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Diane Hood, MD, St. Luke's Hospital

More reasons to stick to your resolution to quit smoking

Perhaps you or a loved one has resolved to quit smoking this year, and maybe the ban on smoking in most public places in
St. Louis and St. Louis County is reinforcing that commitment to quit. If you or someone you know needs more motivation, a recent report from the U.S. surgeon general provides some eye-opening information about the serious health hazards of tobacco smoke.

The surgeon general says there is no safe level of tobacco smoke exposure. Even occasional smoking and secondhand smoke is harmful to your health because it causes immediate inflammation and damage to blood vessels and makes blood more likely to clot. This means just one cigarette could be enough to trigger a heart attack or stroke in someone at risk.

The surgeon general's report notes that cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic and cancer-causing. Lung cancer is not the only cancer it can cause. It can cause cancers throughout the body. A few examples include mouth, larynx, kidney and bladder cancer. There is also evidence that pancreatic cancer could be linked to tobacco smoke exposure. Smoking can interfere with your body's ability to fight cancer, even those not related to tobacco. In some cases, it can even help tumors grow. The chemicals in cigarette smoke also lead to serious respiratory diseases including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Women experience additional health consequences related to tobacco smoke exposure. It can cause irregular periods, early menopause, osteoporosis and infertility. The surgeon general says women who smoke during pregnancy are at higher risk for ectopic pregnancy, low birth weight and miscarriage. Simply put, if you smoke during pregnancy, your baby is smoking, too. If your partner smokes, you should know that chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the DNA in sperm, which may also lead to decreased fertility and birth defects.

According to the surgeon general, the best choice for your health is to never smoke, and if you do smoke, quit. Make sure you are not exposed to secondhand smoke, either. Your doctor can work with you to find resources that will help you stick to what could be the most important resolution you've ever made for your health.

Dr. Diane Hood is a board-certified internist at St. Luke's Hospital. Call 314-205-6399 or visit her Meet the Doctor page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on January 13, 2011.