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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Outrageous Number of Veteran Deaths Caused by Smoking

May 5, 2011

Smoking is a chronic condition which affects every organ of your body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 443,000 deaths are caused each year by cigarette smoking. This is more than HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined.

Smoking is the cause of 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths in men and 80 percent in women. From 2000 to 2004, 15,089 men and 9,453 women died in Texas as a result of smoking.

The health effects from smoking not only include lung cancer but coronary heart disease; abdominal aortic aneurysm; chronic airway obstruction; emphysema; bronchitis; and cancers of the bladder, cervix, kidney, esophagus, larynx, and stomach. Smoking during pregnancy can lead to pre-term delivery, stillbirth, or low birth-weight babies. Nicotine also aggravates such conditions as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, and depression.  

Smoking is an addiction, and one that can be very difficult to break.  For many Veterans, cigarettes came hand-in-hand with serving in the military. In fact, cigarettes were once standard issue in C-Rations (now known as Meals Ready to Eat).  

Although cigarette use declined from 1965 to 2005 in the general U.S. population, one study revealed the “prevalence of smoking to be 40 percent higher in Veterans than in the general population.” A more recent report by Bastian & Sherman shows that “U.S. service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan smoke at double the rate of other Americans.”

One of the most widely published photographs of the Iraq war is that of Lance Cpl. Blake Miller, the U.S. Marine pictured face dirty under his helmet, a Marlboro cigarette dangling from his lips.

But, there is hope. Smoking can be treated with a combination of counseling and pharmacotherapy/medications and/or counseling alone. The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center is committed to providing our Veterans with smoking cessation options.  Smoking cessation groups and related medications are completely free. 

To assist our Veterans who may have barriers such as traveling or scheduling conflicts, smoking cessation counseling can be done in individual or group therapy, or even over the telephone. 

For details, contact Mera Halloway-Paulino, Health Behavior Coordinator, at 713-791-1414, ext. 5082 or