Thank You Former Smokers

In 2012 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched Tips from Former Smokers.  This national tobacco education campaign uses real people who have suffered real health issues due to tobacco telling us about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke. While the tobacco industry fought the Food and Drug Administration against putting graphic health warnings on cigarette packs, the CDC put graphic warnings in our face on television in the form of Tips From Former Smokers and made them familiar to us by introducing them by name.

The original goal of the three month campaign was to have “500,000 quit attempts and 50,000 successful quits,” but that didn’t happen.  Instead, an estimated 1.6 millions smokers attempted to quit, and more than 200,000 had quit following the campaign.  Of those who had quit, researchers estimated more than 100,000 people would make those quits permanent.

The former smokers had different health problems, but they all had one thing in common: they were now living with disabilities as a result of tobacco.  There are so many stories to share but the following really touched our hearts because we lost them too soon.

NathanThere was Nathan, a Native American from the Oglala Sioux tribe who never smoked a cigarette, but had permanent lung damage from working in a casino that allowed smoking.   The damage to his lungs from secondhand smoke was so serious, he had to leave his job and use oxygen daily.   Nathan shared his story with as many people as he could so they wouldn’t have to suffer like he did.  He encouraged young people to not start smoking and to quit if they smoked.  Nathan died  in 2013.  He was only 54.

BillBill started smoking at 15 to be cool like his buddies.  He was diagnosed with diabetes when he was an infant and the smoking only made his diabetes harder to control.   Although doctors told him to quit smoking, he didn’t.   Kidney failure at 37 put him on dialysis several times a week to filter his blood.   Poor circulation lead to an amputation of his leg at 39.   That’s when he finally quit smoking.  By the time he was 40, he was blind in one eye and had had open-heart surgery.   Although he struggled with health problems, he wanted to tell others his story and urge them to stop smoking.  Bill died this past year from heart disease at 42.

Terrie_Hall_001Of all the stories the CDC featured, none touched the heart more than Terrie Hall. Her ad showed viewers how she got ready in the morning by putting in her dentures, her hands-free voice box, and putting on her wig. Terrie started smoking at 13 to be cool and was up to two packs by the time she was 25.  Her sore throat that never seemed to go away was diagnosed as oral cancer at 40. Even as she went through radiation treatments, she continued to smoke.  It was when she was diagnosed with throat cancer later that year that she finally quit.  Doctors removed her larynx and Terrie had to use an artificial voice box inserted into her throat.  Even after her larynx surgery, the cancer returned many times.  Terrie wanted to encourage young people never to start smoking and spent time educating them about the dangers of tobacco use.   She went on to make several more commercials for the CDC, including one a few days before she passed away from cancer at age 53.

After the success of that first year, more Former Smokers have selflessly shared their stories to educate others about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke.  According to the CDC about 70% of smokers what to quit. No matter how long you have smoked, you don’t have to wait until a health scare to make that decision to quit smoking.

You can read more stories of Former Smokers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Click HERE to read additional information about the Tips From Former Smokers campaign results.

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Broken Promises, Costly Burden

The new Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids state-by-state report on the 1998 State Tobacco Settlement money has been released for this year.  The report, “Broken Promises to Our Children,” showcases the amount of funds being spent on tobacco prevention and cession programs versus the amount of recommended spending by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

According to the 2015 report, “states will collect $25.6 billion dollars from the settlement and taxes on tobacco products, but they will spend only 1.9% of it – $490.4 million – on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.”

This year Florida is highlighted as having one of the lowest high school smoking rates in the nation at 7.5%.  Florida also has a “long-running and well-funded tobacco prevention program” that has helped make that low number a reality.  If the current national youth smoking rate of 15.7% could be reduced to Florida’s 7.5% level Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids projects it would

  • Prevent 7 millions kids alive today from becoming adult smokers
  • Save 2.3 million kids from premature smoking-caused deaths
  • Save $122.1 BILLION in future, tobacco-related health care costs

Florida currently ranks 15th in state spending with about $66.6 million going to tobacco prevention.  Last year that figure was $65.6 million.  But even with those seemingly high numbers, the state is only spending 34.3% of the CDC recommended amount of $194.2 million.

While Florida has a low high school smoking rate, about 16.8% of adults still smoke, and 32,300 lose their life every year to tobacco.  The annual health care costs caused by smoking are in the billions – $8.64 billion to be precise, which means every Florida household has a tax burden of $571 due to smoking, whether they smoke or not.

Florida is trying to decrease the amount of smoking, yet the tobacco companies aren’t decreasing their amount of marketing in the sunshine state.  That estimated amount is $562.6 million or roughly $1.541 million A DAY to keep people using tobacco.  In fact, the Broken Promises report states that “tobacco companies spend $18 to market tobacco products for every $1 the states spend to reduce tobacco use.”

Tobacco brings in approximately $1.5 billion dollars in revenue to Florida, but the state pays out $8.64 billion to cover health care costs due to tobacco use. That’s a deficit of $7.14 BILLION every year on a product that is known as the “single most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the U.S.”  Surely, the lives of Floridians are worth more.

Click here for the “Broken Promises to Our Children” article.


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Can You See the Damage from Smoking?

Smoking is bad for you.  Everyone knows this.  In fact, according to the CDC tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease.  It damages nearly every organ in the body, reduces the health of its users, and shortens their lives.  Most people are familiar with the major – sometimes fatal – diseases caused by smoking such as heart disease and cancer, but many may not be aware that smoking can also cause irreversible damage to your vision.  While non-smokers can also develop vision problems as they age, smokers are at a much higher risk for these problems.

cataractOne vision problem associated with aging is cataracts, which is very normal in older cataractspeople.   Cataracts, a clouding of the clear lens, can cause “blurry vision, faded colors, and a sensitivity to glare.”  The picture on the left, from WebMD shows what a cataract looks like.  If you are a smoker, you have double the risk of developing cataracts, triple that risk for heavy smokers compared to non-smokers, according to a Harvard Medical School study.  The picture to the right is an example of vision with cataracts.  (From Vista Eye Care)

diabetic_retinopathySmoking can double your risk of having diabetes which in turn can create other health problems.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, “you are more likely to have serious health problems from diabetes” including heart and kidney disease, poor blood flow to legs and feet, nerve damage to arms and legs that cause numbness, pain, weakness and poor coordination.  You are also more likely to have diabetes retinopathy, a condition that affects the tiny blood vessels of the retina in the eye and can cause blindness.  The photo on the left, from Lighthouse International, shows what your vision with diabetic retinopathy may lookblurred like.  Wikipedia states it “affects up to 80% of all patients who have had diabetes for 10 years or more,” and “90% of these new cases could be reduced if there was proper and vigilant treatment and monitoring of the eyes.”   Blurred vision, such as the picture on the right from WebMD could indicate there is also a serious eye problem such as diabetes.  If you have diabetes you should contact your eye doctor for careful monitoring of your vision.

macular_degeneration“Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the number one cause of vision loss in people over 65 in the U.S.” and is another eye condition smoking increases your risk of developing by two to four times over a non-smoker.  Even non-smokers exposed to environmental tobacco smoke have a greater risk of developing this condition than non-smokers.   The center part of the retina is called the macula and allows a person to see fine details, but over time it can wear out and cause “blurriness, distortions or blind spots in their central vision.”  The picture above at the left from the Retina Institute of the Carolinas & the Macular Degeneration Center shows how this condition can affect your vision.

Glaucoma, dry eye syndrome, and uveitis are also conditions that affect the eyes, and all conditions can be made worse by smoking.  If you are experiencing any of these vision problems, contact your eye doctor.  It may not be easy to quit smoking, but if the alternative is to have decreased eyesight or keep smoking, the answer should be plain to see.

You can read more about Smoking and Eye Disease here.




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Oklahoma planned for the future

OklahomaIn 1998 the attorneys general of 46 states entered into an agreement with four U.S. tobacco companies called the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.  These states would receive money from the companies to recover Medicaid “tobacco-related-health-care costs” and the tobacco companies would be exempt from lawsuits from private citizens who had been harmed by tobacco.  The settlement allowed for stronger warning labels and bans on advertising, as well as payment of about $200 billion by the companies over 25 years.  States were supposed to use the money to help pay for the health costs in their state attributed to tobacco use and to fund youth tobacco prevention programs.  That didn’t happen in most states, but Oklahoma looked to the future.

While other states have used the funds on everything but health care concerns, Oklahoma voters had a say in what to do with their funds.  The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust was created in 2000 and approved by voters.  The “state’s general fund gets 25% of annual settlement proceeds” which have been consistently dedicated to health care.  The other 75% goes directly to the endowment.

“The endowment fund is now generating as much in earnings each year as it is getting from the tobacco companies.” Earnings totaled $52.7 million this year and a deposit of $57.9 million brought the total endowment to $975 million.  When the payments from the Master Settlement Plan stop, Oklahoma will have still millions to spend on health care each year.  All citizens in Oklahoma are benefiting from the TSET funds as it is used for tobacco prevention efforts, and health programs such as nutrition and wellness.

Let’s hope the wise citizens of Oklahoma keep the endowment fund intact to provide money for health care well into the future.


Read the entire story HERE.




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Great American Smokeout 2014

SmokeoutSince the late 1970s, the Great American Smokeout has taken place on the third Thursday in November.  Over the years the event has grown, but the goal has remained the same: to challenge people to quit smoking, if only for one 24 hour period.  If you decide to take the challenge, you will be in good company, as almost one-third of American smokers could be quitting for the day.

So what will happen when you give up smoking for one day?  Your heart rate will drop back to normal levels as will your blood pressure.  Your hands and feet will also warm up.  After eight hours, the nicotine that is in your bloodstream has been cut in half, and the oxygen levels are back to normal.  Within the first 24 hours, the carbon monoxide has been removed from your body, the mucus is clearing from your lungs and you can start to breathe easier.  Your risk for a heart attack has also begun to drop.   And this all happens within 24 hours.  Imagine what will happen to your health in the following weeks and months if you quit tobacco for good!

As with everything that you want to succeed at, you have to have a plan.  First, you need to make the decision to quit and prepare.  You can call your state quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) to learn more.  Second, let your friends and family know about your decision.  Your friends may also be taking the day off from tobacco and you can help each other with quitting.  Third, get rid of the cigarettes, ashtrays, and other tobacco products even if it’s for one day so reminders are not in your face.  Fourth, have mints, gum, water, fresh fruit and veggies available in case a craving hits.

smokeout1Quitting is a big deal, even for one day, and smokers aren’t the only ones who may decide to quit tobacco.   If this is your year to quit for good, try putting the money you would spend on tobacco away and at the end of the year reward yourself for a job well done.  Not only will you have nice “quit fund”, but you will have better health and the start to more birthdays.

Click the highlighted link for more information on The Great American Smokeout.
If you want to know more about how your health will get better with each passing day, click here.


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World Diabetes Day

Everyone should know by now that using tobacco is bad for your health, but if you are diabetic or prediabetic and using tobacco, your blood sugar numbers could be higher than normal and causing additional health complications.   November 14 is World Diabetes Day and November is American Diabetes Month.  This is a great time to learn how tobacco is hurting your blood sugar numbers.

Being diagnosed as diabetic means your body does not produce enough insulin or your body isn’t using the insulin as well as it should, causing excess sugar in your blood, which can be measured by a blood test. The excess sugar in your blood isn’t moving into your cells to provide you with energy.  Over time the excess sugar can damage blood vessels and create serious problems throughout the body.

PADSmoking increases your risk of diabetes and does additional damage to your blood vessels. Nicotine and chemicals in cigarette smoke cause your vessels to narrow, making it more difficult for oxygen in your blood to reach your tissues.  Smoking also contributes to fatty deposits on artery walls, further narrowing them.  People with diabetes are more likely to develop Peripheral Arterial Disease in which blood flow is reduced to legs and feet.  If left untreated PAD could result in gangrene and amputation.

Tobacco products also contain sugars that increase your blood sugar levels.  Of the almost 600 ingredients in a cigarette, about 20% of it is sugar.  The Philip Morris website lists their ingredients by brand, and sugars (sucrose and/or invert sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup) is listed as the third ingredient by weight in their cigarette products.

Smokeless tobacco also contains sweeteners and amounts can vary between brands. Sugar content of pouch tobaccos ranged between 24% and 65%; plug tobacco was 13% to 50%. Even snuff, a smokeless tobacco of ground tobacco leaves that is inhaled into the nose, has about a 2% sugar content.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are more than 29 million Americans with diabetes and 25% don’t know.  More than 1 in 3 American adults, about 86 million, have prediabetes, a condition where “blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes.”  Some risk factors for developing diabetes can’t be controlled, such as family history, race and age.  But some factors such as weight, inactivity and tobacco use can.  If you have symptoms of type 2 diabetes such as an increased thirst and frequent urination, increased hunger, weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, slow-healing sores or frequent infections, or areas of darkened skin, make an appointment with your doctor.  The sooner you seek treatment for diabetes, the sooner you can get your symptoms under control.

Click HERE for more information on diabetes.


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The Veteran and Tobacco

The military and tobacco seem to have a long history.  As far back as the American Revolutionary War tobacco was important to the military, but back then it was used “as collateral for the loans the Americans borrowed from France.”  It was less about the military personnel smoking and more about tobacco farmers losing their exports as the British destroyed the tobacco in retaliation.

During the Civil War, destruction of tobacco crops and naval blockades of ports reduced tobacco for civilians, but not so for the soldiers who often just helped themselves to the tobacco crops as they marched to their destination.  Sailors serving the U.S. Navy had been getting tobacco rations for years and not to be outdone, by February 1864 the GrantConfederate army also started supplying their soldiers with tobacco rations.  These rations came in handy with Southern soldiers as they traded their tobacco with Union soldiers for Northern coffee.  Tobacco probably helped stave off hunger as food was at times in short supply.  The Civil War ended, but it was the start of tobacco rations to all soldiers.  The end of the war also was the beginning of the first commercially-made, hand-rolled cigarettes.

Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War Union general, started out as a pipe smoker during the war, but switched to cigars.  When a newspaper article showed him with a cigar in his mouth, ordinary citizens sent him thousands as a thank you for his Union victories. From then on he was rarely seen without a cigar, going through as many as 20 during the day.  He went on to become the 18th President of the United States, and died of throat cancer in 1885, twenty years after the war ended.

Prior to World War I, loose tobacco and pipes were most common, but warfare insoldier_smoking muddy trenches made smoking a pipe difficult.  Rations of loose tobacco and rolling papers gave way to rations of manufactured rolled cigarettes. Families at home were encouraged to send their soldiers smokes while one cigarette manufacturer, Bill Durham, smokes“sold the whole of its cigarette production to the War Department in 1918.”  Tobacco was so important during the war that at the request of General John J. Pershing, cigarettes were part of the daily rations.  Free smokes for the soldiers meant lifetime smokers after the war.  WWI ended in 1918, but by the 1930s, about 12 years after the end of war cases of lung cancer, which was a rare disease at the time, were starting to be seen.  The war to end all wars ended, but the free smokes given to the soldiers meant lifetime smokers after the war.

soldiersAnother World War reinforced the smoking culture. Rations for soldiers included “meat, vegetables and starches,” and of course cigarettes. According to America in WWII only 30% of manufactured cigarettes made their way overseas, but it was the best brands such as “Chesterfields, Camels, Kools, and Pall Malls.”  Cigarettes from home still made it in packages cigarette_campsdestined for military family members serving overseas and caused shortages here in the States. Cigarettes were so much a part of the culture that camps set up in France for soldiers traveling to the front lines were named for popular cigarette brands. These same camps processed the men as they headed home.  Even American Red Cross packages to prisoners of war contained five packages of cigarettes.  As the war ended, those who made it home were now loyal cigarette customers.


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Lung Cancer Awareness Month

The calendar page has been turned to November, and with it, a new health awareness, Lung Cancer Awareness Month.   Lung cancer was a rare disease in the early part of the 1900s, but as the prominence of smoking increased during and after World War I, so did the disease.  It is now a leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the U.S. with more people dying from it than from pancreatic, breast and colorectal cancers combined, but smokers aren’t the only ones getting lung cancer.  As more became known about secondhand smoke, it became increasingly evident that those exposed to tobacco smoke were also susceptible to lung cancer.

causes_of_lung_cancerWorkers exposed to asbestos fibers have an increased change of developing lung cancer, but those who smoke have “a risk that is fifty- to ninety-fold greater than nonsmokers.” Naturally occurring radon gas exposure also increases the risk of developing the disease. Individuals may also be genetically predisposed to developing lung cancer.  Living around air pollution, having a lung disease or a prior history of lung cancer may also increase the risk.

symptoms1While anyone can develop lung cancer, about 90% of the cases are associated with smoking and the more you smoke over a longer period of time, the greater your risk of lung cancer.  Quitting will decrease your risk of developing the disease with each passing year. Early diagnosis is key to catching the disease, but up to 25% of people report no symptoms prior to the cancer being discovered during routine tests.  Check with your doctor if you have symptoms that won’t go away.  Both the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society have excellent websites with valuable information on lung cancer.


Click HERE for more information on lung cancer.
Click here for Uncommon Lung Cancer Facts
Symptoms of Lung Cancer graphic via

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Money in the Coffers from Big Tobacco

Election time is fast approaching and by now you are probably tired of the relentless bombardment of campaign advertisement commercials.  For weeks now candidates on both sides have spewed forth negative comments about their opposition, all while appearing to adjust their own halos.  It takes money to keep these campaigns running, and while the candidates are accepting your money, they may also be accepting money from the tobacco industry.

According to the Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), the tobacco industry contributes money to federal candidates and spends millions lobbying Congress.  It seems that there would be a conflict of interest for politicians to take money to promote the tobacco industry’s interests while at the same time voting on public health policy interests.  Yet both Democrats and Republicans have accepted money from the tobacco industry.

ASH has compiled a map showing the amount of money representatives in your state have received from the tobacco corporations.  They have also compiled a list of Senators and Congressmen who have NOT accepted campaign contributions from the tobacco industry in the last 10 years.  And if you are not sure who your representative is, there is a link on the page as well.

Check out the ASH page and map


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Raising the Tobacco Age

21Opinions are running high on the proposal in the state of New Jersey to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21.  New York City is also considering a higher age limit.  The old argument for keeping the lower age limit goes something like this:  if 18 year olds are able to vote, join the military and marry, they should be old enough to buy tobacco. There are always pros and cons to every argument.

Yes, 18 year olds can vote, but the 18-24 year old age group typically have a low turn out. They are able to vote, but few exercise that choice.  Yes, 18 year olds can join the military, but it is not a requirement as it is in 26 other countries.  In the United States, joining the military is a choice.  Yes, 18 year olds can marry, but most of their parents are against it, and most teens lack the emotional maturity to maintain the relationship.   It is, however, still a choice.

But arguing for keeping the smoking age at 18 should also include why the drinking age was raised back to 21.  One reason was to reduce “the number of alcohol-related deaths on the nation’s highways,” which was “perceived to be a drunken driving epidemic.” Another reason was that the “developing adolescent brain is affected differently by alcohol than the adult brain.  The earlier one starts to drink, the more likely he or she will experience alcohol dependence and related problems later in life.”

All the arguments for raising the smoking age to 21 seem mirror all the reasons the drinking age was raised.  While the President’s Commission Against Drunk Driving deemed drunk driving an epidemic, the first line of the 2012 Surgeon General’s Report called tobacco use a “pediatric epidemic.”  After this report was released, the parent company of Philip Morris agreed and stated “kids should not use tobacco products, and we share the common goal of keeping tobacco products out of the hands of kids.”

As with alcohol, the younger a person is when they start using tobacco, the more likely they are to become regular tobacco users.  Nearly 90% of smokers reportedly started smoking regularly by age 18 while their teen brain was still developing and changing. Young people have a choice whether or not to use tobacco, but their immaturity is often their enemy and a factor in their experimentation.  Their consequential thinking and decision-making skills are just not there; however, impulsivity and risk-taking are. Experimentation with tobacco and the rapid onset of nicotine addiction in youth can set them up for lifelong health consequences before they have a full understanding of the addictive properties of tobacco.

Voting, marriage and joining the military are all choices.  Once young people start using tobacco, however, their choice regarding continuation is often taken away by their addiction to the product.  Raising the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 provides young people more time to develop informed decisions about an addiction that could shorten their lives.

Click HERE for news article.

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