December 1, 2021

Smokers urged to break the habit

Guthrie participates in Great American Smokeout campaign

Photo illustration/MetroCreative

Smoking causes an estimated 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1 in 5 deaths, and remains the single most preventable cause of death and illness globally, reports the American Cancer Society.

Matt Gray has been helping people with respiratory problems for 25 years. He’s seen a few things. But most of his patients have been current or former smokers.

“The best way to lower your risk of developing COPD or emphysema is just to quit smoking,” said Gray, a respiratory care supervisor with Guthrie Cortland Medical Center. “I know that’s tough. I’m not a smoker, I’ve never been a smoker, but I know nicotine addiction is a very difficult addiction to break.”

Smoking causes an estimated 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1 in 5 deaths, and remains the single most preventable cause of death and illness globally, reports the American Cancer Society.

For more than 40 years, the American Cancer Society has hosted the Great American Smokeout on the third Thursday of November, as an opportunity for smokers to commit to smoke-free lives. Guthrie Cortland Medical Center is using the event to educate people about the effects of smoking.

Guthrie’s Respiratory Services Department is caring for several COVID-19 patients, but typically its patients include people with asthma, emphysema and COPD, Gray said.

Although the rates of cigarette smoking have declined from 42% in 1965 to 14% in 2019, about 34 million Americans 18 years and older still smoke cigarettes. People who smoke as little as one cigarette a day over a lifetime still have a greater risk of early death than people who have never smoked, reports a 2016 study by National Cancer Institute researchers.

As a smoker, your risk of lung cancer is 15 to 30 times greater than a non-smoker’s, Gray said.

“Especially if you’re still currently smoking, things get progressively worse and worse and worse — and get to the point where they just can’t breathe, they can’t catch their breath walking from the chair to the bathroom in their house,” Gray said. “We see that constant degradation of their condition until they eventually pass on.”

The damage that is done to the lungs by smoking is not reversible, Gray said, but quitting can stop that damage from increasing.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that smoking cessation also reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, lung disease and other illnesses.

“The biggest take-home point that I can show people is just doing what you can to quit smoking — just put it down,” Gray said.


Need help quitting?

  • Visit the American Cancer Society online, at www.cancer.org/healthy/stay-away-from-tobacco/
  • Visit www.cdc.gov/tobacco/ for more information and tips

For most people, the best way to quit tobacco will be some combination of medicine, emotional support and a method to change personal habits, reports the American Cancer Society. Although electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco, many contain nicotine, which comes from tobacco, and can still lead to addiction.

Vaping is more popular with high school students than adults, according to the American Cancer Society. In the past 30 days, 8.1% of adolescents in grades 9 through 12 have smoked a tobacco cigarette and 20.8% have used an electronic cigarette.

Cortland Area Communities that Care reports that 24.2% of high school seniors had vaped in the previous 30 days, and 27.3% of juniors, in a 2020 study. That was down from 2019’s 30.3% and 30.9%, respectively.

Among all students, 13.9% had reported vaping in the previous 30 days in 2020, down from 20.2% the year before and 21.9% in 2018, the agency reports.

“Switching to vaping is not a safe alternative, even if the marketing makes it out to be,” Gray said. “Vaping is no better than cigarette smoking.”