When I was a student in the University of Utah's Public Health Program, I took a class on illegal drug use. We studied the use of drugs, their immediate effects and their longer-term side effects. We learned that certain drugs -- illegal or not -- are known for their propensity to lead to addiction and interfere with a person's ability to choose.
We also learned about one especially insidious drug: nicotine. Nicotine can be as addictive as cocaine or heroin, and it is the most common form of chemical addiction in the United States. The smoke from tobacco contains a deadly mix of more than 7,000 chemicals; hundreds are toxic; and about 70 can lead to cancer.
Many of my patients have attempted to quit smoking because of the risks -- primarily heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease (diseases of blood vessels outside of the heart and brain), lung infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancers, infertility and, ultimately, premature death.
Smoking also has significant impact on an individual's bank account -- one study found that in Utah, a single pack of cigarettes costs an average of $7.30 (14th highest in the nation). And because smoking carries such a stigma, it can harm one's social life. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 68.8 percent of adult smokers want to quit, and millions have attempted to quit. However, there is good news -- in 2002, the number of former smokers exceeded the number of current smokers.
Given the great health and financial incentives, more people than ever desire to give up the habit. The most effective methods of quitting include:
* Prescriptions such as varenicline (known commercially as Chantix) and bupropion, an anti-depressant and smoking-cessation drug that is commonly known as Wellbutrin
* Over-the-counter nicotine replacements, such as nicotine inhalers and gums and patches
* Cognitive behavioral therapy.
The differing forms of therapy work negatively or positively with different people; one therapy is likely to be more effective than others. Patients often need a combination of therapies. For instance, a new Tanner Clinic smoking-cessation program combines behavioral therapy with medications to maximize results. This is important because nicotine withdrawal places so much stress on an individual's mood and ability to perform. The program also screens for smoking related-diseases and teaches about how to maintain appropriate weight loss.
Unfortunately, despite the importance and universality of this health issue, few avenues have been developed to help people navigate through their addiction.
Many county health departments offer programs to help Utahns quit their habit, as does Hill Air Force Base's Health and Wellness Center.
I hope to soon see more programs developed so that smokers will be able to obtain the help and support they need to quit. Crushing that cigarette habit will not only be a great accomplishment for the smoker, but beneficial for their family and friends, as well as our community.
Dr. Yeates practices family medicine and sports medicine at Tanner Clinic's location in Kaysville.