JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas –
Smoking has been declining for years, but statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that an alarming number of Americans continue to smoke tobacco products – nearly 50 million cigarette and cigar smokers alone.
A habit with dire consequences, smoking causes about one of every five deaths in the United States each year – or more than 480,000 deaths – according to the CDC.
During Tobacco Awareness Month in November, Joint Base San Antonio health professionals addressed the dangers of smoking by providing outreach via information tables at facilities such as the JBSA-Lackland Commissary, Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center and JBSA medical clinics, said Claudia Holtz, 559th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Health Promotions Program manager.
“Resources that include the 559th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Health Promotions office at JBSA-Lackland, the Army Wellness Center at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston’s Vogel Resiliency Center and JBSA health care providers are also available throughout the year to provide smoking cessation advice,” she said.
Smoking’s consequences include lung cancer, other lung diseases, heart attacks and strokes. It is also a habit that’s hard to kick.
Addiction is especially problematic for young smokers, Holtz said.
“Nicotine affects brain development, which continues to age 25,” she said. “”Since addiction is a form of learning, adolescents are more susceptible to getting addicted than adults. This is not just for tobacco products, but for other addictive substances such as cocaine.”
Vaping – the act of inhaling and exhaling aerosol produced by an electronic cigarette and other devices – poses its own problems.
The aerosol used in vaping can contain harmful and potentially harmful chemicals including nicotine; ultrafine particles that can be inhaled; volatile organic compounds such as benzene, found in car exhaust; and heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead.
Although research continues into the possible dangers of inhaling these chemicals, the CDC still recommends refraining from vaping, Holtz said.
Vaping is of particular concern to the military because of its attraction to the young. In the United States, youth are more likely than adults to use e-cigarettes, according to the CDC.
Smoking is a difficult habit to stop, but the benefits of quitting accrue quickly, Holtz said.
Within 20 minutes, the heart rate falls. Within 24 hours, the risk of heart attack drops. In two to three weeks, lung function improves and walking becomes easier. In one year, the risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker.
“Quitting smoking also helps with thinning the blood, so it is less likely to form blood clots,” Holtz said. “It will also lower the levels of cholesterol and fats circulating in your blood, which lowers the risk of new fatty deposits in arteries.
“It helps stop lung damage, prevents emphysema and returns cilia to regrow and regain function, not to mention the decreased risk of cancer, lowering belly fat, normalizing estrogen levels, promoting proper healing, and helping build stronger muscles and bones that increase sport performance,” she said.
Smokers who quit the habit benefit from better vision, a cleaner mouth and clearer skin.
There are steps smokers can take to address their problem, Holtz said.
“Seek help with replacement therapy for adults, by discussing your problem with a medical provider or by using websites that help smokers kick their habit,” she said. “Youth should seek the advice of leadership, school teachers and counselors, or their parents for more guidance on how to receive help.”
A program provided by Air Force Health Promotions called HeRO – Health and Readiness Optimization – helps Air Force leaders improve the health of their officers and Airmen by addressing problems such as smoking and vaping, Holtz said.
“Leaders are able to get an up-to-date report on their unit’s health in a number of areas,” she said. “By improving and focusing on the health status of active-duty members, leaders can positively influence mission readiness and force protection. Health Promotions can assist with the implementation of initiatives to help decrease unhealthy behaviors through education, skill building, marketing and awareness, policy and evaluations.”
Efforts to curb smoking are especially important because of the habit’s impact on youth, Holtz said.
“Emphasizing the explicit details of what happens to people when they smoke should be warned throughout the year, not just this month,” she said. “There are new, inventive ways to smoke as time moves on and people have to be warned and updated about these dangers.”