By DANA J. STEVENS
Quitting smoking isn’t easy.
About 32.4 million American adults still smoke cigarettes, and smoking remains the single largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world. Smoking causes an estimated 480,000 deaths in the United States every year, or about one in five deaths. More than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease.
And while the adult smoking rate in San Diego County is lower than the national median (11.1% compared to 14% respectively), the prevalence of smoking is still too high. People of low social economic status and less educated populations — particularly Asian Pacific Islanders, Latino and African American populations — still struggle with high rates of nicotine addiction.
But there is good news for those still struggling with nicotine addiction. The Great American Smokeout on Nov. 18 offers smokers a chance to join thousands of people across the country to commit to quitting for one day. And quitting for one day can help smokers break the addiction for good and start down the path to a healthier life.
Community Action Service Advocacy (CASA) will hold a kickoff event on Monday, Nov. 15 at UCSD to begin a countdown to the Smokeout on Nov. 18. On the day of the event, CASA and our public health partners will be at locations throughout the county providing smokers with quit kits and asking them to make a pledge to quit for one day. Quitting for one day can be Day One of a smoke-free life. Giving up nicotine is a journey, and it can be hard, but smokers can increase their chances of success with a good plan and support.
Quitting improves health both immediately and over the long term. Within minutes of quitting smoking, your body begins to recover. Your heart rate and blood pressure drop. Two years after quitting, your risk of heart attack drops dramatically. Your risk of lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking after 10 to 15 years. Quitting smoking can also add as much as 10 years to your life compared to if you continued to smoke. Quitting while you’re younger can reduce your health risks more, but quitting at any age can give back years of life that would be lost by continued nicotine use.
Protecting your lungs and respiratory system has never been more important with the added health risks of the COVID-19 virus. Smoking and vaping lower the lungs’ immune response to infection. COVID-19 attacks the lungs, and people who smoke are at higher risk of developing lung infections along with older adults over the age of 65, individuals with compromised immune systems and individuals who have underlying medical conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes or lung disease are also at high risk.
Tobacco is the only legal consumer product that kills up to half of its users when used exactly as intended by the manufacturer. This is why Big Tobacco companies spend more than $8 billion (on average) on marketing and advertising. They specifically target youth, people of color, rural and LBGTQ communities in attempts to create more addicted consumers who can face a lifetime of addiction. This is why CASA and our Tobacco Control Coalition partners work diligently to stop the proliferation of tobacco sales and use in San Diego County.
Join us on Nov. 18 and make a commitment to quit smoking. The journey may be challenging, but with support you can kick the habit. You will live longer and your lungs will thank you for it.
Ready to quit? Visit kickitca.org.
— Dana J. Stevens, MPA is executive director of CASA, Community Action Service Advocacy for safe and healthy neighborhoods.