HED:Hank Boerner: Take part in this year's Great American Smokeout

Yesterday 8,000 Tupelo residents were held hostage, and a number of them will be killed every day until they are set free.

Their captor is a drug more addictive than cocaine or alcohol. Today and every day, 60 Mississippi youth under age 18 will start using tobacco products and fall victim to this drug known as nicotine. The sad thing is that 20 of these children will die prematurely from smoking-related illnesses.

If 20 people were killed in a plane, bus or train crash in Mississippi, it would make the front page of every newspaper, lead off the evening news, and be a news flash on every radio station. Yet we have become immune to the senseless, premature deaths of our own friends and family members.

Nationally, tobacco kills 400,000 Americans each year - more people than the combined total deaths by AIDS, alcohol, car crashes, suicides, homicides, illegal drugs and fires. More than 25 percent of American adults smoke, and 70 percent of them say they would like to quit.

Sixteen years ago, I was one of those smokers who wanted to quit. I had tried numerous times but to no avail. In November 1982 after many years of serious smoking, I made the choice to put down my cigarettes for one day. That day I was successful, and that day led to another day, another and yet another day. Since November 1982, I have not taken another puff of a cigarette or any other tobacco product. I am not a non-smoker I am a smoker who hasn't had a smoke for almost 16 years. Most smokers are like alcoholics, addicted to a drug that has a control over them like nothing else. Even one hit of the addictive substance might start the cycle all over again.

For those of you who would like to set yourself or a friend free from the drug that holds you hostage, read on. The American Cancer Society urges you to plan your escape for the third Thursday in November. This annual event is known as the Great American Smokeout a day set aside to put down your tobacco products and try 24 hours of smoke-free breathing. While it's definitely not an easy task, a little planning and encouragement can make it the "best day of the rest of your life."

Here are a few Quit Tips:

- Hide all ash trays, matches, cigarettes, etc.

- Have a supply of sugarless gum, carrot sticks, etc., ready.

- Drink plenty of liquids, but pass up coffee and alcohol.

- Tell everyone you're quitting for one day.

- When the urge to smoke hits, take a deep breath and hold it for 10 seconds, then release it slowly.

- Exercise to relieve the tension.

- Try the "buddy system" and ask a friend to quit, too.

- Plan ahead for a lifetime of being tobacco-free.

- Make a list of reasons to smoke and reasons to quit. compare them.

- Make a list of times it will be hardest to smoke.

- Write down what you will do during those times to avoid smoking.

- Write a contract with yourself that you won't smoke for 24 hours.

- Tell a friend and renew your contract when you are successful.

- Reward yourself.

- Look forward to a healthier, tobacco-free life.

Good luck and call me at North Mississippi Medical Center's Wellness Center, (601) 841-4141 or 1-800-843-3375, if you need any help.

Hank Boerner is an exercise physiologist and director of the North Mississippi Medical Center Wellness Center and Pontotoc Wellness Center.

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