For more than 40 years, the American Cancer Society has hosted the Great American Smokeout on the third Thursday in November. It's an opportunity for people who smoke to kick the habit, not just for one day, but to commit to a healthy, smoke-free life.
More than 32 million Americans smoke cigarettes, and 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease. The effects of smoking on the body can be devastating, causing an estimated 480,000 deaths every year.
Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites with Dr. Hays are available in the downloads. Please courtesy: "J. Taylor Hays, M.D. / Nicotine Dependence Center / Mayo Clinic"
"Tobacco use is still the No. 1 cause of cancer-associated mortality. Thirty percent of all cancer-related mortality is caused by smoking," says Dr. J. Taylor Hays, director of Mayo Clinic's Nicotine Dependence Center.
The moment a person stops smoking, the body begins to heal. Dr. Hays says it can happen quickly, within hours to days. There is less mucus production in the lungs, reduced carbon monoxide intake and improved oxygen delivery. The local immune response in the lungs also begins to repair itself.
"In a year to maybe a year-and-a-half, people who have had heart disease reduce their risk of recurrent heart attack by half. Within three years, it's the same as the never-smoker," he says. "It takes longer to repair some of the long-term lung injuries, but even people who've had chronic bronchitis and other things, they see, within months to years, significant reduction in symptoms, significant improvement in shortness of breath and the ability to function without symptoms."
He says younger people who smoke should be aware that if they stop smoking before 40, they will add an average of 10 years to their lives — quality years not weighted down by chronic illnesses.
"Even if you're in your 60s or 70s, we know that you add years of life and that you reduce the chronic health impacts — symptoms that occur — from smoking," says Dr. Hays.
He says the best way to quit is to make a plan and stick to it.
"Any quit attempt should include two things: a good behavioral plan — that's changing habits, changing thoughts — and there are lots of resources online to look at; and I would really encourage use of effective medication with some advice from your health care provider about how to use them correctly," says Dr. Hays.
For the safety of its patients, staff and visitors, Mayo Clinic has strict masking policies in place. Anyone shown without a mask was recorded prior to COVID-19 or recorded in an area not designated for patient care, where social distancing and other safety protocols were followed.