Bill L. Wadland, J.R., M.D., M.S.
Professor and Chair, Department of Family Practice
I only smoke a couple of cigarettes a day. What are my chances of becoming a regular smoker?
Nicotine is known to be a more addictive drug than heroin and cocaine. Studies show that even a few cigarettes a day can initiate 50% of teenagers into a regular smoking habit.. Over 90% of smokers are addicted to nicotine. Even someone who smokes as few as four cigarettes a day can become addicted to nicotine.


Why do people start smoking if they know it is bad for them?
The majority of smokers start when they are young, lured in by the tobacco industry's claims that smoking is cool and sexy, and pressure from friends. Over 90% of adult smokers started smoking as teenagers.

Many smokers believe they won't get addicted or have any health problems as a result of smoking. Nicotine has many reinforcing effects. It enhances relaxation, relieves anxiety, and stimulates alertness. Even smokers who attempt to quit, frequently return to smoking to prevent withdrawal symptoms.


How do I know if I am addicted to nicotine?
If you smoke within 30 minutes of getting out of bed and can't resist smoking even when ill, you are probably addicted. Other signs of addiction are smoking more than one pack of cigarettes a day, smoking more in the morning than at other times of the day, and having difficulty refraining from smoking in forbidden places.


I have been smoking for a long time. I don't think I can quit!
You can quit! Over 40 million Americans have quit smoking. Usually it takes several tries to become smoke-free. It's very important not to get discouraged if you aren't able to quit on your first try. Heavily addicted smokers may benefit from nicotine replacement therapies (gum or patch). These products buffer the physical withdrawal symptoms.


What is the best way to quit smoking?
Each individual is unique and so what is "best" for one may not be for the next smoker. The following is a list of ideas that have helped successful ex-smokers develop their own plan of action:
  • Start by setting a day to quit. Prepare for this day by throwing out all your cigarettes and ashtrays, and cleaning the ashtrays in your car.
  • The support of friends, family members, and your personal physician or health care provider is really important. Talk to people you know and ask for their help.
  • People who use nicotine replacement therapy and attend support groups led by trained counselors are the most successful.
  • Plan for times when you know you will have trouble, like when you're drinking coffee in the morning or taking a break at work.
  • You can receive a free "Quit Kit" with tips on becoming smoke free by calling 1-800-537-5666. For more information, ask your health care provider or contact your local American Cancer Society office and/or the American Cancer Society toll free number (1-800-ACS-2345). The Cancer Information Service of the National Cancer Institute can be reached at 1-800-4-CANCER and answers questions in English or Spanish.


What about the patch and gum?
The patch and gum are stop-smoking aids sold over the counter. They are medications that replace some of the nicotine smokers are used to getting from cigarettes and help reduce the symptoms of withdrawal from nicotine. This allows people who are trying to quit to focus on changing their habits without experiencing cravings for cigarettes. You may wish to discuss the use of nicotine replacement therapy with your physician to make sure that you do not have any medical problems preventing its use.


Will I really die earlier if I smoke?
Probably. Smokers die on an average of 10-15 years earlier than non-smokers. Smoking is a leading risk factor for cancer, heart disease and respiratory illnesses. Death rates from cancer are twice as high in smokers as in nonsmokers. One third of all cancers are caused by tobacco use. Smoking is hazardous for both smokers and those exposed to the 200 toxins in cigarette smoke. Approximately 60 substances found in tobacco smoke are known to cause cancer. Many of these substances have a higher concentration in second hand smoke than in the smoke directly inhaled from the cigarette.


I have been smoking for years. Will it really help me to quit now?
Becoming smoke free has health benefits no matter how long you have been smoking. You will probably breathe easier, cough and wheeze less, and help your heart do its job. Most people who quit notice a difference in the way they feel within the first few days of becoming smoke free.


All of my friends smoke. What will they think if I quit?
Your choice to become healthier will affect those around you. It is harder to quit when the people around you support smoking as the norm. Not everyone will be supportive of your efforts, especially those who prefer not to be reminded of their own unhealthy choices. People who truly care about you will want to help you do what is best.

When you decide to quit, get the support of your close friends and be ready to refuse cigarettes that are offered to you by others. This might be uncomfortable, so it is important to practice how you will respond to different situations ahead of time. You may also need to stay away from some people you know for a while until you are ready to face being tempted to smoke.


I've heard lots of things about second hand smoke. How dangerous is it, really?
Second hand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals. Sixty of these chemicals are known to cause cancer. Over 53,000 nonsmokers die each year from diseases associated with breathing second-hand smoke. Infants and children are at greatest risk of having health problems from breathing second-hand smoke. One Swedish study found heavy smokers to be three times as likely to have their babies die of SIDS. Breathing second-hand smoke increases the risks of asthma, ear infections, and pneumonia in children.


Is chewing or dipping tobacco okay?
Whether smoked or chewed, tobacco contains the addictive drug nicotine. You get the same feelings from using chewing tobacco as you do cigarettes. Chewing tobacco increases your likelihood of getting cancer in your cheeks, gums, and throat, and damaging your gums and the roots of your teeth.


Why should I quit?
There are lots of reasons to quit smoking, and lots of benefits. People who quit enjoy better health, live longer, save money, taste and smell food more, know that they are not hurting their family members through second-hand smoke, and don't have to worry about finding a place to smoke in a smoke free building! For pregnant women, quitting makes them more likely to deliver babies with normal weights and less respiratory problems in early childhood.


If I smoke, are my children more likely to start?
Yes. Children observe their parents' behavior. The behavior of adults and older siblings as well as advertising influence whether or not a child begins to smoke and continues this habit.