Never Too Late to Give Up Smoking

There are few worse habits for your health than smoking. Smoking not only damages your lungs and increases your chances of COPD, emphysema, and lung cancer, it also raises your blood pressure and causes cardiovascular problems. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services estimates that 7,000 state residents die each year from illnesses directly tied to smoking.

The good news is most smokers want to quit the habit, with an estimated 70 percent of Wisconsin smokers saying they want to kick the habit.

Fortunately, several options help people kick the habit. And it’s never too late. Even lifetime smokers can see health benefits when they stop using cigarettes. The American Cancer Society says smokers who quit before age 35 prevent 95 percent of the risk of health problems from smoking. Smokers who quit before age 50 halve their risk of dying within the next 15 years compared to those who continue to smoke. In other words, it’s never too late to quit.

Ready to quit and wondering about the next step? Wisconsin has a free tobacco quit line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW and a website at that anyone can use to access a variety of resources, including one-on-one telephone counseling to provide smokers with strategies on how to quit for good and referrals to local tobacco addiction treatment programs and services. The Quit Line, which is managed by the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, says that smokers who use the Quit Line are four more times likely to quit smoking than if they try on their own. In other words, it’s easier when you have support. These resources are also available to people who have a loved one that they want to help quit smoking.

Besides calling the Quit Line, I encourage smokers to talk to their healthcare provider. He or she can provide information and support, too. Some people quit smoking cold turkey while others may need a nicotine replacement product that slowly weans their body off the drug.

Smokers have a lot of excuses for why they haven’t quit. Some patients worry about gaining weight if they quit smoking while others tell me it’s just too hard. While gaining weight can happen, the health risk from those extra pounds is definitely less than the health dangers from smoking.  Other patients tell me they’ve tried and failed to quit smoking. I always tell them it’s never too late to try again. Smoking is incredibly addicting and it may take a couple of times to quit. The key is to not give up. Try again.

As for those electronic cigarettes you’ve seen advertised, there isn’t enough research yet to determine potential long-term health risks. Some health officials worry that the nicotine e-cigarettes deliver to users lead to eventual regular cigarette use. Some people may try to use them as a way to quit smoking, but I think a better option is to use the gums and patches approved by the FDA to help lower your body’s reliance on nicotine.

Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but with the right support it is possible.

Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert. He can be reached at