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Did you know that just 20 minutes after a person quits smoking, their heart rate and blood pressure drop? Did you know that after 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in the blood drops to normal? November 20th is the Great American Smokeout Day - a day to encourage smokers to make a plan to quit using tobacco for the day and go smoke-free for 24 hours.

About 42 million Americans still smoke cigarettes. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States accounting for more than 480,000 deaths each year or 1 out of every 5 deaths. According to the recent Department of Defense Survey of Health-Related Behaviors, at least 24 percent of our military personnel reported smoking cigarettes.

Smoking is especially hazardous for our Soldiers. Tobacco use decreases Soldier readiness by causing impaired night vision, respiratory illnesses, delayed wound healing, increased surgical complications and accelerates hearing loss. Tobacco not only stains your teeth, but also causes tooth decay, gum disease and various types of cancers. Smoking decreases oxygen in the muscles leading to decreased physical performance.

Breathing secondhand smoke also affects the health of other people. Secondhand smoke contains over 250 chemicals that are harmful, leading to serious health effects such as heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. It causes health problems in infants and children such as asthma, bronchitis and other lung diseases. According to the CDC, over the past 50 years, 2.5 million adults who were nonsmokers died from secondhand smoke.

On November 20th, join people around the world to support quitting tobacco for the Great American Smokeout. If you smoke, make a pledge to quit. If you don't smoke, help someone to quit.

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for the day:

• Plan ahead

• Change your daily routine for that day to help you break the habit such as taking a different route to work

• Get rid of all tobacco in your house or car and

• Remove cigarettes, ashtrays, lighters and matches in your house, car or other locations.

Plan alternatives or substitutes for smoking, such as:

• Chew sugar-free gum, carrots or suck sugar-free hard candy.

• Picture something pleasant in your mind.

• Go for a run.

If you feel an urge to smoke, use the 4 D's:

• Delay the urge. Count to 100 or 200. Wait 15 minutes.

• Drink water. Water flushes out the nicotine toxins.

• Deep breaths. Deep breathing relieves stress.

• Do something else. Distract yourself. Talk with a friend or co-worker.

All of us should take this day to quit or help others to quit in order to attain a tobacco-free lifestyle. Do you want to help someone else to quit? Frustration, anxiety, irritability, and mood changes are normal reactions when a person quits smoking, so:

• Be encouraging.

• Be available to listen.

• Be understanding.

Although the Great American Smokeout encourages you to quit for one day--November 20th, quitting this day can be the first day of being tobacco free for life. Commit to quit and take an important step towards a healthier life. Resources are available to help you quit and remain tobacco-free.

For more information on tobacco reduction and cessation, visit these websites:

U.S. Army Public Health Command, http://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/healthyliving/tfl/Pages/default.aspx

U Can Quit 2, http://www.ucanquit2.org

American Lung Association, http://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/how-to-quit/

American Cancer Society, http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/index

Become an EX, Online Tobacco Cessation Program, http://www.becomeanex.org

Related Links:

U.S. Army Public Health Command

Become an EX, Online Tobacco Cessation Program

American Cancer Society

American Lung Association