More than 20,000 Illinoisans die each year as a result of cigarette smoking. Nationally, smoking is responsible for one of every five deaths. In fact, cigarette smoking kills more Americans than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, murders, suicides, drugs and fires combined.

Yet, smoking is the single most important preventable cause of illness and death in the United States. That is why, since 1976, the American Cancer Society has sponsored the Great American Smokeout. This event, held each year on the third Thursday in November, encourages smokers to give up the habit for at least one day.

"The evidence is overwhelming that giving up smoking has immediate health benefits," said Dr. John R. Lumpkin, state health director. "Those who give up cigarettes will be able to breathe easier and their blood pressure, pulse rate and oxygen levels will return to normal."

A report issued by the U.S. Surgeon General offers a glimpse of who has quit smoking and the improved health benefits they now enjoy:

More than 38 million Americans have quit smoking.

  • Women are more likely than men to try to quit smoking. However, an equal proportion of men and women have been off cigarettes for one to four years. Men are more likely than women to have been off cigarettes for five or more years.
  • Blacks are more likely than whites to try to quit smoking. However, whites are more likely than blacks to have been off cigarettes for one or more years. According to one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Hispanics are quitting at lower rates than the general population.
  • Younger smokers (ages 20 to 44) are more likely than older smokers to try to quit smoking. Smoking among teenagers, however, has not declined since 1980. Approximately 90 percent of all smokers start before age 18; the average age for a new smoker is 13.
  • People with any college education are more likely than those without any college education both to try to quit smoking and to stay off cigarettes for one or more years.
  • Don't quit trying. Smokers often try to quit more than once before they succeed: 70 percent of ex-smokers made one or two attempts; 22 percent made three, four or five attempts; and 9 percent quit six or more times before succeeding.

They are living longer.

  • After 15 years, the risk of death for ex-smokers returns to nearly the level of persons who have never smoked.
  • Male smokers who quit between ages 35 and 39 add an average of five years to their lives; women can add three years. Even men and women who quit between the ages of 65 and 69 add one year to life expectancy.

They are healthier.

  • After 10 years, the risk of lung cancer for ex-smokers drops to as much as one-half that of those who continue to smoke. The risk continues to decline the longer you stay smoke-free.
  • Ex-smokers who have not smoked for many years are less likely to die of chronic lung diseases, such as emphysema, than those who continue to smoke.
  • One year after quitting, the excess rate of heart disease is reduced by half. After 15 years of abstinence, the risk is similar to that of persons who have never smoked.
  • Five to 15 years after quitting, the risk of stroke for ex-smokers returns to the level of those who have never smoked.
  • Ex-smokers are simply healthier than those who continue to smoke. They have fewer days of illness, fewer health complaints, and reduced rates of bronchitis and pneumonia. People who quit smoking also are more likely to exercise regularly.

There are unique benefits for women who quit smoking.

  • If all women quit smoking during pregnancy, about 5 percent of deaths among newborn infants could be prevented.
  • Women who stop smoking before becoming pregnant or during the first trimester of pregnancy reduce their risk of having a low birth weight baby to that of women who have never smoked.
  • It takes female smokers longer to get pregnant than nonsmokers. Women who quit smoking before trying to get pregnant are as likely to get pregnant as women who have never smoked.

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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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