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What are the risks of smoking?

Simply stated, smoking is the single most avoidable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States. About half of the people who smoke will die of smoking-related problems. Smoking directly contributes to more than 440,000 deaths per year in the US. In addition to causing almost 90% of all lung cancers, smoking also increases the risk of cancers of the head & neck, esophagus, pancreas and bladder. Smoking also doubles an individual’s risk of developing coronary artery disease and dying of a heart attack.

Smoking is the number one cause of emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Asthma and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) are more common among children exposed to second-hand smoke. Exposure to second-hand smoke leads to the deaths of an additional 35,000 people a year by coronary artery disease.

Smoking increases the risk of peptic ulcer disease as well as the risks of osteoporosis and hip fractures in women. It causes premature skin wrinkling and increases the risk of sexual dysfunction (impotence).

What are the benefits of quitting smoking?

Smoking cessation has major and immediate health benefits for men and women of all ages. The earlier a person quits, the greater the benefits. People who quit smoking before age 50 reduce their risk of dying over the next 15 years by one-half, as compared to those who continue to smoke. The risk of dying from coronary heart disease is reduced by about half one-year after stopping smoking, and then continues to decline with time. Smoking cessation reduces the risk of lung cancer within five years of stopping, although former smokers still have a higher risk of lung cancer than those who have never smoked. The risks of peptic ulcer disease, osteoporosis and hip fractures all decrease with quitting.

There is a secondary benefit to quitting: saving money. With cigarettes averaging more than $5 a pack, a two pack per day smoker will save $3,650 dollars a year.

Are there any risks to quitting smoking?

Yes. The process of quitting can lead to withdrawal symptoms from nicotine that includes irritability, anxiety, insomnia or depression. Some people experience intense cravings for cigarettes. The oral medications to help people quit can decrease these symptoms and cravings.

Also, weight gain can result from quitting smoking, as many smokers replace smoking with eating. An exercise program and eating a reasonable diet can minimize such weight gain. It must be emphasized that the benefits of quitting smoking are much greater than the risks of gaining weight.

What is available to help me quit smoking?

Nicotine replacement products can help relieve withdrawal symptoms people experience when they quit smoking. Nicotine patches, nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges are available over-the-counter, and a nicotine nasal spray and inhaler are currently available by prescription. Nicotine replacement therapies are helpful in quitting when combined with a behavior change program such as the American Lung Association’s Freedom from Smoking online program (available at which addresses psychological and behavioral addictions to smoking and strategies for coping with urges to smoke.

The oral medication bupropion (Zyban®, Wellbutrin®) is an anti-depressant that can decrease cravings and help people to quit. Bupropion may be more effective than nicotine replacement therapy, and combining the two may be even more effective. More effective still is varenicline (Chantix®) that works in the brain to reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms and cigarette cravings, but patients need to be monitored for mood or behavioral changes.

What new treatments to help smokers quit are being studied?

New therapies to help smokers quit are currently being developed. Baptist Health Center for Clinical Research has performed clinical trials on an extended-release form of varenicline (Chantix®), as well as an exciting new vaccine to help smokers quit. For more information on this or other studies at Baptist Health Center for Clinical Research, please contact us.

For more information on smoking, and to get help with quitting:

Mayo Clinic: Quit Smoking
WebMD: Quitting Smoking
American Lung Association: Stop Smoking
American Cancer Association: Guide to Quitting Smoking