The Great American Smokeout and National COPD Awareness Month Help Smokers Quit

If you are one of the nearly 44 million Americans who have yet to kick their smoking habit, November might be the perfect time to put the cigarettes out for good. 

On Thursday, November 21, the American Cancer Society (ACS) will hold the 37th annual Great American Smokeout. In 1976, the California Division of the ACS encouraged nearly 1 million smokers to give up cigarettes for the day. The success of the first Great American Smokeout prompted the ACS to expand the program to the rest of the U.S. the following year, turning the third Thursday of November into a day when Americans can support one another in the fight to quit smoking.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking is the principal cause of preventable death in the U.S. It is responsible for one in five deaths—or more than 440,000 deaths annually. Tobacco use greatly increases a person’s risk for cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory diseases, and a host of other conditions.

The ACS reports that smoking is not only responsible for nearly a third of all cancer deaths but also for about a fifth of deaths from all causes. Changes in attitude toward tobacco usage have helped the percentage of American smokers over the age of 18 drop from more than 42 percent to close to 18 percent. Though many states now have laws that restrict smoking in public areas, it's estimated that 1 in 5 U.S. adults still smoke. 

The ACS believes that even quitting for a day is a step in the right direction toward a healthier lifestyle.

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Starting a Dialogue About COPD

November is also National COPD Awareness Month. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease that affects the lungs, making breathing more difficult as it progresses. COPD, which is also known as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, is characterized by three main symptoms: shortness of breath during physical activity and, as the disease worsens, while at rest; chronic coughing; and spitting or coughing mucus from the lungs.

The University of Maryland Medical Center estimates that cigarette smoking accounts for around 80 percent of all COPD cases. With more than 120,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone, COPD moved ahead of stroke in 2010 to become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. While more than 12 million people are currently diagnosed with COPD, the more disturbing fact is that there are likely another 12 million with the disease who are unaware of it.

In an effort to educate patients and health care providers of COPD, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has launched the COPD Learn More Breathe Better campaign, aimed at current and former smokers over the age of 45. 

James Kiley, director of the NHLBI Division of Lung Diseases, hopes that increased awareness of the disease will encourage more patients and health care providers to discuss symptoms and treatments for COPD in the doctor’s office. 

“It’s no secret that early diagnosis and treatment can improve daily living for those who have COPD, but you can’t get there without an open line of dialogue in the exam room,” Kiley said in a press release

Although there is no cure for COPD, lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, exercise, and a healthy diet can lessen the symptoms of the disease. You should also speak with your doctor about medications that can also help. 

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Additional Tips to Keep You Smoke-Free

While the task of giving up cigarettes might seem daunting to many current smokers, the ACS offers these tips to help you stick to your goal after the clock strikes 12 during this year's Great American Smokeout:

  • Seek out support in the form of smoking cessation hotlines or stop-smoking groups in your city or online.
  • Look into counseling to give you an additional, professional support system.
  • Ask your doctor about prescription medications, including Bupropion or Chantix.
  • If counseling or medication aren't possible, there are many books out there that can help.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about nicotine replacement products, like patches or gum.
  • Talk about quitting with friends and family. Don't underestimate the power of positive reinforcement and encouragement from loved ones.

For more information about quitting smoking and tobacco products, call the ACS at 1-800-227-2345.

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