BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — Just last week, smokers across the country were taking part in the Great American Smokeout. Now, billions of smokers worldwide are continuing their daily battle to end their addiction to nicotine and quit tobacco products.

“I think most physicians, we appreciate the struggle that patients face when they try to stop smoking,” Dr. Elizabeth Hess of UHC Family Medicine said on a recent edition of WAJR-Clarksburg’s “The Gary Bowden Show.” ” I think the statistics are that at least 7 out of 10 current smokers want to quit, maybe even more that they won’t admit it, but it is very difficult.”

But Hess has two pieces of advice for anyone wanting to quit.

“One is it’s never too late to quit,” she said. “And then you can quit, to help them believe in the potential that they can achieve success and use some of these tools that are available to help them.”

When it comes to what resources to use, Hess says everyone is different in terms of what works for them.

For some, it takes medication, for others it may be cessation classes and for others still it may be simply going cold turkey.

“The current tools we have with medications that aid smoking sessation, support programs, coaching programs online, by the phone, in groups, do help a lot of people. Then I have those patients that walk in and tell me, ‘I decided I was going to quit, I put them down and never looked back,'” Hess said. “You can see a spectrum of success stories, but success is out there for the people who want to take the first step.”

There’s a reason that smoking is such a nasty habit to quit.

“Nicotine is a highly addictive drug. Scientists scale the addictive potential of different substances, and nicotine rates up there with morphine and heroin, so it latches on and your body and brain like to receive that feedback again and again,” Hess said. “It’s very addictive and very hard to come off of, so there will withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and the physical withdrawal can be difficult.”

But there’s also a psychological withdrawal that smokers suffer from when quitting, Hess said.

“Smoking has been a habit or behavior that they may have engaged in for decades,” she said. “It’s a part of their morning routines. They get up, they have coffee, they have a cigarette. At work 10:30, they go out with their friends, they have a cigarette.”

But the good news is, for those who are able to quit, the benefits to your body begin to accrue almost immediately‚Äč.

“The initial thing is that the blood pressure and heart rate can return to normal, just like it immediately gets elevated when you do smoke, so you immediately get some changes with relaxation of the blood vessels and improvement that way,” Hess said. “With the airways, the cilia, the little hair cells that help the debris from the lungs start to regenerate and recover.”

In fact, Hess said that smokers who quit often have increased cough and fume production because they’re cleaning those airways and all of the debris is finally coming out.

“Within months, the airway function will start to improve, you’ll clear the debris out, the immune system recovers, they’re not as susceptible to infections, pneumonia and viruses that circulate because they have that airway that they can clear,” she said.

Even bigger changes occur after a decade or two out from that last cigarette.

“They can recover cardiovascular function and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease almost back to that of a non-smoker after about 15 years, and the same with the lungs,” Hess said. “I think it’s about 15 or 20 years out, your risk of lung cancer can actually return to that of a non-smoker.”

So while Hess tells her patients that it’s never too late to quit, she also points out that it’s a “the sooner, the better” situation.

“Especially in our young smokers,” she said. “Quitting smoking before the age of 40 reduces the risk of dying from smoking-related disease by about 90 percent.”

To learn more about the resources available to help smokers quit, click here.

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