Woodward, Okla. —
Everybody knows next Thursday is "Turkey Day," but for smokers this Thursday could be your "cold turkey day."
That's because Thursday, Nov. 21 is being recognized as the Great American Smokeout, which is a national campaign by the American Cancer Society (ACS) to encourage the nearly 44 million Americans who smoke to make a plan to quit.
Kaye Cortez is a nurse practitioner who began practicing at Woodward Regional Hospital in October.
Cortez said that smoking leads to a number of serious health concerns, including the risk of death.
"We talk about smoking with our patients at every visit because it is so important," she said. "And the numbers involved are truly scary; smoking causes more deaths than alcohol, AIDS, illegal drugs, car crashes, fires, murders and suicides combined."
But Cortez said there is a way for smokers to avoid adding to that statistic, by making a decision to quit.
"It doesn't matter how old you are, when you started or how long you've been smoking, quitting is always better," she said.
And the benefits of quitting can be seen right away, as well as over time, she said.
"The American Cancer Society has this neat tool on their website that tells how your body begins to recover after quitting smoking," Cortez said. "In just 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure go down. In 12 hours, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood drop to normal. In 2 to 3 months your circulation and lung function get better."
In addition, she said, the longer you quit, the more you reduce your risk of dying from smoking-related diseases.
"At only one year, your risk of coronary heart disease is half that of what it would be if you had continued to smoke," she said.
For more information about the health benefits of quitting smoking, Cortez said to visit the ACS Great American Smokeout website at cancer.org/smokeout.
The Smokeout website also offers other resources to help smokers in making their plan to quit, including a quiz to discover if you need help to quit and a guide to quitting smoking, that offers information about why you should quit and ways to be successful in quitting.
Another tool available at cancer.org/smokeout is a downloadable countdown clock, which the website says will give you "daily tips right on your desktop that will help you prepare to quit" as it counts down to your chosen quit day.
But the American Cancer Society website is only one online resource for smokers looking to quit, Cortez said.
"The Mayo Clinic, WebMD, and American Heart Association all have online things that talk about quitting smoking," she said. "For rural places like out here, this type of online access is a good thing because a lot of times in rural areas we're limited in resources."
Another resource is the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline, which offers free assistance by phone as well as online for those looking to stop smoking. The Helpline's phone number is 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or to register for help online, visit www.ok.gov/helpline/.
According to the Helpline's website, "Most participants are eligible for a free 2-week Starter Kit of nicotine patches or gum with registration."
Cortez said that smokers can also always speak with their physicians about quitting.
"They can talk with their healthcare providers about additional things they can offer to help you quit," she said.
While the sheer number of websites with information about quitting smoking show that there are many different ways to quit, Cortez offered a few basic tips for anyone looking to stop smoking:
• Learn new stress management techniques. "A lot of people just need to learn new skills because often they smoke because they're stressed," she said, noting, "Exercise is always a good alternative."
• Avoid your smoking triggers. For example, Cortez said, if you feel like smoking when you drink alcohol, then avoid alcohol, or if you typically have a cigarette after lunch, don't bring your cigarettes with you when you go to lunch. She said that "staying away from other smokers and just staying busy," can also be quite helpful in the quest to quit.
• Ask for help. Cortez said that having support from family and friends is often key for those trying to quit. Also because nicotine is so addictive, she said some people may not be able to quit cold turkey and need other alternatives to quit gradually. "There's medication you can take to help you quit or you can use nicotine patches or gums that taper down the nicotine levels," she said.
• Don't give up. "Most people try several times before they do quit successfully. So if you fail, don't give up; it's normal," Cortez said. "Just think about the reason you started smoking again and keep that in mind when you make your next attempt to try to avoid that situation again."