By Mackie Shilstone

One of the most serious public health threats in our world today is the danger posed by smoking and the consumption of other tobacco-based products. There is no longer any dispute that cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, which is a major cause of death in this country.

Smoking can also be directly related to emphysema, heart disease, chronic bronchitis and numerous other cancers and potentially fatal ailments. Even the major tobacco product manufacturers, after decades of vehement denial, are finally acknowledging these dangers and they are taking steps to educate smokers and potential smokers. Especially our youth.

Smoking can also make you short-winded and, if you already suffer from respiratory ailments such as asthma, it can worsen your condition. People who smoke are generally sick more often than those who don't. Likewise for non-smokers who are consistently exposed to high levels of second-hand smoke. Thousands of work hours are lost each year by those suffering from smoke-related ailments. In addition, smokers often exude odors that non-smokers -- who make up the majority of the population -- find offensive. The smell of stale smoke can be absorbed by clothing, hair, draperies and other permeable surfaces and those smells can trigger allergic reactions in highly sensitive people.

And there is a social stigma and high economic price paid by smokers, as well. Since smoking is prohibited in many (if not most) public buildings, offices and dining establishments, smokers are forced to go outside to indulge their habit. Prices of cigarettes are as high as $5 a pack in some coin-operated machines and they are a prime target for taxes that can be expected to drive those prices even higher. There are other economic liabilities, too. Most insurance companies charge higher premiums to smokers than they do to non-smokers.

In short, smoking is one of the most damaging things a person can do to his or her own body, as well as to his or her own emotional and financial well-being.

But the up-side is that smoking is also one of the most preventable things you can do to improve your health. All you have to do is quit. However, as anyone who has ever been hooked on smoking knows, quitting is not easy. And the longer one has been smoking, the harder it usually is to quit.

Study after study has proven that smoking is an addiction. Cigarettes are the delivery mechanism for a highly addictive substance called nicotine. That's what causes those "cravings" a smoker feels when he or she hasn't had a cigarette in a given period of time. And the worst part of the "addiction" is that it's legal. You can buy tobacco products in most stores -- even stores that sell products aimed at improving your health, including smoking cessation items.

Many smokers sincerely want to quit but they find it difficult. It's not easy breaking free of the nicotine addiction and "kicking the habit," but it can be done. It usually takes significant will power and determination to get "un-hooked." Here are some things you can do.


When you decide to quit, it's a good idea to also avoid alcohol and coffee. They tend to stimulate the desire to light up. You also need to change your normal routines associated with smoking. If you customarily light up after a meal or first thing in the morning or just before you go to bed at night, you need to fight those urges. Brush your teeth or suck on a strong cough drop -- preferably a menthol-eucalyptus flavored cough drop. Toothpaste, mouthwash or strong cough drops or mints can make the taste of smoke unpalatable, and this helps cut down the desire. Chewing sugarless gum has also been known to help some people avoid lighting up.

You also need to destroy all cigarettes and tobacco products in your house and vehicle(s), clean and hide your ashtrays and eliminate all tobacco odors from your living quarters. Try to avoid places where smoking is permitted. If you have friends or family members who smoke, ask them politely to refrain from lighting up around you while you're going through this difficult quitting phase. Don't try to quit by "cutting down" on the number of cigarettes you smoke each day. That technique rarely works. Going "cold turkey" is almost always the best way to break the addiction cycle.

In all likelihood, when you quit smoking, you will go through a withdrawal period that can last for weeks or months. You may feel a constant, nagging urge to light up. You have to fight that urge and not give in to it. Don't backslide. During this time, you may also become irritable or short-tempered. Ask those around you to be patient and understanding if you happen to lose your temper with them while you're go through this difficult phase. In most cases, they will not only be understanding, they will be supportive, as well. You can probably count on them to give you tremendous encouragement.

Many of those who quit smoking will substitute food for tobacco. This is the time you have to carefully monitor your eating habits and the size of your portions. Overindulging on food is a common mistake many people make when they try to quit. When you feel "the urge," chow down instead on low-calorie snacks like celery sticks, apples or carrots. Keep your meals healthy, balanced and of modest size.

And, of course, you should see your doctor and get a physical checkup. Follow his or her advice if they prescribe something to help you quit. There are numerous "over-the-counter" smoking cessation aids. Ask your doctor before trying them and don't use them if they conflict with something that's been prescribed for you.

Quitting smoking can be a difficult experience. You need to keep your resolution firm the whole time you're going through it. Maintain your determination. Keep reminding yourself why you're doing it. Stay constantly focused on the benefits you'll enjoy from a longer, healthier life. And most of all, think of how good you'll feel about yourself, once you've beaten this bad habit. Think about how good others around you will feel, as well, especially if you have young children. Friends who have quit tell me it's one of the greatest triumphs they've ever experienced in their life. Not to mention one of the best things they've ever done for their health and well-being.

To those of you going through it, I wish you the best of luck.