Monday Medical: Declare your own independence

Escape from nicotine’s grip with help from national program

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Yampa Valley Medical Center offers nicotine counseling. You can learn more by calling 970-871-2392 or visiting www.yvmc.org/nicotine. Free resources are available from Colorado QuitLine at 1-800-784-8669 or www.coquitline.org.

— More than two centuries after the Declaration of Independence was signed, a battle for freedom still rages. It’s a fight for independence from nicotine addition.

You may be wondering what our nation’s struggle to separate from British rule has in common with smoking cessation. The answer is more than you might expect.

The United States declared its independence on July 4, 1776. At the time our forefathers faced a long, uphill battle with an enemy that was considered the world’s strongest fighting machine.

Anyone who has tried to wage a war on nicotine will tell you it’s not easy. It’s more like extended combat.

Tobacco products are a fierce and deadly foe. Teenagers, who have no idea how easy it is to become addicted to nicotine, are often drawn into the conflict. Like heroin or cocaine, nicotine changes the way the brain works and causes smokers to crave more and more nicotine.

Consider the following statistics:

■ Every day, nearly 4,000 young people in the United States try their first cigarette, and about 1,000 will become daily smokers.

■ Reports indicate that more than 80 percent of adult cigarette smokers start before their 18th birthday.

■ Children of parents who smoke are twice as likely to become smokers.

Victoria Barron is the community health educator at Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. She knows all too well the dangers posed by tobacco and the challenges involved in quitting.

“We know that quitting tobacco is hard,” Barron said. “But if you never start using tobacco, you never have to quit.”

Barron soon will have reinforcements in her fight for tobacco-free living. The U.S. government launched a groundbreaking new initiative in June called the “National Prevention Strategy.”

The aim of the program is to increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life. Tobacco-free living is one of the seven priorities. Barron said the goal is to move the nation away from a focus on sickness and direct our attention toward prevention and wellness.

“This is an exciting time as we see our nation embrace tobacco prevention,” Barron said. “Prevention is the key.”

We all know tobacco is unhealthy. You’ve probably already heard tobacco is the leading cause of premature and preventable death in the United States. Last year alone, cigarette smoking caused about 443,000 deaths and $96 billion in medical expenses.

If you are ready to take a stand against tobacco, we want you to know what you stand to gain.

■ Day 1: Your blood pressure, pulse rate and temperature of your hands and feet will return to normal.

■ Day 2: Damaged nerve endings will start to regrow, and your sense of taste and smell will begin to return.

■ Day 3: The bronchial tubes in your lungs will begin to relax, breathing will become easier and your lungs’ functional abilities will start to increase.

■ 3 months: Your chronic cough likely will have disappeared.

■ 1 year: Your excess risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke will have dropped to less than half that of a smoker.

■ 10 years: Your risk of lung, pancreatic, mouth, throat and esophageal cancer will have declined.

The timeline is based on smokers who quit cold turkey. Of course that’s not realistic for everyone, and that’s why there are a variety of resources available. Counseling, nicotine replacement therapies and non-nicotine prescription medications all have a demonstrated track record of helping people quit for good.

If you are ready to abolish nicotine’s authority in your life, we want you to know it’s a fight you can win. You may feel outmatched, but take a lesson from the patriots who fought for our country’s freedom.

They didn’t win every battle, but in the end they won a seven-year war and a nation’s freedom. No matter how hopeless it may seem, don’t quit trying to quit.

No inhalation without liberation.

Lisa A. Bankard, director of Wellness at Yampa Valley Medical Center, contributed to this article.

Melissa Phillips Boldman is communications specialist at YVMC and can be reached at melissa.phillips@yvmc.org.

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