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Malamalama’aga o le Kanesa

Based on various surveys and focus groups conducted in our community during the last 10 years the majority of our people do understand that smoking causes cancer; lung cancer in particular. What they don’t realize is that the poisonous chemicals in cigarettes, chewing tobacco and secondhand smoke are also linked to other types of cancer and heart disease.  An estimated 20% of all deaths from heart disease in the U.S. are directly caused by cigarette smoking. 

In American Samoa, heart disease is the number one cause of death.

The risk of heart disease and heart attack increases with the number of cigarettes a person smokes. Smokers have a two to four times higher chance of having heart disease, and smokers continue to increase their risk of heart attack the longer they smoke. Smokers also put people around them at risk for developing health problems, especially children.

Environmental tobacco smoke, also called secondhand smoke, affects people who are frequently around smokers. Secondhand smoke can also cause asthma, chronic breathing problems, cancer, and heart disease. It is estimated that nearly 70,000 nonsmokers die from heart disease each year as a result of exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.

How does smoking cause heart disease?  The nicotine in smoke causes heart disease by:

Decreasing oxygen to the heart

Increasing blood pressure and heart rate

Increasing blood clotting

Damaging cells that line coronary arteries and other blood vessels

At the beginning of a new year smokers frequently resolve to quit. Most don’t make it through the first few months, especially life-time smokers. The nicotine in tobacco is a seriously addictive drug. The act of smoking in itself becomes second nature or a natural habit after just a short period of smoking.  So, quitting requires an equally powerful motivator.

If you’re quitting because it’s “bad for you” it may not be enough. To get motivated enough to quit you have to be very conscious of your effort, every day, and find a powerful personal reason to quit. It may be to save money, or protect your children from secondhand smoke and cancer, or to avoid a slow and inevitable death from lung cancer. Whatever you feel strongly about, enough to make you not light a cigarette should be front and center in your mind every day. Print it out on paper and stick reminders everywhere – at your desk, your bathroom mirror, in your car, anywhere you normally smoke.

Going ‘cold turkey’ works for a few people. But for most the process of quitting takes months. In fact 95% of smokers who try to quit without counseling or therapy end up relapsing. Without nicotine the brain begins to crave smoking and the body goes through withdrawal symptoms – including cold sweats, headaches, restlessness and irritability.  You can order nicotine patches and gum online or quit with a friend to support each other’s effort.  If you fall off the wagon just get back on! For every day that you’re not smoking you are adding a day to your life.

It takes 30 straight days to establish a new habit, and just as long to quit an old one. Make a 30-day plan to quit and in place of smoking fill that time with healthy alternatives like walking or other exercise, reading, joining friends who don’t smoke.  Tell everyone that you’re trying to quit and ask them to encourage you.

Find ways to deal with stress that do not involve dependence on drugs, alcohol or tobacco. Try listening to relaxing music, staying busy with work or outside activity. Stay away from stressful situations, and especially other smokers!  Chew gum, avoid bars, avoid coffee and heavy meals.  Acknowledge what triggers your craving to smoke and eliminate the trigger.

Get rid of all your smoking paraphernalia: ashtrays, lighters, cigarette holders; freshen your car and home to get rid of the tobacco smell. Once you quit smoking your sense of smell will become much stronger and the smell of tobacco smoke will irritate your nose.  You’ll find that your sense of taste will also evolve and become more sensitive. You’ll be able to taste the true flavor of foods the way you didn’t as a smoker.  Fruits and vegetables will taste ‘cleaner’, sweeter, and feel crunchier.

Another benefit to quitting is the effect it will have on your body. Your blood pressure will go down, and if you’re on medication your body will benefit more from them since it won’t have to spend energy fighting the effects of smoking.  Your doctor might even suggest lower your dosage for some medications. Within the first few months of quitting you will be breathing easier and your risk of a heart attack will have been significantly reduced.

Quitting is the single most immediately and directly effective way of lowering your risk of having a heart attack, developing heart disease, or cancer.

Remember: find a powerful motivator, tell everyone that you’re quitting and ask for their support, surround yourself with positive influences, and if you have a setback just get right up and try again!