Give a holiday gift for a lifetime

    As someone who treats patients with heart and vascular disease, I have an idea for a holiday gift that someone could give that really wouldn’t cost them anything, except a sincere commitment to their health. It involves wrapping up your last pack of cigarettes and giving it to their family or loved one with a note that says, “I’m quitting smoking for you and for me.”

    This gift would truly last a lifetime. 

    Each year, nearly a half-million people die from smoking-related causes and roughly 35 percent of those deaths are due to smoking-related cardiovascular problems. I know, because I treat people in Milwaukee with these problems.

    My patients range in age from their teens well into their 90’s. With more than 4,000 toxic compounds in cigarette smoke, including nicotine and carbon monoxide, smokers suffer from peripheral artery disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, aneurysms, various forms of cancer and more.

    The more people smoke, the worse it gets. But the minute people quit, they’re on a fast track to far better health.

    Quitting smoking would give an individual’s family a gift that would let them know that he or she wants to be a part of their lives longer. A 2003 study showed two to seven years after quitting smoking, heart disease patients decreased their actual risk of heart attacks by as much as 95 percent and saw vast improvements in their overall health.

    Quitting means those around a smoker become healthier too because they no longer have to breathe unfiltered, secondhand smoke.

    Your family physician can help, and depending on your employer, you might also find help through an on-site smoking cessation program.  More and more companies are providing this benefit or have insurance plans that do so, especially with the impending smoke-free workplace law going into effect in Wisconsin next summer.

    Good smoking cessation programs provide assistance with behavioral counseling, medications, nicotine replacement, and/or non-medicinal therapies as well.  Statewide organizations can also help including the American Cancer Society, Smoke-Free Wisconsin, the American Lung Association and others.

    Over time, I’ve heard people give a lot of excuses for not quitting – they are too old, too cool, or simply don’t believe it will make a difference. The truth is that for an individual’s short- and long-term health, ceasing from smoking makes a very big difference.

    Smokers who stop experience less pain, less health problems and live a better quality of life. Medical statistics prove this. Ultimately, trying to wrap the real meaning of a decision like this into one present may be hard, but it will be one gift that no one will ever forget.


    Dr. John H. Fish III is a vascular medicine specialist at the Vascular Center at St. Luke’s Aurora Cardiovascular Services in Milwaukee; the Aurora Health Center in West Allis and the Aurora Medical Center in Kenosha.

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