Smoking is without a doubt one of the top risks for developing health problems and shortening your life, but there are plenty of folks who continue putting themselves at risk.
Dr. Alan Blum with the University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences has been studying smoking cessation for decades, and he’s responsible for UA’s campus-wide nonsmoking policy.
“I think it’s a tragedy that we’re still talking about this issue at all more than 50 years after the Surgeon General’s report on smoking showed proof positive this is the leading cause of cancer, the leading cause of heart disease,” Blum said.
There are still 500,000 people dying each year from smoking-related illnesses in the country, Blum said, and smokers often don’t experience illness until 20 to 30 years after they began smoking.
“The great thing for the tobacco companies, and why they’re still making record profits, is because those who smoke are younger than ever,” Blum said.
People ages 21 to 34 believe they’re immune to health issues, Blum said, and by the time they catch on to the dangers, it may be too late.
Blum said he thinks smoking is one of the worst health care failures of the 20th and 21st centuries.
“The state of Alabama spends less now to fight smoking than when I arrived in Alabama nearly 20 years ago,” Blum said.
A big part of the problem? Everyone thinks the war’s been won, Blum said.
“When we go to hospitals we don’t see smoking,” he said. “It’s banned in many places. But in people with very little education, and people with the least income, smoking is still very, very popular.”
And smoking isn’t cheap: packs cost between $4 and $6 in Alabama. Advertising, while it’s not as prevalent as in years past, is still widely visible in magazines.
Many younger people, or those trying to quit, are turning to e-cigarettes because it’s not as harmful as smoking, Blum said. E-cigarettes don’t put smoke in your lungs, but Blum said the jury’s still out on whether they’re a beneficial smoking cessation aid or not.
“I don’t see any reason not to try them if that’s what you’re trying to do to stop smoking,” Blum said. “I think there’s been an overreaction to them to try and get them banned.”
But the best way to stop smoking is also the cheapest, Blum said. Go cold turkey. At $5 a pack, if you smoke a pack a day you’re spending $1,825 on cigarettes in a year.
“It’s astounding how much it adds up that people aren’t realizing,” Blum said.
Having a hard time quitting? See your physician. Doctors can prescribe medicines, patches and more that can help smokers quit.
Many employers have help available for employees looking to kick the habit, too.
For more information on quitting, visit smokefree.gov.