Fifty years ago this week, the first U.S. Surgeon General’s report linking tobacco and lung cancer was published. Since then, the U.S. and Georgia have made tremendous progress in reducing the burden of tobacco on our communities. However, our work is far from finished. Here in Georgia, tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of death and kills more than 11,000 people in our state each year. More than 1.5 million Georgians smoke. Another 317,000 use other forms of tobacco. And 25 percent of Georgia's youth smoke, a rate higher than kids in other states across the country. Tobacco causes lung cancer, cancers of the head and neck and heart disease.
Most smokers think a tobacco-related illness will never happen to them, but sadly, there are real people behind the statistics. Georgia resident Janice Hayes started experimenting with tobacco when she was 13, two years after the first Surgeon General’s report came out. Now, she lives every day with the effects of using tobacco. In her 40s, she was diagnosed with cancer and had a laryngectomy, affecting her voice and adding a stoma, or breathing tube, in her neck. Even though her cancer is in remission, simple things like talking and breathing are hard for her.
“When you are young, you think you will live forever. But I wish I had never smoked,” she said. “Everybody smoked back then, and I just thought, ‘I’ll quit when I’m through.’ I didn’t know how addictive it would be.”
Even in Hayes’ job as a dental assistant, she recalls how people would smoke in the waiting room of the dental office.
Things are different in Georgia today. More than half of the people who smoke each year in Georgia report wanting to quit. Indoor smoking is prohibited in many public places. Many of our hospitals are tobacco-free or moving toward becoming tobacco-free. More than half of the school districts in Georgia are tobacco-free, and the Board of Regents that governs the University System of Georgia is considering a tobacco-free policy for all of its campuses. These policies help keep people healthy and send a message to all people in the community that tobacco is dangerous.
We are making strides in Georgia around tobacco, but Hayes wants to remind kids that tobacco companies are still promoting their product in ways that are meant to encourage kids and adults to start smoking and using other forms of tobacco.
“Remember, they are selling death and disease,” she said.
Help is available for people who want to quit. Anyone can call the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line (1-877-270-STOP (7867)) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to get help for themselves or friends or family. The Quit Line is free and available in multiple languages. Quitting is the most important thing smokers can do to avoid heart disease, cancer, lung disease and other smoking-related illnesses. The health benefits of quitting are immediate. By not smoking indoors or around others, smokers can help to lower other people’s risks of asthma and heart attacks.
Learn how you can become tobacco free. Visit the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line page on DPH’s website.