It has been known for almost 50 years that tobacco use can be linked to cancers of the lung and head and neck. Eighty-five percent of the cases of head and neck cancer found each year are associated with tobacco use. Long-term smoking that begins before age 30 also increases the risk for developing colorectal cancer. Smoking contributes to cancer development by causing mutations in genes, impairing lung function, and decreasing the effectiveness of the immune system.
Smoking among African Americans is a serious problem as this population suffers disproportionately from deadly and preventable diseases associated with smoking.1 Compared to white Americans, African Americans are at increased risk for lung cancer even though they smoke about the same amount.
• In 2008, about 5.6 million, or 21.3 percent of non-Hispanic black adults smoked cigarettes compared to 22.0 percent of non-Hispanic whites. African Americans accounted for approximately 12 percent of the 46 million adults who were current smokers in the United States during 2008.
• In 2008, 25.5 percent of non-Hispanic black men smoked compared to 23.6 percent of non-Hispanic white men.4 On average, white men tend to consume more cigarettes (about 30–40 percent more) than African American men.5 Despite their lower exposure, however, African American men are 34 percent more likely than white men to develop lung cancer.6 Black women tend to smoke less than white women but the two groups have similar lung cancer rates.7
• Among African Americans, as with other U.S. populations, the prevalence of smoking declines as education level increases. In 2008, smoking rates were over 3.4 times higher among African American males over age 25 who had less than a high school education (34.5%) compared to those with a college education (10.1%). Smoking rates are also much higher in African American females over age 25 years old who have less than a high school education (23.2%) compared to those with a college education (9.5%).
Nicotine is the chemical in tobacco that keeps you smoking. Nicotine is very addictive. It increases the release of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which help regulate mood and behavior. One of these neurotransmitters is dopamine, which makes you feel good. Getting that dopamine boost is part of the addiction process.
In some people, using any amount of tobacco can quickly lead to nicotine dependence.
Signs that you may be addicted include:
• You can’t stop smoking
• You experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop
• You keep smoking despite health problems
• You give up social or recreational activities in order to smoke
Exams and Tests
There are no physical tests to determine the exact degree to which you’re dependent on nicotine. Your doctor may ask you questions or have you complete a questionnaire to get a sense of how dependant you are on nicotine. The more cigarettes you smoke each day and the sooner you smoke after awakening, the more dependent you are.
Different ways to stop smoking are effective for different patients. Some smokers can quit with the help of counseling, while others may need nicotine replacement therapy or non-nicotine medicines to help them quit. Since patients can improve their health in many ways by quitting smoking, medicines are often prescribed with careful monitoring to help them succeed.
Nicotine Replacement Therapies
Nicotine replacement therapy may help with the withdrawal symptoms that patients experience when trying to stop smoking. Nicotine products include:
• Nicotine inhalers.
• Nicotine gum.
• Nicotine lozenges.
• Nicotine patches
Whether a patient has a cancer that is smoking-related or nonsmoking related, he or she is at increased risk of developing a second cancer at the same or another site, if smoking is not stopped. The risk of developing a second cancer may persist for up to 20 years, even if the original cancer has been successfully treated.
Patients with oral and pharyngeal cancers who smoke also have a high rate of second primary cancers. The risk decreases significantly, however, after 5 years of not smoking.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
The best way to prevent tobacco dependence is to not smoke in the first place. The best way to prevent your children from smoking is to not smoke yourself. If you’re a parent who smokes, the younger your children are when you quit, the less likely they are to become smokers themselves.
Support is readily available to help you stop smoking and stay smoke-free for life. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful:
What You Need To Know:
• Focus on physical fitness
Increase your physical activity after giving up tobacco to prevent weight gain
• Participate in a quit-smoking program
Find a smoking-cessation program that holds regular meetings to discuss important topics such as strategies for stopping; factors that increase relapse risk; and problem-solving, stress-reduction, and coping skills.
These recommendations are not comprehensive and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or pharmacist. Continue reading the full smoking cessation article for more in-depth, fully-referenced information on medicines, vitamins, herbs, and dietary and lifestyle changes that may be helpful.