I hope lots of smokers took part in the 30th annual Great American Smokeout Nov. 16 sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

The idea is to stop smoking for a day as a way to start the ball rolling toward stopping for good.

A primary aim of the annual campaign is to get out the “don’t ever start smoking” message to kids and teenagers and to correct the misperception that smoking is a rite of passage to adulthood.

While the number of young people who smoke is on the decline, teen smokers continue to outnumber adults who smoke.

Most tobacco use (cigarettes, chewing tobacco or snuff, cigars) begins before high school graduation, and kids who resist using tobacco during their teen years are less likely to ever start.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that kids be taught the dangers of tobacco use even earlier, beginning with kindergarten and during each school year thereafter.

Smoking is a lightning rod for cancer and heart disease. It has also been associated with causing erectile dysfunction in men and it may also diminish sexual function in women.

New information about the health hazards of secondhand smoke continues to waft up.

Nonsmokers who breathe in secondhand smoke absorb nicotine and other toxic chemicals just as smokers do.

Secondhand smoke is now classified as a “known human carcinogen” by a number of organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Toxicology Program, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization.

One study found that nonsmoking wives of smokers had a 30 percent greater chance of developing lung cancer than women who lived in tobacco-free households; the longer a woman lived with a smoker, the greater her risk.

Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at greater risk for lung infections, asthma, and breathing difficulties.

Growing public awareness of these health concerns has resulted in a steady increase in the number of places being declared off limits to smokers.

Most smokers greatly desire to quit. The problem is that the nicotine in tobacco may be as much or more addictive than any other chemical substance.

Some people manage to quit on their own, but most have the best chance of quitting with organized counseling and support. Medications and nicotine replacement products are available that can minimize withdrawal symptoms or reduce the craving to light up. In many communities, you can take advantage of free or low-cost counseling services to help you quit.

To find out more, start with the local office of the American Cancer Society or call 1-800-227-2345 for the national office, or visit the Web site (www.cancer.org/docroot/PED/ped-10-4.asp).

Even if you missed joining others on the “official” day, know that any day is just as good to start watching those cigarettes fade away in the rearview mirror. And making it permanent would be one of the greatest gifts you could give to yourself and your family.

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