Richards: It's quittin' time in Tennessee every February for smokers

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We've heard for decades now all the warnings against tobacco use, but unfortunately, far too many people are still suffering the consequences.

This year alone, nearly 11,500 Tennesseans will die from smoking, and 42,000 people across the country will die from exposure to secondhand smoke.

In addition to lung cancer, tobacco use is often a contributing factor to chronic heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, birth defects and other diseases. It also increases the risk of other types of cancer including mouth, stomach, kidney, uterus, cervix, ovaries and colon.

Tobacco use continues to be a serious problem in Chattanooga and across Tennessee.

Quitting tobacco can stop or even reverse many of the harmful effects of past tobacco use, and it's not only good for your health but for those in your life who can be impacted by the effects of secondhand smoke whether they choose to use tobacco or not. Exposure to secondhand smoke can cause heart disease, asthma and lung cancer, even in people who have never smoked.

If you are a tobacco user and want to quit, or if you want to support a relative, friend, colleague, neighbor or anyone you care about to quit, there are resources available that are free of charge.

These can be found through employer-sponsored wellness programs, county public health departments and local health-care institutions.

You can also visit for more information and resources, including an online cessation too. Or, if you prefer, you can call the Quit for Life program at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) to speak with a counselor who will help you assess your addiction and help you create a quit plan. Smokers also may receive free FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapy.

At this time of year, many of us have already left our New Year's resolutions behind, but Tennessee Quit Week, held each February, offers the perfect opportunity to make a commitment to quit tobacco use now. This initiative is in its third year and brings partners together from the public and private sectors statewide to shine a spotlight on the benefits of tobacco cessation. The goal is to encourage Tennesseans to either quit using tobacco products themselves or to encourage someone close to them to quit.

Together we can improve the lives of Tennesseans. It's quittin' time in Tennessee. Let's commit to quit.

Sean M. Richards, Ph.D, is chairman of Tobacco Free Chattanooga. He also serves as an environmental toxicologist at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and is a professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine.