Don’t let your health go up in smoke

If you’re one of the more than 20 percent of adults who smoke in Alabama, it’s probably no secret that it’s bad for your health. From cancers and heart attacks to strokes and COPD, smoking increases the risk of a wide range of serious problems. Smoking can also be particularly harmful for older people and may complicate or lead to the early onset of age-related conditions such as cataracts and other vision problems, bone density loss and hearing loss. If you’re an older smoker, you may have tried to quit before or may even think that it’s too late to quit. But it’s never too late to quit. Quitting has benefits for all ages.

The benefits of quitting

Smokefree 60+ provides free, accurate, evidence-based information and professional assistance to help support the immediate and long-term needs of people trying to quit smoking. According to this online resource created by the Tobacco Control Research Branch of the National Cancer Institute, the benefits of quitting can start in as little as a few minutes after your last puff.  Your heart rate and blood pressure drop to more normal levels after not smoking for 20 minutes. If you can continue to not smoke, the benefits continue to build over time. After 12 hours carbon monoxide levels return to normal. If you quit for two weeks, your lung function begins to improve. Your risk of coronary heart disease decreases by 50 percent after one year of not smoking. After 10 years of quitting, your risk of all smoking-related cancers decreases by up to 50 percent.

The danger of alternatives

In 2017, 6.3 percent of Alabama adults used smokeless tobacco and 4.9 percent used electronic cigarettes. Some people may think smokeless tobacco products like chewing tobacco and snuff, or e-cigarettes (vaping) are safer alternatives to smoking. They may also use these products as a stop-gap measure to quit smoking. However, there is no safe tobacco product. Smokeless tobacco products still have dangers such as gum problems, mouth lesions and cancers of the mouth and pancreas.

Researchers are still studying the long-term impacts of e-cigarettes and other devices used for vaping. However, these devices may contain harmful substances like lead and cancer-causing chemicals. Some flavorings in e-cigarettes have been linked to lung disease. Recently, there has been a nationwide outbreak of serious lung injuries related to vaping. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been about 2,051 cases of injury and 39 confirmed deaths, including three in Alabama, associated with e-cigarette use. As of November 5, 2019, the median age of the people who have died due to vaping related-lung injuries was 53 and their ages ranged from 17 to 75.

Recent CDC laboratory tests results have linked vitamin E acetate in vaping fluids to samples from lung disease victims. However, according to the CDC, “No one compound or ingredient has emerged as the cause of these illnesses to date; and it may be that there is more than one cause of this outbreak. Many different substances and product sources are still under investigation.” The CDC still recommends caution for users of e-cigarette products such as not modifying the devices or adding substances that were not intended by the manufacturer. However, the only way to assure that you are not at risk of injury or death is to consider not using all e-cigarette products, according to the CDC.

Plan to quit

According to the National Institute on Aging, many people who have successfully stopped smoking made a firm decision to quit and picked a definite date to stop. If you want to stop, you should make a plan to deal with the situations that trigger your urge to smoke and to cope with nicotine cravings. The institute suggests approaches such as:

  • Talking with your doctor about smoking cessation
  • Taking medicine to help with symptoms of nicotine withdrawal
  • Using nicotine replacement products, such as patches and gums or nicotine sprays and inhalers
  • Reading self-help information
  • Individual or group counseling
  • Downloading the mobile apps or signing up for the text messaging service at SmokeFree60+
  • Asking friends or family for help
  • Thinking of what you can do with the money you save on cigarettes and setting up a rewards system
  • Taking a walk or trying a new physical activity you enjoy

Help available

Alabama Public Health and federal agencies have several resources to aid Alabamians who want to stop using tobacco products. If you need help quitting, consider the following free support programs:

The Alabama Tobacco Quitline


Local smoking cessation programs in Alabama:


National Cancer Institute