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Health risks and financial cost make it wise to quit smoking


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POSTED: Thursday, November 19, 2009

Today marks the American Cancer Society's 34th annual Great American Smokeout, which encourages smokers to use the date to stop smoking for at least a day, in the hopes that it will lead to a lifetime of being smoke-free.

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. Thirty percent of cancer deaths, including 87 percent of lung cancer deaths, can be directly attributed to tobacco.

In Hawaii, tobacco use results in the deaths of 1,100 local residents annually. It is estimated that in 2009, 6,400 people in Hawaii will be diagnosed with cancer, and 2,270 will die from it. About 740 people will be diagnosed with lung and bronchus cancer, and 570 will die.

Researchers say quitting smoking can increase life expectancy. Smokers who quit at age 35 gain an average of eight years of life expectancy; those who quit at age 55 gain about five years; and even long-term smokers who quit at 65 gain three years, according to the American Journal of Public Health. Research shows that people who stop smoking before age 50 can cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half compared with those who continue to smoke. Smokers who quit also reduce their risk of lung cancer; 10 years after quitting, the lung cancer death rate is about half that of a continuing smoker's.

Some of the health effects of quitting are almost instant, too: heart rate and blood pressure drop 20 minutes after quitting. Quitting smoking will also reduce preventable health care expenses. Smoking accounts for $193 billion in health care expenditures and productivity losses. Annual health care expenditures in America from secondhand smoke exposure are estimated at $4.98 billion.

In Hawaii, it is estimated tobacco costs are $550 million annually in medical costs and lost productivity.

With recent state and federal tax increases on cigarettes and other tobacco products such as cigars and smokeless tobacco, tobacco products are more expensive than ever — which makes it even more relevant and important to quit. The total tax on a pack of cigarettes in Hawaii is $3.21 ($2.60 per pack state tax and 61 cents federal tax). On July 1, 2010, the state tax will increase by 20 cents a pack.

Smokers who want to quit should talk to their physician. Physicians can provide many useful tips to successfully quit and are an immense resource for programs or products that might work best on the journey to quitting smoking.

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Jackie Young is executive director of the American Cancer Society-Hawaii, and April Troutman Donahue is executive director of the Hawaii Medical Association.