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With Military Readiness on the Line, DoD Reminds Smokers 'D-Day' Is Nov. 20

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2003 – Smoking affects both the personal health and readiness of military personnel, so DoD is encouraging those who smoke or use smokeless tobacco to take steps to end their addiction by taking part in the Great American Smokeout Nov. 20.

According to Dr. David Tornberg, deputy assistant secretary of defense for clinical and program policy, smoking percentages are highest in the 18-25 age group, which is a significant part of the military's ranks. He said that smoking impacts military readiness by "cutting" into the physical endurance of military personnel.

"There is a substantial reduction in physical endurance as a consequence of smoking. And we just can't ignore it," Tornberg said. He added that cigarette smoking can have a "psychological" impact on military personnel as well.

"When one starts smoking, there is the initial 'high' that one gets from smoking a cigarette, and that's followed by fatigue (and) depression, which leads to the individual to want to have another cigarette," he noted. "All that is really a detriment to the physical condition and the mental well-being of the fighting men and women."

Tornberg warned that the health dangers are great. "Smoking itself is associated with a host of diseases and we're all familiar with the pulmonary effects of smoking -- emphysema, chronic lung disease, chronic productive coughs, the shortness of breath," he said. "But there are also 'silent killers,'" he added, citing oral and nasal cancer, and heart disease. He said all these diseases are "major killers in the United States" and linked strongly to tobacco use.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 46 million adults smoke, of which an estimated 425,000 people die every year from smoking- and tobacco-related illnesses. Each year, smoking is responsible for one in five deaths. Treating tobacco -related illnesses costs the United States more than $50 billion annually.

Tornberg said the Defense Department has a number of health promotion programs in areas such as smoking cessation, stress reduction, weight management and physical conditioning in place to help military personnel quit smoking. "The total package of our health promotion efforts all improve the likelihood of a successful outcome for those attempting to quit smoking, and committed to doing so." He also recommends direct counseling as a way to get smokers to quit.

"A five-minute approach from a counselor, a physician or friend can result in a 5 percent success rate in quitting, but if that is combined with effective medication to address nicotine craving and to substitute for the nicotine itself, we can have a 30 percent success rate," he said. "In fact, combined with a global health promotion program in stress management and support system, that percentage can reach as high as 50 percent."

Tornberg also pointed out other means for smokers to quit: Identify "trigger actions" that lead to craving to smoke and change habits and look for distractions that will take their mind off the intense desire to smoke.

Also, he said that there are a variety of products to help those wanting to give up smoking, such as nicotine replacement and anti-craving medicines.

However, the most important step for smokers to make is to announce their intention to quit, he emphasized. Tornberg said that smokers should let their peer group know they plan to quit and then seek their support. "Try it on a buddy basis or some significant person in their life, to use them as a reinforcement," he pointed out.

And he said, just "take it one day at a time."

"Plan to focus on today," he noted. "Today is the day they're not going to smoke a cigarette and that approach will also take care of it each subsequent day."

Tornberg said that for those who are able to quit, the health benefits can be felt almost immediately. The first and foremost benefit is better sleeping at night, he said. "Smoking affects concentration, it affects irritability, some of that's associated with the restless sleep associated with smoking."

Other immediate effects include not inflicting family and friends with the effects of second-hand smoke, he said.

The long-term effects of quitting can lead to some reversal of damage to the heart and lungs. Tornberg said that over a period of time the body can begin to heal itself, "if you take the trauma of cigarette smoking away."

"That's a tremendous benefit from stopping, that your body can regenerate, that you can achieve a new baseline of lung function and health, even if damage has already occurred. So it's very beneficial to quit wherever in the smoking cycle you are, and quit today."

Tornberg is hopeful the "today" for many smokers to quit will be Nov. 20, the day of the Great American Smokeout. "If you talk to people who have successfully kicked an addiction to substances, particularly nicotine, they take a point in time that that's the day they're going to quit. And they marshal all their resources, psychological support from friends to make that day an important day."

"So to succeed in quitting, it's important to have a commitment to a start date and the Great American Smokeout offers that," he said. "It offers the support of so many other smokers who are also trying to kick the habit and take it one day at a time."

More on quitting smoking is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Information on the Great American Smokeout and other tobacco cessation and treatment programs can be found on the American Cancer Society Web site.

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