Not only does smoking cause lung cancer and heart disease, but many of the 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes increase your risk of stroke, breast cancer, secondary infertility, low back pain, and heartburn (and then there are the premature wrinkles and bad breath). If you think you're healthy, ask your doctor to do a spirometry test that measures your lungs' functional age. Many 35-year-old smokers have the lungs of a 70-year-old.
Inhaling secondhand smoke -- which contains arsenic, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde -- is undeniably risky for children. Smokers' kids have higher rates of respiratory infection, ear infection, severe asthma, and even SIDS. "Despite what you may think, there is no safe level of exposure for secondhand smoke," says Richard D. Hurt, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center, in Rochester, Minnesota. Even if you never smoke in rooms where your children play, tiny particles cling to your clothes and circulate through your house. And while no parent wants her child to become a smoker, kids whose parents smoke are twice as likely to light up themselves when older. Quit now to break the cycle.
With all the time commitments and craziness that come along with raising children, how can you handle giving up smoking now? Cigarettes may seem like an integral part of every aspect of your life -- influencing your identity, your choice of friends, the structure of your day, and the way you manage to squeeze in a little "me" time.
"I used to look forward to my 'good job' cigarette after my kids' bath and bedtime rituals, and I was convinced I couldn't make it through without it," says Laura Lathan, of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, whose daughters are 6 and 4. But when she quit last February, she found that she actually had more energy for the evening routine.
It's understandable to worry about what will replace a drag during those times when your kids are acting up, you're late to work, or you're panicked about your credit-card bills. "But it's important not to use parent stress as an excuse to keep smoking, because you'll always have tensions in your life," says Jodi Prochaska, PhD, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco Tobacco Control Program. "Smoking doesn't really take away your stress -- it just relieves symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. You can learn healthier ways to cope."