By Barbara Ferrer

worldnotobaccoday_d200pxToday, May 31, is World No Tobacco Day and a great day to start a quit smoking plan.

Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of disease, disability, and premature death in the United States. In Massachusetts, approximately 7,800 residents each year die of tobacco related illnesses, and according to the 2010 Health of Massachusetts report from the Department of Public Health, 16 percent of the adult population in the commonwealth smokes.

Most smokers want to quit. After all, smoking is unhealthy, expensive, and increasingly inconvenient, as more environments become smoke free to protect the health of nonsmokers. But the nicotine in tobacco is highly addictive, making it very hard for smokers to quit. However, it can be done, and the benefits of quitting start immediately.

According to the American Cancer Society, heart rate and blood pressure drop within twenty minutes of quitting. Within two weeks to three months, circulation and lung function improve. After that, health improvements continue throughout the years. A quitter’s risk of lung cancer is half of that of a smoker and their risk of coronary artery disease will reduce to that of a nonsmoker.

If you are thinking about quitting, talk to your doctor. Using cessation counseling and over-the-counter and/or prescription medications improve the chances of a successful quit attempt. Here in Massachusetts, every resident has access to free cessation coaching through the Massachusetts Smokers’ Helpline at 1-800-784-8669. In addition, many insurers cover Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), with a prescription. NRT is an over-the-counter drug that treats the physical addiction to nicotine. There are also prescription medications that reduce the desire to smoke.

To be inspired and get some quit tips from successful quitters, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sharing quitter’s stories

Dr. Ferrer is the executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission.