A pack-a-day smoker, my husband, Brad, began smoking in 1976 when he was 16. His father, grandfather, parents’ friends and friends smoked. Although it was after the 1964 release of the landmark Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, it was a time when 40% of Americans smoked. People could light up in any number of places, including restaurants, work, hospitals and planes.

I never smoked. My parents and grandparents didn’t smoke. My parents even made an honor-system agreement with my five siblings and me. If we did not smoke before we turned 18, each of us would receive $200. That was dough I could not resist. (Full disclosure: Not everyone succeeded, but none of my siblings smoke today.) I came from a home where smoking was forbidden, so to fall for a smoker was never in my plans.

Nicotine Dependence

Over the years, Brad tried to give up smoking several times. Whether he cut back, used the patch, chewed nicotine gum, went cold turkey or attempted some combination of these would-be cures, he always returned to his Camel Lights. I knew it would be hard. Research shows that a smoker’s quit attempts before gaining success range from six to as many as 30 times.

Calculate pack-yearsIt also is well known that nicotine may be as addictive as heroin, cocaine or alcohol. Each time Brad quit, I knew he would endure withdrawal symptoms, and keep in mind that his coworkers smoked inside the business where he worked.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Having cravings for cigarettes
  • Feeling down or sad
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Feeling irritable‚ on edge‚ or grouchy
  • Having trouble thinking clearly and concentrating
  • Feeling restless and jumpy
  • Having a slower heart rate
  • Feeling more hungry or gaining weight

Health Benefits of Quitting

Brad kicked the habit in 2006. That he began feeling better was only the start of his improved health. According to the American Cancer Society, several benefits come when one quits, including after:

  • 20 Minutes: Your heart rate and blood pressure drop.
  • 12 hours: Carbon monoxide levels in your blood drops to normal.
  • 2-3 weeks: Your circulation improves, and your lung function increases.
  • 1-9 months: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease. Tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs (called cilia) start to regain normal function in your lungs, increasing their ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs and reduce the risk of infection.
  • 1 year: The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of someone who still smokes. Your heart attack risk drops dramatically.
  • 5 years: Your risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder is cut in half. Cervical cancer risk falls to that of a nonsmoker. Your stroke risk can fall to that of a nonsmoker after two to five years.
  • 10 years: Your risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking. Your risk of cancer of the larynx (voice box) and pancreas decreases.
  • 15 years: Your risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker’s.

Brad will tell you he breathes easier since he quit. He knows I do, too.

Sure, there are times when Brad misses smoking, but those moments are rare and aren’t enough for him to return to smoking. It weighs on him that his father’s cigarette and cigar smoking along with alcohol consumption contributed greatly to the throat cancer that took his father’s life.

Although Brad is not symptomatic for lung cancer, his smoking history put him at risk for lung cancer. Based on his pack years of smoking, it is recommended that he undergo annual low-dose CT lung screenings. It only takes about 10 minutes, and it gives him peace of mind. The screenings provide increased sensitivity for the diagnosis of lung cancer compared with chest X-ray.  Brad’s have shown he has no signs of lung cancer. His insurance covers the cost.

Brad will tell you he breathes easier since he quit. He knows I do, too.

Resources for Quitting

Better Breathers Club of the Northland


Give Up Tobacco, NKCH Group
For more information, call Mary Valla
Register: mary.valla@nkch.org