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Smoking, lung cancer and personal health

July 20, 2013
By C. Paul Martin, M.D. , Marshall Independent

Recent news item: July 1, 2013, the state of Minnesota raises the cigarette tax an additional $1.60 Why?

Among the goals of this column is to respond to the medical concerns of our readers with pertinent and valuable medical information. I greatly appreciate the opportunity afforded by the local media to discuss medical news and matters of interest to its reading and listening public. Today I emphasize a local reader's concern about a subject of great concern to her.

A young widow contacted me several years ago regarding her wish to publicize her husband's illness and death and its possible relationship to smoking cigarettes.

In addition, many related medical articles have addressed another area of her concern, second-hand smoke and its effects. A review of pertinent facts about these subjects is pertinent as people discuss the recent tax change and its effect on smoking habits.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women at the present time in the United States, numbering 28 percent of all cancer deaths in 2012; about 160,000 people died from lung cancer. More Americans die from lung cancer than the total of deaths from colon and rectal, breast, and prostate cancer.

The present dramatic increase in these deaths is generally felt to be causally related to exposure to carcinogens through inhalation of tobacco smoke and other pollutants. However, it should be recognized that 20 percent of lung cancers may be due to other and unknown causes.

There exists in America the formidable challenge to the American public concerning the problem of tobacco abuse, especially in the younger age groups and in women. In a time of significant health education endeavors, rapidly expanding technical advances and effective but sometimes costly drug developments, Americans should react to the simple fact that cigarette smoking is the single most significant health risk factor facing our population, one which is completely curable. Statistically, smoking decreases one's life span by five to eight years and increases the morbidity (illness rates) significantly with the resultant increased health costs and inconvenience.

Hopefully, no one should begin to smoke knowing the present situation of tobacco addiction. But what of those who have started and continued? Some say they are "too old" to stop and for what benefit? Socially, one should consider the effects of "second-hand smoke" on families, especially children, and co-workers as described in many scientific studies. Individually, cessation of smoking can significantly increase your life span, especially if you stop before age 35. Your health risks decrease dramatically in those who have lung disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, circulatory illness and diabetes.

One can appreciate that there is a significant benefit when you stop smoking. The problem is that smoking is a strong psychological habit with social and physical overtones involving an addicting substance, nicotine.

This situation has been well reviewed by those forces that recognize the dangers of this addiction. The government has passed laws to restrict smoking in many areas to provide a healthy "Clean Air" environment. Remarkably, smoking has even been banned in public places both in America and certain foreign countries! Increased cigarette taxes and fees in the past have been effective in decreasing the rate of smoking and have been recently legislated here in Minnesota. Public education efforts continue, and health care professionals have formulated programs to assist smokers in quitting. The "QuitPlan" used here in Marshall and other similar programs have been successful and supported by many of the health insurance companies.

An informed personal resolution to stop smoking is the important first step; a discussion with your physician and/or medical staff member, spouse and family should follow to implement a cessation plan. Presently the medical professional skilled in tobacco cessation counseling recommends efforts in three main areas. Initially, education is prominent, often coordinated with behavior modification in a "Stop Smoking Clinic" or similar program with group help and interaction. Drug therapy with various forms of controlled nicotine withdrawal programs has been helpful when used properly. The results are encouraging:

With self motivation only 10 percent success rate

With professional advice and drug therapy- 15-30 percent success rate

With motivation, advice, drug therapy and a group program - about 40 percent success rate

Unfortunately, other "quick fix" programs, e.g. hypnosis, laser therapy, etc. have been unsuccessful in most cases. Similar to the challenge of weight loss and related programs, smoking cessation is a significant medical endeavor which must continue to be emphasized, especially by primary care physicians and clinics, e.g. the Medical Home."

 
 

 

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