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Smokers' Stories: Five Reasons to Quit

Tips from Former Smokers collageMeet five real people in CDC's graphic new ads. They want to be your reason to quit smoking for good.

No one who starts smoking in their teens expects to suffer serious health effects until very late in life. But many smokers have serious health effects much earlier, causing them to miss important life milestones and deeply affecting their spouses, children, extended family, and friends. That's exactly what happened to the five ad participants featured in CDC's 2016 Tips From Former Smokers (Tips) campaign. They share their very personal stories in new, hard-hitting commercials airing across the United States starting January 25. The ads urge smokers to quit and to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or 1-855-DÉJELO-YA (1-855-335-3569) if they want free help.

Read on to learn how smoking affected these people and how each benefited from quitting.

Smoking and Heart Disease

Heart disease and stroke are major causes of death and disability in the United States. Many people are at high risk for these diseases and don't know it. The good news is that many risk factors for heart disease and stroke can be prevented or controlled.

Brian was smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day by the time he was 11. He joined the Air Force at 19 because he wanted to see the world; pursuing a military career was important to him. At age 35, while stationed in England, Brian had severe chest pains and collapsed. He was having a heart attack. Over the years, Brian's heart problems worsened, and much of his time was spent in hospitals. He missed out on many important life events with his family. His illness was especially hard on his wife and children. Each time he went in for surgery, they would say their final good-byes because they never knew if he was going to survive. Now Brian spends as much time as he can with his loved ones and is grateful to have finally quit smoking for good. "Every day is a gift to spend time with my wife and grandkids," Brian said.

Smoking and COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of diseases—emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and sometimes asthma—that cause airflow blockage and breathing problems. COPD is usually caused by smoking. How severe your symptoms are depends on how damaged your lungs are. If you smoke and continue to smoke, the damage will get worse faster than if you stop smoking. The best way to prevent COPD is to never start smoking, and if you smoke, quit.

Becky started smoking cigarettes in high school. Like many girls her age, she thought smoking would help her fit in. At age 45, Becky—by then a busy lawyer—was diagnosed with COPD. Her doctor told her several times to quit smoking. One evening while at work, Becky could not catch her breath. She tried not to panic but knew she needed immediate medical help. Becky remembers waking up in the intensive care unit. Today, Becky needs continuous oxygen to help her breathe, but she is happy that she was finally able to quit smoking and is grateful that she can help educate others about the dangers of smoking cigarettes. "Whenever I had a craving, I said to myself, ‘I choose not to smoke today.'"

Using Two or More Tobacco Products

When smokers cut down on cigarettes by adding another tobacco product, it may seem like they are taking steps to improve their health. Using two types of tobacco products is called "dual use." It is not an effective way to fully protect health, regardless of whether the other product is an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette), smokeless tobacco, or other tobacco product. Quitting smoking completely is very important to protect health. Smoking even a few cigarettes a day is dangerous.

Even "light" smokers or "social" smokers can have serious health problems from smoking.

  • Smoking just five cigarettes a day doubles your risk of dying from heart disease.
  • Just cutting back on cigarettes may not protect you from an early death. And cigarette smokers die an average of 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.

At age 33, Kristy , a heavy cigarette smoker and mother of three, tried using e-cigarettes to help her quit regular cigarettes. She wanted to get rid of her deep smoker's cough and shortness of breath. Although she was able to cut back on the number of regular cigarettes she was smoking, she was never able to quit completely. Kristy kept using both tobacco products, and her cough didn't get better. Eventually, she stopped using e-cigarettes and went back to just smoking regular cigarettes. Soon after, her lung collapsed and she was diagnosed with early COPD, which is known to be caused by smoking regular cigarettes. That's when she quit smoking regular cigarettes for good.

Today, Kristy loves being a nonsmoker. "When I smoked, I had no energy. It just affected my whole life," she said. "Now I can actually breathe and play with my kids!"

Smoking and Mental Health

One of the conditions highlighted in the 2016 Tips campaign is depression. Studies show that smoking is much more common among adults with mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, than in the general population. In fact, at least 3 out of every 10 cigarettes smoked by adults in the United States are smoked by people with mental health conditions. Researchers don't yet know why smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to have depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. No matter the cause‚ smoking is not a treatment for depression or anxiety. Getting help for your depression and anxiety, and quitting smoking, are the best ways to feel better. Recent research has shown that adult smokers with mental health conditions—like other smokers—want to quit, can quit, and benefit from proven stop-smoking treatments.

Rebecca started smoking as a teen. At age 33, she was diagnosed with depression. Like many smokers who suffer from depression, she viewed smoking as a way to help her cope with her feelings. But it became a vicious cycle. She wanted to quit but wasn't successful. This made her more depressed, and she resumed smoking. After losing teeth to gum disease, which is a risk for all smokers, she knew she had to quit for good. "I was hit in the face with reality," Rebecca said. The birth of her grandson was the turning point for her, and she quit smoking once and for all. Now she feels better—both mentally and physically. Rebecca is proud of her accomplishment. "It's about taking control of your life and where you want to be in your life."

Smoking and Cancer Survival

Rico started smoking at age 14. He idolized his father—a smoker—and remembers lighting his father's cigarettes as a teenager in their native country, the Philippines. Rico kept smoking into adulthood, and although he tried to stop many times, he admits his addiction made it hard. At age 42, Rico was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly, nothing else mattered. Rico realized he had to take immediate action and quit smoking for good. Studies suggest that quitting smoking may improve a patient's response to cancer treatment, and Rico knew that he had to take control of his health and quit. He quit smoking for good because he wanted every chance to survive cancer so he could be there for his family and watch his then-teenaged children grow up. He was treated for his cancer and has been a survivor since 2011. He feels grateful that he was able to see his daughter graduate from college. "I quit so that I'd be more than a memory to my daughter," he said.

Resources for Quitting

People who stop smoking can greatly reduce their risk for disease and early death. The younger you are when you quit, the better your chances of avoiding health problems, but quitting at any age will benefit your health. The following resources can help you quit smoking: