Nov. 19 American Smokeout DayBy Judy O’Gorman AlvarezFor years physicians, clean air enthusiasts and loved ones have been trying to get smokers to put out their cigarettes for good. On Nov. 19 the American Cancer Society (ACS) will once again encourage smokers to give up smoking – even for one day – during the Great American Smokeout.According to the ACS, about 42 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, and tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States.“This is the only product on the shelf out in the world that if you follow manufacturer’s guidelines, it kills you,” said Ghulam Abbas, M.D., director of minimally invasive thoracic surgery at Meridian Health. “It’s like you’re hiring someone to come and hurt you – and you pay tax on top of it!”Tongue, throat, esophagus, windpipe, lung and even bladder cancer have all been linked to smoking. “Smoking can also cause hypertension, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), artery disease and other chronic diseases are also all results of smoking,” said Abbas.Abbas also warns “Not only are you hurting yourself, you’re hurting your loved ones.” Pregnant women and smokers lighting up around children are causing harm to the developing little ones. “Children of smoking parents have more respiratory issues than people who don’t smoke.” Despite the risks, the warnings and the scientific evidence, people still smoke. “It tells me it is clearly an addiction,” Abbas said. He cites that some patients, even after two cancer diagnoses, surgeries and chemotherapy treatments, continue to smoke.Although the number of U.S. smokers has decreased – from nearly 21 of every 100 adults in 2005 to nearly 18 of every 100 adults in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – many communities promote ways to help smokers quit. According to Joshua Havard, manager of pulmonary rehab, respiratory and neurology services, Riverview Medical Center, the hospital’s smoking cessation groups sees a 30 percent success rate, as opposed to the national 8 to 12 percent rate.Some participants may be linked with a pulmonary rehab program and suffer from ailments such as COPD or pulmonary fibrosis and have been strongly encouraged by physicians to attend the program. “These are folks that can hardly walk up a flight of steps,” he said. “And some people finally come because they’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired,” said Havard, who along with colleague Lorie Caddock, run the smoking cessation programs. “They want to live better, breathe better.” Riverview’s cessation program works as an ongoing group therapy session. “We’re not judgmental,” said Havard, who smoked as a teenager until his mid-20s. “Instead of berating you with health statistics, we let people open up and talk about their experiences.”Participants share experiences and tips on quitting and others may require nicotine replacement therapy – such as patches, nicotine chewing gum or prescribed medication.The decision to seek help in breaking the smoking addiction is a personal one and varies. According to Havard, for some it may be tallying up how many thousands of dollars they could save by giving up smoking that spurs them into quitting. “And some people say ‘I’m not ready yet,’ and we put them on a back burner and check in at a later time.”“The people left smoking today are your most seriously addicted,” said , vice president of Barnabas Health Institute for Prevention. “And many smokers are people with mental health or substance abuse issues.”The Barnabas six-week tobacco cessation program is run by certified tobacco treatment specialists who have been trained at Rutgers Behavioral Health, according to Greene, the primary training for similar programs throughout the world. “These are the best practices of the public health guidelines,” said Greene.Specialists access the smoker to determine the level of addiction, monitor CO2 levels in their lungs and prescribe medication related to how addicted they are.“The decrease in the smoking population came about because of taxes, clean indoor act and enforcement of where you can and cannot smoke,” said Greene. “It became very difficult for smokers to smoke.”But changing longtime habits is not as easy. Greene points out that when health warnings were placed on cigarette packs in the 1960s, “we learned that information alone does not change behavior.”The problem is epidemic. “It’s most insidious. It’s more difficult (to combat) than heroin.”Despite the dire statistics, health professionals continue to develop successful smoking cessation programs. “Help is out there,” she said.For information on smoking cessation programs at Riverview Medical Center and other Meridian locations, call 732-530-2589. For the Barnabas Health programs at Monmouth Medical Center and other locations, call 732-914-3815.