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November’s Great American Smokeout campaign has saved lives. The adult smoking rate has been declining since the mid-1970s due to sustained campaigns such as the Smokeout. As well, government tobacco control strategies including raising taxes, advertising bans, mass media public education campaigns, and comprehensive smoke-free environment legislation have contributed to the decline.

Why such an effort? Because cigarette smoking still kills more than 480,000 Americans every year, and the nation spends an estimated $300 billion annually on smoking-related illness, including more than $225 billion in direct medical care and $156 billion in lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nicotine is an addictive drug as difficult to withdraw from as any other, reports Discover magazine. But quitting smoking and your exposure to nicotine and toxic chemicals in tobacco causes healthy changes in almost every part of your body.

Discover notes that nicotine reaches the brain within 10 seconds of taking a drag on a cigarette, binding to receptors in the reward pathway and stimulating the release of the feel-good hormone dopamine. Long-term nicotine exposure boosts the number of acetylcholine receptors in the brain and requires an increasing amount of nicotine to get the same dopamine release, which is why nicotine is so addictive.

Quitting is tough, but not impossible.

“The drop in dopamine causes our brains to scream for more nicotine, which is what we feel as cravings. Abstaining from tobacco for longer periods will cause dopamine to fall to very low levels, making the quitter feel irritable, depressed and anxious. Many people report difficulty concentrating and minor memory loss. ... This reduced signaling in the first few weeks of abstaining from cigarettes can make people feel dazed and sluggish,” says Discover.

The effects of withdrawal can last for a month or more.

Is it worth it? You bet it is.

Smoking does significant damage to your body and causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking also increases risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis. It leads to hearing and vision loss and asthma. In short, it will kill you, usually slowly.

The good news is that if you quit, improvements begin in just several weeks. First, breathing becomes easier. Cilia, the tiny hair-like projections that line the windpipe, regrow after being paralyzed and destroyed by toxins in cigarette smoke. Quitters notice that they can exercise longer without becoming breathless, with a 10% improvement in lung capacity in just nine months.

A reduction in heart rate and blood pressure causes the risk of heart attack to drop by 50% after two years. The risk of all types of cancer, particularly of the lungs, is significantly reduced due to reduced exposure to the handful of cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco. You may also live longer, with nonsmokers enjoying an average extended lifespan of 10 years.

The easiest way to quit is to ween yourself off smoking. Smoke half a cigarette then put it out. Then smoke the other half. After a few weeks, smoke but a third of a cigarette, etc. You’ll find less craving to smoke and will reach a point where you smoke only several cigarettes a day.

Keep it up and you can say to yourself that you will quit, and mean it.

And there’s no better time to quit than during the Great American Smokeout.

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