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    Breaking the Habit

    You may be surprised by some of the benefits from quitting smoking – and how fast they arrive.

    The Extreme Makeover

    Michael K. Cummings, PhD, has spent 20 years studying the harmful effects of tobacco. He calls quitting "the extreme makeover."

    "If you quit smoking early enough, by 30 or so, your risk of dying prematurely becomes almost the same as someone who never smoked," says Cummings, chairman of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute's department of health behavior in Buffalo, N.Y. "If you wait another decade, the benefits are about half of what they would have been. If you quit [then] you add eight to 10 years to your life."

    An Array of Problems

    Though everyone knows cigarettes promote cardiovascular disease and lung ailments, it's less understood that they promote an array of other ailments, says Cummings.

    Peripheral vascular disease, for example, which constricts blood flow to the hands, feet, and other organs, is accelerated by cigarette smoke. "I've heard of it occurring in people in their 30s," Cummings tells WebMD. "The best treatment for it is, don't smoke."

    Smoking, he adds, can also lead to macular degeneration, the No. 1 cause of blindness among older people. It also promotes gum disease.

    Quitting brings psychological benefits as well, according to Cummings.

    "Most smokers regret their decision to start smoking," he says. "When they quit, they gain a sense of control, a sense of empowerment."

    Lung Transplant Pioneer

    Joel Cooper, MD, performed the world's first successful lung transplant nearly 25 years ago. He is a pioneer in techniques for treating lung disease.

    Cooper tells patients who smoke he will not operate on them unless they have been off cigarettes for at least three weeks prior to surgery.

    "One of the most serious complications of chest surgery is congestion, which can lead to pneumonia and respiratory failure," Cooper tells WebMD. "If you have mucus from cigarette smoking, you'll have greater clogging of the airways. Just three weeks away from cigarettes will reduce some of that inflammation and reduce the chances of complications."

    Cooper admits that if everyone quit smoking today, the need for his services would drop by 70% over the next 20 years. But nothing would make him happier. He especially urges young people to quit.

    "If I can get one young person to stop smoking, I will have contributed to more years of healthy life than if I got a week's worth of my patients to quit," he says. "There is nothing you can do that would add more years of health and longevity to your life than to stop smoking right now."

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    Reviewed on May 12, 2008

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