Day.

Rather than a fancy dinner and roses, one of the best things smokers can plan for their sweetheart, and especially for themselves, is a date to kick their habit.

Choosing a quit date and quit plan are among the first steps in tackling, what for many, can be one of the toughest challenges of their lives. This especially is true for older smokers who, on average, have been smoking for about 40 years, according to the American Lung Association.

Lured to cigarettes by a culture that once glamorized smoking, many longtime smokers now are experiencing health consequences that have come to light since they lit that first smoke.

Smoking is directly responsible for the vast majority of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease cases (including emphysema and chronic bronchitis), which are most prevalent among people 65 and older, according to the 2004 Surgeon General's Report.

Smoking also is responsible for 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths and is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, stroke and lower respiratory tract infections - all leading causes of death among those 50 or older.

This is not surprising, considering the many ingredients in cigarettes considered toxic or carcinogenic, including arsenic, DDT, formaldehyde, lead and mercury.

These ingredients, in the form of secondhand smoke and even third-hand smoke (smoke that lingers in carpets, upholstery, etc.) have been deemed so hazardous to nonsmokers that 23 states, including Colorado, have banned public smoking in most places.

The list of reasons to quit smoking may be hard to ignore, but the emotional and physical challenges of overcoming a highly addictive habit and the letdown of multiple failures easily can overshadow a smoker's best intentions.

Realizing that smoking damage doesn't have to be permanent often helps older adults face fear, frustration and ambivalence common to the quitting process, said Elizabeth Morgan, community health educator at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

"They can turn it around," she said.

A person's risk of stroke, for example, decreases steadily after cessation. Five to 15 years after quitting, former smokers have the same stroke risk as people who have never smoked, according to the 2004 Surgeon General's Report.

Having a plan to help a person cope with withdrawals and other challenges is one of the most important factors in successfully quitting smoking.

This may involve elements such as nicotine replacement therapy (the patch, gum, lozenges, nasal spray, etc.) medications that reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms, as well as alternative therapies such as acupuncture.

A critical component of every smoker's quit plan is support - support from trained coaches or counselors, doctors and family and friends.

"You have to have a strong support group - it's huge," Morgan said. "Friends and family need to be there for you."

In addition to support at home, there are many professional resources to help smokers through difficult steps in the quitting process, such as recognizing triggers and overcoming cravings.

The Colorado QuitLine is a free telephone service with trained coaches to help smokers develop an individualized quit plan. Qualified enrollees also can receive free nicotine patches for two months through the service.

Individuals who use the QuitLine along with nicotine replacement therapy such as the patch, are much more likely to quit successfully than those who try to quit on their own, Morgan said.

Locally, the VNA has coaches to help people through the quitting process. Coaches can test the health progress of clients with asthma or COPD with a spirometer, which measures lung volume.

Seeing tangible evidence of their hard work can give clients the boost they need to keep going, Morgan said.

"It drives it home a little bit more," she said.

There also are many support programs available online. Freedom From Smoking is a free online cessation program available from the American Lung Association.

It involves seven modules dedicated to helping smokers understand their addiction, develop relaxation techniques and a healthier lifestyle and establish strategies for long-term success.

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