Cigarettes and Cancer

May is a good month in which to blog about tobacco, smoking and cancer.

May 31st is the World Health Organization’s World No Tobacco Day and May 8th – 14th is Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week.

When smoking and other tobacco products are used in the same sentence as cancer, it is often to cite the link between cigarettes, chewing tobacco, etc and cancer.  This is  important- cigarettes kill a lot of people annually and cost the world millions of dollars and lost years of productivity. You can learn more about the public health crisis of tobacco/smoking at

And, sadly, A LOT of young people smoke.  Probably many less than did 20 or 30 years ago but rates of use are still higher in the young adult population as compared to other age groups. To learn more about trends in young adults living in the United States visit

I am often meeting young adults affected by cancer (either their own or a loved one’s) who need to go outside the hospital for smoking breaks. I have even stood with patients on winter days while they, hooked up to IV polls, puffed away into the cold air on the corner of Baltimore and Greene Streets.  I have done this not to condone their choices but to better understand the addiction they are facing.

To be sure, there are some young adults who quit or commit to quit “cold turkey” the minute they hear the word cancer.  Perhaps they already wanted to stop, were shocked into a new kind of motivation or just lost the urge because of the way treatments where impacting their sense of smell and taste.

The norm seems to be, however, that while young adults living with cancer intend to quit or hope to quit, they do not. UMGCC/UMMS tries to assist patients with nicotine patches and other short term solutions when patients are hospitalized.  And the majority of smoking patients can continue to go through treatment even if they are smoking.  One very prominent exception are the bone marrow/stem cell transplant patients who must quit by the time of the transplant process starts.

I am now working with a young man and his family in this situation, which has caused me to dig much deeper into the free or low cost resources available in Maryland. Remember the “Smoking Stops Here” billboards. Funded by the tobacco settlements, 1800-QUIT-NOW has designated steps of the process, free patches, gum and lozenges available, and Quitting Coaches/counselors available by phone 20hrs/day 7 days/week!  There is no limit to how many household members can be enrolled which is wonderful because it must be pretty hard to quit if everyone you live with is still smoking.

I hope one day to start a smoking cessation program/group for patients of all ages at UMGCC.  I can’t think of a better “teachable moment”/ point of intervention than a cancer diagnosis but setting up a group like this will take some time. Until then, I am hopeful and looking forward to working with organizations like Smoking Stops Here to help the young people I work with live the best life possible.

About Elizabeth Saylor

Director of Young Adult Patient Navigation
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