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Smokeout Provides Servicemembers Opportunity to Be Quitters

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2005 – The American Cancer Society's 29th Great American Smokeout is a great day to become a quitter, a senior Defense Department health official said.

"Hopefully, for those who have an impulse to quit, this may be a spark to action," Dr. Jack Smith, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for clinical and program policy, said. "If you can stop tobacco use for one day, maybe you can quit for good. If nothing else, it gets people thinking and gives them the opportunity to make plans for action down the road."

DoD's hope is that the Nov. 17 Smokeout will motivate tobacco-using servicemembers to kick the habit by highlighting the dangers of tobacco use, Smith said. The percentage of smokers in the civilian sector is about 23 percent, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Military health experts put the number of servicemembers who use tobacco at about 34 percent.

"The long-term goal would be to have none of our people be tobacco users. That would be the ideal," Smith said. "In the near term, we'd be very pleased to see a substantial reduction by a third or a half from the current prevalence."

There are many reasons for a tobacco user to quit smoking, dipping or chewing, Smith said. The best of those reasons is the effect on force readiness. Tobacco use slows wound healing and increases the chance of respiratory infections and other health problems. It also reduces general fitness and causes problems that might not be readily associated with tobacco use.

"There is an effect on night vision. In the operational environment that can be a critical factor that impacts on our ability to get the mission done," Smith said. "If we can have people who are free of tobacco addiction and free of the adverse impacts to their health that that brings, then that obviously is a significant benefit to readiness and to fitness overall."

And the benefits far outweigh the struggle to quit, he said, adding that in the first 12 hours after a person quits smoking, all carbon monoxide is cleared from the blood. After five years, the risk of heart disease and heart attack begins to approach that of people who have never smoked. In 15 years, a former smoker's risk of these health problems is the same as that of someone the same age and gender who never smoked. The risk of cancer also stops rising when tobacco use is halted, Smith added.

If that's not enough to convince a servicemember to kick the butt, consider this: It's just plain expensive.

According to TobaccoFreeKids.org, the average retail cost of a pack of cigarettes in the United States is about $4.32. At a pack a day, the total for a year of smoking is more than $1,500.

For those who decide to make the Great American Smokeout their first smoke-free day, help is available. While the American Cancer Society's Web site offers a page dedicated to tobacco cessation, Smith said servicemembers can find extra help nearby.

"All of the services have health-promotion and preventive-medicine programs. Probably the best place to start with inquiring about opportunities for quitting would be with your primary-care manager," Smith said. "There's a lot of resources out there for someone who's interested in quitting."

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Dr. Jack Smith

Related Sites:
Great American Smokeout
DoD Health Affairs

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