Quit Smoking With Your Benefit Accounts

We all know how bad smoking is for our health, but quitting “cold turkey” can represent a huge hurdle. The good news is that there are several support tools and resources available to those who are ready to quit. Before we review those, however, let’s go over what smoking does to your body and explore the health benefits of at least reducing your intake, if not quitting entirely. And finally, we’ll explore the tools and resources that can help you on your journey toward becoming a non-smoker.

Smoking: An Overview

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking cigarettes continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. If that doesn’t catch your attention, here are a few more facts that might:

  • Every day, 1,600 young people try smoking for the first time.
  • Almost 40 million adults still smoke, despite many of them saying they want to quit.
  • Lost productivity and healthcare for smoking-related health problems together cost the U.S. more than $289 billion every year.
  • Of the money state governments receive from tobacco excise taxes, they only spend about 12% on tobacco control.

Smoking: Negative Health Effects

Smoking has been proven to contribute to premature death, strokes, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, lung and other types of cancer, respiratory disease, fertility and birth issues, declining bone health, cataracts, Type 2 diabetes, general inflammation. and decreased immune function.

How significant is smoking’s contribution? The CDC breaks it down.

Risk of Death

Cigarette smoking causes almost half a million preventable deaths each year. (Compare that to the number of Americans killed in all the country’s wars since 1775, which stands at about 1.1 million.) It’s at the root of 90% of lung cancer deaths and 80% of deaths from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Despite all the efforts to encourage smoking cessation, the risk of dying from the effects of smoking has gone up, not down, over the last 50 years.

Cardiovascular Health

Plus, smoking creates thicker and narrower blood vessels, a faster heartbeat, and higher blood pressure. Blockages and blood clots resulting from smoking can block blood flow to the legs and skin, and brain, leading to strokes.

Smoking and Your Respiratory Health

Smoking damages the lungs, leading to COPD, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and lung cancer. People living with asthma who smoke may trigger attacks or make existing ones worse. Smokers are 12 to 13 times more likely to die from COPD than nonsmokers.

Smoking and Cancer

Smoking can ultimately result in cancer – not only in the lungs but also in many other organs. It has been estimated that if there were zero smokers in America, 1 in 3 deaths would occur much later in life than they do.

Smoking and Other Issues

Finally, smoking can cause issues with fertility and childbirth. Women who smoke face lower bone density, meaning a greater risk for breaks. Smoking can cause eye issues like cataracts and macular degeneration. It can lead to type 2 diabetes, increase general inflammation, and decrease immunity strength.

Pretty awful stuff, right? That’s why it’s so important that people never start smoking, or if they do start, that they quit as soon as they can.

Quitting a nicotine addiction is not easy; it’s been estimated that the average smoker attempts to quit about 30 times before succeeding. But the benefits are priceless.

Quit Smoking and See the Health Benefits

The American Lung Association has a breakdown of the health benefits experienced by those who quit smoking. These start in as few as 20 minutes after quitting and can still be seen 15 years after.

  • 20 minutes after quitting, the heart rate returns to normal
  • 12-24 hours afterward, the risk of heart attack is already significantly reduced
  • 1 month after quitting, coughing and shortness of breath start to decrease
  • 1 year afterward, the risk of coronary heart disease risk has reduced to half that of an active smoker
  • 5-15 years after quitting, the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease starts to approach nonsmoker levels, plus the risk of various cancers drops by as much as half that of active smokers

How to Quit Smoking

First, decide why you want to quit. Some people do it for their health, and that’s certainly a good reason. But for others, there are other, more compelling arguments. Smoking is not a cheap habit. Lifetime costs can range between $1.75 million and $3 million. Smoking has also become pretty inconvenient with the widespread ban on indoor smoking.

Once you’ve got your motivator in mind, the next step is to figure out which strategies and tools will work best in providing support for your journey. Start by talking to your primary physician. Since they know you and your history, they can probably steer you in the right direction.

The American Lung Association offers Freedom From Smoking, a cessation program available to employers, hospitals, and insurance groups. They’ve helped many smokers quit through online activities, tools, and content. Employers can get help setting up support groups for their employees. Those who prefer to quit independently can get an interactive manual and telephone counseling services.

And those resources are just the beginning. If your workplace offers Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) or Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), you can use those funds for nicotine gum and patches, smoking cessation programs, therapy, and counseling. With the IRS increasing annual contribution limits for FSA and HSA accounts in 2024, this could be an excellent time to make a clean break with your smoking habit.

Whether your goal is better health, more money in your pocket, or just being tired of standing out in the rain and snow on your smoke break, now is a great time to quit. You don’t have to go “cold turkey,” and you don’t need to go it alone.

If now is your time to quit, we wish you the best of luck – and good health!

Captain Contributor is an award-winning employee education and engagement program.