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Research: Tobacco dependence is a disease

By Sarah Willets

7 months 24 days 8 hours ago |1174 Views | | | Email | Print

I have read a tremendous amount of material about tobacco cessation, a term used when referring to stopping the use of tobacco products. I have taught courses to military personnel, taught prevention to middle-school students and counseled patients for years. Our best efforts seemed to only reach a few, and failed a greater number of folks who tried, but were ultimately unsuccessful at stopping tobacco use. Why is this so hard? And why have we as a medical community been unable to find a “cure” for it?


Tobacco dependence is a disease, not a personal choice. This may be the biggest breakthrough in treatment in years. The American College of Chest Physicians realized this and proposed a treatment based on our current understanding of asthma. We now treat chronic asthma with controller medications, but have “rescue” inhalers for days when the asthmatic has symptoms such as wheezing. In the same way we can use “controller” medications for tobacco users, but have “rescue” medications for the unexpected stressors that occur during our day. Since life tends to throw the heaviest stressors at us on the day when we are least able to deal, many tobacco users relapse. Another new approach to this is to realize that tobacco-dependent people are either not currently using, at risk of using, or relapsed back to using. There are treatment options available for these folks as well. If we fail to offer a course of treatment for our patients when they are non-users in a high-stress time, before they have learned behavioral techniques to handle their stress, they will relapse. The good news, however, is that there are treatment options out there, and the more times someone tries to quit, the more likely they are to succeed.


I wanted to bring attention to this newer approach to tobacco cessation because November is the month of both The Great American Smokeout and Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Lung cancer is a huge problem for our community and is the No. 1 reason for cancer deaths in our community for both men and women. The No. 1 cause of death in this community is heart disease, which most of you already knew. Both of these diseases have been linked to tobacco use. If we can begin as a community to stop passing judgment on tobacco use, and begin to combat it together as a team, we can begin to make real, lasting changes in the health of our community.


Please join me and the crew of Gibson Cancer Center in partnership with Southeastern Health to combat lung cancer on Nov. 21, for the first ever joint Great American Smokeout and Lung Cancer Awareness Day at Biggs Park Mall. Starting at 1 p.m., we will have interactive displays, giveaways, information on tobacco cessation and lung cancer screening. At 4 p.m., we will have a round-table discussion on lung cancer with Dr. Terry Lowry and Dr. Russell McElveen of Duke Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery of Lumberton and Dr. Marvaretta Stevenson of the Duke Oncology network. We will also hold a candlelight vigil at the mall at 5:30 p.m. with a memorial wall and music by Lumberton High School Chorale singers. Please mark your calendars and plan to attend.


To learn more about assistance with quitting tobacco or the Great American Smokeout and Lung Cancer Awareness Day event, call 910-671-5716 or 910-671-5762.


Physician Assistant Catherine Gaines is the patient navigator for Gibson Cancer Center, an affiliate of Southeastern Health. She can be reached at gaines01@srmc.org.

Reach at or 910-272-6127.

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