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preventive health services

Tobacco Use

Why is this important?

Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causing many diseases and affecting the health of smokers in general. Quitting smoking has immediate as well as long-term benefits for you and your loved ones.

Smoking can cause cancer and then block your body from fighting it. Poisons in cigarette smoke can weaken the body’s immune system, making it harder to kill cancer cells. When this happens, cancer cells keep growing without being stopped. Poisons in tobacco smoke can damage or change a cell’s DNA. DNA is the cell’s “instruction manual” that controls a cell’s normal growth and function. When DNA is damaged, a cell can begin growing out of control and create a cancer tumor.

Doctors have known for years that smoking causes most lung cancers. It’s still true today, when nearly nine out of ten lung cancers are caused by smoking cigarettes. In fact, smokers have a greater risk for lung cancer today than they did in 1964, even though they smoke fewer cigarettes. One reason may be changes in how cigarettes are made and what chemicals they contain. The number of individuals needed to receive tobacco cessation counseling and save one life, is approximately 50 individuals.

Treatments are getting better for lung cancer, but it still kills more men and women than any other type of cancer. In the United States, more than 7,300 nonsmokers die each year from lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is the combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke breathed out by smokers.

Smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in your body, including the:

  • Blood (acute myeloid leukemia)  
  • Liver
  • Bladder
  • Lungs
  • Cervix
  • Mouth, nose, and throat
  • Colon and rectum
  • Pancreas
  • Esophagus
  • Stomach
  • Kidneys and ureters
  • Trachea
  • Larynx

The chemicals in tobacco smoke harm your blood cells. They also can damage the function of your heart and the structure and function of your blood vessels.

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. When combined with other risk factors—such as unhealthy blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and overweight or obesity—smoking further raises the risk of heart disease.

The effects of your smoking on other household members through the effects of second hand smoke are important reasons to quit. Secondhand smoke is the combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke breathed out by smokers. Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds are toxic and about 70 can cause cancer.

Since the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report, 2.5 million adults who were nonsmokers died because they breathed secondhand smoke.

  • There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Secondhand smoke causes numerous health problems in infants and children, including more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Some of the health conditions caused by secondhand smoke in adults include coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.

What are the Risks?

Adults Who Smoke
The experts found that behavioral interventions and medications, including nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)—either alone or in combination—greatly improve the chances that a person will be able to successfully quit. They also found that the harms of behavioral interventions are likely to be small to none, and the potential harms of medications and NRT are likely to be small.

Pregnant Women Who Smoke
The experts found that behavioral interventions greatly improve the chances that a pregnant woman can stop smoking during her pregnancy. Additionally, not smoking during pregnancy reduces the risk of a baby being born too small or too early.

There were not enough studies for the Task Force to weigh the overall benefits and harms of using medications, including NRT, to help pregnant women quit smoking.

Finally, the Task Force found that there was not enough information to determine whether e-cigarettes are more helpful or harmful for smoking cessation for adults and pregnant women.

How can the MUSC healthcare team help you quit tobacco?

Your MUSC Health physician or a member of our health care team will ask you about your use of tobacco. This includes smoking, using e-cigarettes or vaping, smokeless tobacco such as snuff, chewing tobacco and similar products. You may also receive counseling during and after your office visit. You will be encouraged set a quit date, obtain counseling and consider NRT or medications to help you quit tobacco use. Sometimes phone calls and/or personal visits are scheduled to discuss your quit attempts.

Frequent asked questions about tobacco use screening and counseling

What should I say to my Doctor?
Talking with Your Primary Care Clinician about Smoking Cessation Quitting smoking is difficult, and some people try several times before they are successful. But it’s worth the struggle, because quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do for your health.

If you’re pregnant, quitting smoking is one of the best ways to protect your and your baby’s health.

Talk with your doctor or nurse to decide which intervention might work best to help you quit. Consider your own health and lifestyle. Think about your personal beliefs and preferences for health care.

What are some suggestions to quit using tobacco?
Take these steps to help you quit:

  • Make a list of the reasons you want to quit.
  • Set a quit date and make a plan to deal with cravings.
  • Ask your family, friends, and coworkers for support.
  • Talk to your doctor about counseling and medicines that can help you quit.
  • Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visit for free help.

Write down your reasons to quit.
Make a list of all the reasons you want to quit. For example, your reasons to quit might be to set a healthy example for your children and to save money. Keep the list with you to remind yourself why quitting is worth it.

Set a quit date.

  • Pick a date that gives you enough time to get ready to quit. But make sure it’s soon enough that you don’t lose your motivation.
  • Tell your family, friends, and coworkers about your quit date so they can support you.

Make a quit plan.

  • Think about situations that might trigger you to smoke. Plan how you will handle them without smoking.
  • Right before your quit date, go through your house, car, and workplace to get rid of anything that has to do with smoking. Throw away all your cigarettes, ashtrays, lighters, and matches.
  • Clean your clothes so they don’t smell like smoke.

Change your daily routine.
Changing your routine on and after your quit date can help you break habits related to smoking.

Try taking a different route to work.

  • For the first few weeks, avoid activities and places you connect with smoking.
  • Do things and go places where smoking isn’t allowed.
  • Make getting active and eating healthy part of your quit plan. Eat healthy snacks instead of smoking. Go for walks. Drink lots of water.

Break the connection between eating and smoking.
Many people like to smoke when they finish a meal. Here are some ways to break the connection:

  • Get up from the table as soon as you are done eating.
  • Brush your teeth and think about the fresh, clean feeling in your mouth.
  • Try going for a walk after meals.

Manage cravings.
When you quit smoking, the urge to smoke will come and go. Most cravings only last five to ten minutes.

Here are some ways to manage cravings:

  • Do something else with your hands, like washing them, sorting the mail, or washing the dishes.
  • Have healthy snacks ready, like carrots, apples, or sugar-free gum.
  • Distract yourself with a new activity. Try doing crosswords or other puzzles.
  • If you used to smoke while driving, try something new. Take public transporta- tion or ride with a friend.
  • Take several deep breaths to help you relax.