Joanne Davis remembers with meticulous clarity how she felt the first time she lit a cigarette. Her lips were dry, fingers trembling as she and her best friend, both 15, tried to light the tip of a cigarette from a pack she had snatched without detection from her father.
After a few attempts, the teens got the embers to catch and quickly gulped in enough smoke to send them both coughing violently until their lungs wretched.
Yet they did it again and again, coughing with such force their lungs hurt for days. "Until we could finally take a puff, breathe it in and exhale like a couple of pros," said Davis, shaking her head in disbelief. "Crazy how hard we worked to be good at it."
Within a month, Davis, now 48, was burning through a pack a day, grounding a habit she wasn't able to break until age 22. Although successful at quitting on her first attempt, she remembered it being the most difficult time of her life.
"I was really addicted; not just to the nicotine, but to the ritual. I still miss smoking 25 years later," she said. Her intense struggle to eradicate her physical and mental addiction was enough to deter her from picking up a cigarette again.
The use of tobacco products, particularly cigarettes, poses a health risk to users and others who breathe in secondhand smoke. Plenty of evidence shows smoking and the use of other forms of tobacco can be deadly.
The National Cancer Institute states there are several potentially deadly consequences of tobacco use. Smoking can cause coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. It also can lead to lung cancer and lung diseases including COPD, emphysema, bronchitis and chronic airway obstruction.
In fact, the Institute documents cancer deaths caused by smoking that include more than lung, mouth (oral cavity) and throat (pharynx). Smoking also can lead to cancers of the bladder, cervix, esophagus, kidney, larynx, stomach and uterus.
Smoking harms every organ in the body, leading to heart disease, stroke, aortic aneurysm, hip fractures and cataracts.
Smoking during pregnancy can cause premature delivery and abnormally low birth weights of babies and can increase the risk of death from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Men who smoke are at a greater risk of erectile dysfunction.
Smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke causes more than 440,000 premature deaths each year in the United States; 40 percent are cancer-related, 35 percent from heart disease and 25 percent from lung disease.
"Smoking is the leading cause of premature, preventable death in this country," as quoted on the Cancer Institute website.
Is it any question, then, anti-smoking groups say, that tobacco use is the leading health risk in this country and contributes to higher insurance premiums?
Not to mention continuing the habit is expensive, costing an average smoker more than $2,000 a year.
The Florida Department of Health estimates as many as 1.9 million Floridians will try to give up tobacco in 2014. To help them meet that goal, state health officials have adapted a Tobacco Free Florida Program that uses "3 Ways to Quit;" Florida Quit-line, Web Coach, and in-person classes through the Florida Area Health Education Network.
According to the state health department, more than 93,400 Floridians have quit tobacco using one of these free services. Moreover, studies show as many as two out of three adult smokers want to become tobacco-free.
"If you live in Florida, free evidence-based programs to help you quit tobacco are right at your fingertips," said Shannon Hughes, Tobacco Free Florida Bureau Chief. "Cutting tobacco out of your life not only vastly improves your health but also saves money."
Tobacco Free Florida uses resources that include consultations by certified and trained Quit Coaches and FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapy when medically necessary. Using a combined approach of counseling and therapy might double or even triple the user's chances of quitting.
There are three ways Tobacco Free Florida can help you quit:
. Call the Florida Quitline; (877) U-CAN-NOW to reach a Quit Coach and help create a plan to quit.
. Enroll in Web Coach to create a Web-based plan to quit; www.quit now.net/florida.
. Visit AHEC's website, http://ahec tobacco.com to find a local AHEC and sign up for a Quit Smoking Now group class.
The good news is that anyone can quit, and the sooner they do, the sooner they will begin to reap long-term benefits. Quitting, regardless of age, makes you less likely to die from smoking-related illnesses.
Consider this from the National Cancer Institute in terms of age:
. Those who quit at about age 30 reduce their chances of premature death from smoking-related disease by more than 90 percent.
. Quitting by age 50 reduces that risk by 50 percent.
. People who quit at age 60 or older are likely to live longer than those who keep smoking.
The Florida Department of Health Hernando encourages those who wish to make 2014 the beginning of their smoke-free future start by taking advantage of the free services offered.
Jihane Ambroise, AHEC tobacco concession specialist, confirmed the need for a multi-approach to quitting, which also includes counseling.
"Group counseling for tobacco cessation is effective because it provides a comfortable and friendly environment where tobacco users can share their own experiences with quitting tobacco as well as draw from the success and support of other tobacco users."
For Joanne Davis, the road to quitting began when she hit bottom and decided the cost to her health and her bank account no longer was worth it. "I quit cold turkey," she said, which proved difficult. "I wouldn't do it that way now with so many other options available."
Classes and workshops are available through the Florida Department of Health in Hernando County. For information or to register, call (813) 929-1000 or visit www.gnahec.org.