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Who's tougher: Marlboro Man or Chuck Norris?

With all the information available today on the dangers of smoking cigarettes, why is it still so prevalent? What do you think we are doing wrong?

In my very first C-Force article back in 2010, in discussing the many consumptive threats that hinder a healthy life, smoking was high on my list.

Nicotine is a known super toxin that has no business inside the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated one in five adults continue to smoke cigarettes in the United States, inhaling carcinogens each time one is lit.

According to a 2010 Surgeon General’s report, about 443,000 American adults die from smoking-related illnesses each year. They literally smoke themselves to death. Despite all the studies and all the warnings, smoking remains the leading preventable contributor to illness and death in the United States.

Anti-smoking efforts have been successful, but it seems only at a point. According to the CDC, between 1965 and 2010, smoking prevalence among adults dropped by more than half, from 42.4 percent to 19.3 percent.

As significant as that may seem, cigarette smoking clearly remains widespread. You would think that the progress in combating the smoking epidemic will continue to show declines, but that does not appear to be the case. Recent years have shown that the number of adult smokers in the United States has barely changed over the past few years. Traditional strategies in combating the problem, from increasing the price to implementing smoke-free policies at work and in public places, as well as restrictions on advertising, may need to be accompanied by new thinking and alternate approaches.

First, we must continue to make every effort to keep cigarettes out of the hands of kids. According to the 2012 Surgeon General’s Report on youth and smoking, the younger someone begins to use tobacco, the more likely they are to be an adult user.

According to the report, if kids stay tobacco free until age 18, most will never start using it. The Kids Health Organization’s (KidsHealth.org) “Smoking Stinks” campaign is one approach in combating kids smoking, by creating a website where kids and parents can get the tools they need.

Engaging kids in sports is another important and tested approach of which I’ve seen the benefits firsthand in our KICKSTART KIDS (KickStartKids.org) program, which teaches the martial arts to middle school kids in Texas. Smoking is barred in this program.

We also need to continue to support tobacco-free schools and to insist that health programs include the latest in tobacco-use prevention education.

Most importantly, we need to continue to make every effort to eliminate smoking in the home. Research shows that the children of smokers are more likely to be smokers themselves. That means focusing on the nearly 20 percent of Americans who continue to smoke, many of them parents, who may want to quit.

According to the CDC, nearly two out of three adult smokers want to quit smoking, and more than half of them tried to quit the previous year. Maybe we need to focus more on those folks – on new approaches to helping them get over the hump. Instead of bombarding smokers with information on the dangers, maybe it’s time for more reinforcement of the positives of stopping.

Quitting smoking has immediate benefits to health at any age. A new Health Forecasting Tool developed by UCLA has found that as of the year 2004, 9 percent of the total increase in life expectancy for women and 14 percent for men can be attributed to a reduction in smoking. It also shows that reductions in smoking may yield an average 3.4-year increase in life expectancy. A recent study of a million British women reported in The Lancet, a leading medical journal, found that women who quit smoking before age 40 may live 10 years longer than those who don’t quit.

The timing may also be right. Quitting smoking is consistently among the top five “New Year’s resolutions.”

But quitting for most is not that easy. According to WhyQuit.com, one of the Internet’s first forums on the science and psychology of cold turkey nicotine cessation, the body needs up to 72 hours to reach peak withdrawal. But the chemical dependency, as with other addictions, infects almost every aspect of a smoker’s life and thinking.

“Treating a true addiction as though it were some nasty little habit is a recipe for relapse,” the website cautions. “There is no such thing as just one puff. Nicotine dependency recovery truly is an all-or-nothing proposition.”

Rather than cold turkey, others prefer to use nicotine replacement therapy or other proven quit-smoking aids to get there. Regardless of the approach, we should not be daunted should a smoker in our lives fail. It has been reported that, on average, it can take even a smoker who truly wants to quit about four attempts before they find success.

According to a 2008 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, smoking-related illness in the United States costs $96 billion each year in medical costs and $97 billion in lost productivity due to premature mortality. The human toll on survivors and caregivers of individuals affected by tobacco-related illness remains incalculable. It is a preventable health problem. We cannot afford to not solve it.

Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.