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Use this down time to help yourself forever

In the campy 1980 comedy film “Airplane!”, Lloyd Bridges’ character was an aircraft controller in the tower. When disaster seemed imminent, he grabbed a cigarette and bemoaned, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop smoking.”

With all due respect to Mr. Bridges, as we continue to plod through this spring of the coronavirus pandemic, maybe it’s the perfect time to quit lighting up.

Think about it: We’re all in closer quarters than usual, with many folks penned up at home to advance social distancing. And with kids tele-schooling from home, the instinct to keep them healthy should be a powerful contributing factor.

And many of us have more time on our hands. Some are returning to old hobbies or picking up new ones. Sewing, learning a new language or playing a musical instrument have been chief among those, according to at least one online survey involving the effect of COVID-19 on our daily lives. So dropping a bad habit sounds at least as helpful. Don’t just go outside to smoke. Quit.

All over America, fewer people are smoking than in decades past, when advertising on TV and in magazines once made lighting up seem sophisticated and cool, even healthy. But according to the CDC, about 34.3 million Americans still smoke cigarettes — and tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States.

Those numbers, including the national total, may be down from bygone days, but there’s still cause for concern. And vaping is under scrutiny as a not-so-safe alternative. According to the CDC, young people who vape are much more likely to start smoking. A new Maryland law that took effect last fall boosted the legal age for cigarette purchase to 21 (except for active-duty military personnel), so time will tell if that continues the overall downward trend for smokers.

If you’re serious about quitting, help is readily available. The St. Mary’s health department makes plenty of resources and information available. Free, in-person quit tobacco classes are on hold for now, but you can call 301-475-4330 or go to www.smchd.org/tobacco for more information. To get involved in community action to reduce tobacco use here, or to access additional resources, check out healthystmarys.com/tobacco-free-living.

Maryland offers a free 24/7 Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW to support anyone who would like to quit tobacco.

According to the CDC, tobacco use in the United States causes about 480,000 deaths each year — or nearly one in every five deaths in this country. Smokers die an average of 13 years sooner than their nonsmoking counterparts, according to the CDC.

But quitting smoking turns things around. The CDC says after a smoke-free year, the risk of coronary trouble is cut in half. After five years, the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder are reduced by half. After 10 years, the chance of lung cancer has been cut in half. Finally, if a smoker remains an ex-smoker for 15 years, the risk of coronary disease is the same as that of a person who never smoked.

And when it comes to dealing with COVID-19, should it befall you, your chances of staying off a ventilator would have to be better if you have clean lungs.

Even the eminent Farmers Almanac, that amazing publication that presumes to predict the weather a year ahead of time, has weighed in on quitting smoking. It recommends May 17 and 18 as the best days this month to snuff out your cigarettes.

So you could stop this weekend. That way, when you look back on this lousy start to 2020, you can always recall with pride how you reclaimed your health.

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