Rock Doc column: Get help to kick the habit this year

By E. Kirsten Peters, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

Peters-e-k-2010-80PULLMAN, Wash. – Thirty years ago I was a light smoker. What can I say? I liked the effect nicotine had on my brain.

Once I was hooked, I even liked the smell of tobacco smoke. Then there was the ritual. I enjoyed lighting up with others, sharing a match, having a few minutes to talk together.

But I also realized smoking was a dangerous habit. After several failed attempts to quit, I was able, for some reason, to go cold turkey and finally be done with tobacco. There were some difficult days and restless nights, but I made it and have been free of my nicotine dependence for a long time.

Maybe I got off easy. One thing is for sure: I don’t judge anyone who still smokes because I know some strong willed people who have yet to quit.

But while the new year is still in its infancy, perhaps it’s worth taking a look at the medical facts to see how much good you can do yourself by quitting now. And there’s some research about a new product that might help you quit once and for all.

The website says that if you stop smoking right now, you can look forward to the following:

—Your blood pressure and heart rate will drop in 20 minutes.

—The carbon monoxide levels in your blood will become normal within 12 hours.

—Your lung function and circulation will improve at 3 months.

—You will breathe easier within 9 months.

—Your risk of coronary heart disease will drop by 50 percent after 1 year.

—Your risk of cancer of the throat and mouth will drop by 50 percent after 5 years.

—Your risk of dying from lung cancer will drop by 50 percent after 10 years.

—After 15 years, you’ll have the same risk of coronary heart disease as if you’d never smoked.

You can use those facts as the “carrots” to arm yourself with the will to quit. If you want some “sticks” to throw in the mix, here are a few from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

—Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death.

—Smokers die 10 years earlier than those who don’t smoke.

—Tobacco causes more than 5 million deaths each year around the world.

—In one recent year, the cigarette industry spent more than $8 billion promoting its products.

Quitting isn’t easy but there are more and more approaches that might help you along your journey to freedom from cigarettes. There are prescription medications you can get from your doctor — pills that may make the craving less intense. There are nicotine patches and gum you can get over the counter — materials that help you through the rough patches without lighting up.

And there’s a new device on the scene, too, namely the electronic “e-cigarette.” The device creates a vapor laced with nicotine. While some fear the e-cigarette may hook a new generation, the good news is that others have found it useful in the battle to quit nicotine altogether.

According to a news report in the BBC, a study published in the journal Lancet found that, after six months, 57 percent of e-cigarette users had cut the number of daily cigarettes in half compared with 41 percent using nicotine patches.

“It’s also interesting that the people who took part in our study seemed to be much more enthusiastic about e-cigarettes than patches,” professor Chris Bullen of the University of Auckland told the BBC.

If you are ready to do the work of quitting tobacco, more power to you. Check out e-cigarettes if they sound interesting and you think they could help you quit. The year is young and you have a lot to live for.


Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.