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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for one of every five deaths each year, or 1,300 deaths every day. Despite this, 15.5 percent of American adults continue to smoke (17.5 percent of males, 13.5 percent of females).

It's just as important to know that smoking is also dangerous to nonsmokers who breathe in secondhand smoke. It’s shocking to know that there are 41,000 deaths per year from secondhand smoke exposure. This is because they are inhaling the same nicotine and toxins. There is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure; any amount is harmful to a person’s health. Although secondhand smoke exposure is dangerous to everyone, fetuses, infants and children are at most risk, as it can damage developing organs such as the lung and brain.

Are there effective ways to quit? Yes!

And you have choices. There are many methods currently being used to help people quit smoking. The U.S. Public Health Service lists seven medical agents for this, which includes five forms of nicotine replacement treatment and two oral medications.

1. Nicotine replacement therapy: This is a method that delivers a dose of nicotine through the body by means other than tobacco. NRT helps smokers quit by reducing cravings, and is available in multiple forms including patches, gum, lozenges and inhalers. Some of these formulations are available over the counter; others require a prescription. Smoking while using NRT is not recommended due to risk of nicotine overdose.

2. Wellbutrin: This is an atypical antidepressant often prescribed to help with smoking cessation. Not only does it reduce the nicotine cravings, but it can help with the irritability associated with quitting smoking. It may also reduce the tendency to overeat during the cessation process. Wellbutrin does not contain nicotine, so there is no risk of nicotine poisoning if starting the medication before you quit altogether.

3. Chantix: This medication works by blocking the pleasant effects of smoking in the brain and decreasing withdrawal symptoms. Like Wellbutrin, it is safe to begin Chantix before quitting smoking altogether. There are some safety concerns associated with this medication, which your provider should discuss with you in detail before starting.

Selecting a smoking cessation aid will help improve quitting success. If you are thinking about quitting, consider calling the state Smokers Quitline at (866) NY-QUITS. They can provide information to help you formulate a personalized quit plan. You may also be eligible to receive free or discounted medications. Or call one of our health centers for more guidance.

The effects of cigarette smoking

If you’re still on the fence, consider the fact that that smoking harms nearly every organ in the human body:

Lungs: Smoking causes lung disease in two ways. First, it damages the alveoli, or air sacs in the lungs, which makes it more difficult to absorb oxygen into the bloodstream. Secondly, smoking destroys the cilia in the upper airways, which decreases the ability to clear dirt and pollution from the lungs, putting a person at increased risk for infections, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Cardiovascular: Smoking damages the heart and the blood vessels, increasing the risk of developing plaque buildup in the arteries. This could result in high blood pressure, coronary artery disease or a stroke. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease.

Teeth/mouth: Smoking affects the health and appearance of teeth and gums, and is also responsible for cancer of the mouth and throat.

Reproductive (women): Smoking increases a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer. Smoking can negatively affect a woman’s fertility as well as her baby’s health, as it increases the risk for pre-term delivery, low birth weight, ectopic pregnancy and birth defects.

Reproductive (men): Smoking affects a man’s sperm, reducing fertility and increasing risk for miscarriage and birth defects. Smoking also contributes to erectile dysfunction.

If you are interested in discussing quitting smoking or any of this information with a health care professional, I encourage you to schedule an appointment with one of our providers at the Finger Lakes Community Health office nearest you. Give us a call at (315) 781-8448.

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Meghan Hutchings is a family nurse practitioner at Port Byron Community Health, part of Finger Lakes Community Health, an independent health care organization with eight health centers in the region. For more information, visit