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2020 Health Challenge Month 2: Say Goodbye to Smoking

January 29, 2020

It’s a fact: Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death. If you’re a smoker, you probably know it’s not a good habit to have. But do you know just what your health stands to benefit from quitting?

We’re helping you set realistic goals for your health in 2020! Each month, we’ll offer up a challenge for one thing you can do that month to improve your health.

Dr. W. Neil McKee

This month, we challenge you to quit smoking once and for all. But first, let’s talk about why you should quit. W. Neil McKee, MD, a pulmonologist with West Tennessee Medical Group, offers some perspective.

How Smoking Harms Your Health
Smoking is a health hazard, but why? There are a number of reasons, but the main reason is that tobacco smoke contains items that are dangerous.

In fact, it’s made up of more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are harmful and at least 70 that are known to be carcinogenic, meaning cancer-causing.

That’s pretty sobering, right?

Cigarette smoking, then, is the top preventable cause of death among Americans, contributing to some 480,000 deaths each year. That’s more deaths than those caused by HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries and firearm-related incidents combined. 

Smoking is a contributor in nine of 10 lung cancer deaths and eight of 10 deaths due to COPD. But it doesn’t just harm the lungs—it’s a contributing cause of many types of cancer, including cervical cancer, bladder cancer and stomach cancer. It also diminishes bone health, affects your dental health and can increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes.

In other words, it has an adverse effect on every part of the body.

How Your Health Benefits When You Quit Smoking
So, if your health is adversely affected when you smoke, logically you stand to benefit when you quit. But you might be surprised by how many positive changes you can see—and how quickly some of them occur after you quit smoking.

The American Heart Association and U.S. Surgeon General outline some benefits:


  • Within 20 minutes, your blood pressure and heart rate recover from nicotine’s effects.


  • After 12 hours, your carbon monoxide levels return to normal.
  • After two weeks, your circulation and lung function starts to improve.
  • After one to nine months, your breathing will improve and you’ll experience less coughing and shortness of breath.
  • After one year, your risk of heart disease decreases by 50%.
  • After five years, your risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder cancers is cut in half. Your risk of cervical cancer and stroke returns to that of a nonsmoker.
  • After 10 years, your risk of lung cancer is cut in half. 
  • After 15 years, your risk of heart disease is the same as a nonsmoker.



The benefits don’t end there! Your hearing will sharpen, you’ll have better night vision, your skin will clear up, you’ll have lower cholesterol, you’re less likely to develop belly fat and your immune system will be stronger.

What to Know About Quitting Smoking
It can seem impossible to quit smoking, but it is not. In fact, there are now more former smokers in the United States than there are current smokers. That’s a huge step in the right direction!

Quitting smoking does take determination, and you may have to try more than once before you can be successful. But it’s worth it.

Your first step is to determine how you’re going to quit. While some people can simply quit cold turkey and not look back, many others require some assistance to quit.

Talk with your doctor about the smoking cessation method that might work best for you. Your best strategy might include:

  • Behavioral therapy
  • Individual or group counseling
  • OTC or prescription nicotine replacement products
  • Prescription smoking cessation medication

You can also tap into national resources designed to help you quit. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) to access a variety of resources, including support and counseling, a personalized plan for quitting, information about smoking cessation aids and referrals to other resources. Help of the same variety is also available online, including resources specifically designed for veterans, women, and teens.

Your doctor can help advise you about the risks associated with smoking and how your health will improve when you quit. Looking for a doctor? FIND ONE HERE.