Smokeout finds a volunteer
KINGMAN - The following question is printed atop a Web site probably not visited enough by a certain group of people: Could this be the first day of life without tobacco?
You know who you are.
Tomorrow, the third Thursday of November, marks the 29th anniversary of a national concept aimed at smokers tired of morning phlegm and non-smokers tired of smelling other people's bad habit - the Great American Smokeout. It's a 24-hour span when saying "no thanks" to nicotine is the statement of the day.
A recent survey awarded Mohave the status of smokiest county in the state, with 35 percent of residents claiming nicotine as the vice of choice. It's higher now, at least by one, since I arrived about a month and a half ago.
I've been battling with the drug on and off for six years, a blink of time for many smokers. But I decided Thursday will be my first full day without a cigarette in about two years. I didn't come to this idea on my own. It occurred to me when my stop smoking teacher called to tell me about the Smokeout, and I thought, "what a perfect opportunity."
I enrolled in the class when an online advertisement found its way to my computer screen, sparking recollection of my college graduation goal to quit - five months later.
When the class started, Terri Holloway, cessation coordinator for the Mohave County Tobacco Use Prevention Program, told me that even if I quite now, a dormant cell in my body could awaken, become cancerous, and possibly even kill me. I don't know why it stuck this time, but I was suddenly overcome with terror at the thought of emphysema or lung cancer, and all the pain it would cause to me and everyone I know.
Then I learned that cancer of the lung is just one of the many types caused or induced because of tobacco use. I could get cancer of the mouth, nasal cavities, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidney, bladder - and myeloid leukemia. Luckily I'm not a woman and don't have to worry about uterine cervix cancer, but unfortunately for me and other males, nicotine can lead to impotence by slowing blood flow throughout the body. It's not fatal, but … well, how do I say this in the newspaper? Oh, never mind.
"A lot of people don't realize that the ill effects of smoking aren't just to the heart and lungs," says Dr. Stephen Conrad, a U.S. orthopedic surgeon in California who has reviewed more than 100 studies on damages caused by tobacco. "Every tissue in the body is affected by the oxygen deprivation, which is the end result of smoking."
Decreased bone density loss, higher risk of injury and extended recovery times for wounds have all been traced to the effects of nicotine on the body.
I'm attending the class to gain some motivation from my fellow classmates, many of them three times my age, and kick the habit before I have less than 30 percent lung capacity (or worse). After three weeks of class, a five-word question popped into my mind, and flashes before me every time I flick the lighter: do I want to die?
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States for both men and women, according to the American Cancer Society. Almost 90 percent of lung cancer deaths are caused by tobacco use. And it is the most preventable form of cancer death.
I have always thought it wouldn't happen to me. But when I got to this class, I realized the majority of smokers said the same thing. If they said it with the same conviction I do, and they believed in their own perceived invincibility as much as I do, as a 22-year-old kid, what are the odds of waking up one morning at 62 years old, or 82? Maybe I'll find myself on a bronze podium with a plastic tube in my throat, through which I tell kids why not to smoke as I recall my ignorance as a 22-year-old, "I never thought it would happen to me."
I would like to extend an invitation to those who are looking to quit, and those who have already attended the class and stopped coming, to visit the group Wednesday night. We meet at the Mohave County Administration Building at 700 Beale St. in the Saguarro Conference Room at 5:30 p.m., when we talk about our struggles, learn about alternatives to smoking, hear statistics and ways to cope with stress, agitation and fears of weight-gain. Terri offers 50-percent off vouchers on nicotine patches, gum and lozenges, and provides an hour of entertainment from an animated expert on the ills of smoking. She's a former smoker herself, so she understands that giving up cigarettes is like losing a family pet.
It's worse, maybe, because you can't smoke to cope with the grief. Beyond that, she's a great woman with an altruistic goal of unemployment.
You're already paying for the class and Terri's salary if you purchase cigarettes, so if you become a non-smoker and encourage a friend to do the same, eventually Terri will reach her goal.
For help quitting tobacco use, visit QuitSmoking.com, a site that also offers diaries and chat rooms; Quitnet.com, which offers tips and fun little quizzes that tell you how much money you'll save and how many days of your life will be added if you quite smoking; call (800) 55-66-222, the Arizona Smoker's Helpline, or call (888) 454-4924 for information in Kingman, Bullhead City or Lake Havasu City.