December 29, 2012 7:46:02 PM
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- This New Year's eve, millions of Americans will resolve to improve their health is by eliminating tobacco products, such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco, from their lives.
JuLeigh Baker, health education specialist at Mississippi State University's Longest Student Health Center, said all tobacco products increase the user's risks of cancer, heart disease, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She said people who smoke are also sick more often from common colds and take longer to recover from illness and surgeries.
"Smoking is extremely dangerous for expectant mothers and children of parents who smoke," she said. "It can lead to low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, asthma or cancer."
In addition to health risks, smoking also has financial ramifications, Baker said.
"Pack-a-day smokers spend more than $2,000 a year on cigarettes," she said. "A person could do a lot of good with that kind of money."
Baker said the most successful plan for quitting is to combine both medical assistance and counseling.
"This could involve a person using some form of either over-the-counter or prescribed medicine to help with the physical cravings, as well as some form of tobacco cessation counseling," she said.
She said Mississippi residents can also call 1-800-Quit-Now, a service that offers counseling via phone or email.
Nicotine replacement aids, such as a nicotine patch or nicotine gum, are common over-the-counter treatments, but some people find a stronger, prescription medication is necessary to kick the habit, Baker said.
"Those trying to quit smoking should speak with their doctor to see what would work best for them based on their medical history," she said.
As addictive as heroin
Ron Williams, assistant professor in MSU's Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, said nicotine is the most addictive component of cigarettes. He is also a researcher with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.
A study by the University of Minnesota found that nicotine is as addictive as heroin, 1000 times more potent than alcohol and five to 10 times more potent than cocaine or morphine. Williams said that while nicotine may not be as acutely dangerous as those substances, it is highly addictive.
Another reason people struggle with quitting is because of the behavioral habits that develop. Williams said most people develop smoking rituals that align with daily activities or social situations, which makes it difficult for people to face those situations without smoking.
"If a smoker has a cigarette with breakfast each morning or has one each time they get into the car, the brain begins to link those behaviors with smoking behavior, so it will trigger a desire for a cigarette," Williams said.
Williams said according to the American Cancer Society, only about 5 percent of people actually quit smoking when they attempt to quit without medicine or other cessation programs.