A 62-year-old woman with a nagging cough and occasional blood-tinged sputum is given the devastating diagnosis: cancer of the right lung. A 68-year-old diabetic man develops pain in the calf muscles while walking, then gangrene in a toe, eventually needing amputation of that foot. A 52-year-old-man vacationing abroad has a heart attack and dies instantly.
What do they have in common? All were chronic cigarette smokers, averaging one to two packs daily for more than 30 years.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and diseases in the United States, causing an estimated 440,000 premature deaths annually.
More than 30 percent of all cancers in the body, and many heart attacks and strokes, could be prevented if Americans stopped smoking. Nearly every organ in the body is affected by smoking, and it is the biggest cause of chronic lung disease and lung cancer.
Forty-five years have passed since the U.S. surgeon general reported the unquestionable dangers of smoking. However, the habit continues relentlessly, with more than 20 percent of the adult population in the United States still smoking.
In general, a smoker dies 15 to 20 years earlier than a nonsmoker. The relative risk of getting a heart attack is much higher in younger age groups, almost fivefold if you are under 40. Cancers of the stomach, kidney, bladder, tongue and cheek occur frequently, the last two especially among those who chew tobacco.
Diabetic smokers have a higher incidence of heart attacks and strokes; even their blood sugar control becomes difficult. Early signs of aging such as facial wrinkles are more common in chronic smokers. Secondhand smoke, which harms those around the smoker, is a major hazard as well.
It is for these reasons that six area hospitals — Bayonet Point, Brooksville and Spring Hill Regional, Oak Hill, Seven Rivers and Citrus Memorial —have started a grass roots program aimed at tobacco-free campuses by Jan. 1.
The grand kickoff by the three hospitals in Hernando County in early September was attended by many hospital staff members, volunteers and the public. Free tobacco cessation classes and counseling programs are being offered.
How did this all come about? In August, a dialogue was initiated by the hospitals to decide how to launch the smoking cessation program. The consensus was to initiate the program simultaneously, hoping that other institutions in the county would follow suit. Certainly these joint ventures will create much-needed awareness among the hospital staff and the public.
Don't underestimate the addictive power of nicotine in all tobacco products. The annual long-term successful abstinence rate is a dismal 2 to 3 percent. Often you need professional help and support. So don't procrastinate.
Take advantage of programs offering inexpensive practical strategies to get the smoking monkey off your back. It is the key to a long, healthy life and the only prevention strategy that is cost-saving for the rest of your life.
No matter how long you have smoked, quitting is always followed by improvement in your health. And it is never too late to quit.
Let us pull out all the stops and make our tricounty area a smoke-free, healthy place to live by Jan. 1.
Dr. M.P. Ravindra Nathan is a Brooksville cardiologist.