It’s probably wishful thinking for a lot of people: I wish I had never started smoking, they say. If you’re a smoking parent, chances are good that you’ve tried to quit so you can serve as an example for your kids. If you’re the child of a smoker, you might have asked your parent or parents to stop for your sake. It’s not a superficial lamentation, like wishing you could have been born with the legs of a runway model; smoking is, unfortunately, an incredibly common and fatal habit that can be easily avoided. The good news is that it can also be quit, and while the journey can be rough, the destination is so worth the effort.

Smoking Prevention: It’s What You Know

Short of the tragedy of losing someone to a smoking-related illness or disease, or being diagnosed themselves, most smokers have the “it can’t happen to me” mentality. It’s easy to convince ourselves that smoking-related cancers are rare or they only happen to the very old. No fit human being in his or her 30s could suddenly get lung cancer and die just because they smoke, could they?

The Center for Disease Control states bluntly: smoking causes death. And you have to wonder, how could it not? There are at least 12 different cancer-causing agents in cigarettes, plus more arsenic, cyanide, butane and chloroform…the list goes on and on.

In fact, the number of people who die in America from smoking-related effects is staggering – more deaths than from HIV, drug and alcohol use, automobile accidents, suicides and homicides combined (accounting for about one in five deaths in the U.S. total). Smoking has been known to cause at least 10 types of cancers, including bladder, cervical, lung, pancreatic and stomach. In case you were unaware, cancer does not target one age group over another; but it can and often does develop among people with this one shared habit: smoking.

Let’s look at it from a different perspective, one a lot of young people can probably relate to. During our teenage and young adult years, we begin the process of going to great lengths to be attractive to others. Women spend hours doing make-up and hair and having things polished and pedicured and waxed, while both genders (don’t deny it, men!) can spend endless hours and wads of cash on having a stylish wardrobe. We all want someone to look at us and say “Wow!”

Smoking will do that, of course – but not in any good way. Have you heard the phrase “free radicals?” It pops up as the villain in skincare and shampoo commercials enough so that we know they’re bad. When you take that first inhalation of cigarette smoke, you are introducing more than a trillion of those undesirable free radicals into your lungs, sending out an inflammatory response that spreads throughout your entire body. Smoking is terrible for your skin: it depletes the collagen, thins it and ages you beyond your years, adding wrinkles and fine lines. Then there are the effects to your cardiovascular system, weakening your heart and lungs and making it more difficult to stay active, which in turn contributes to undesirable body shape.

So How Do You Quit If You Have Already Started?

In a perfect world, we pop a pill and magically the addiction is gone. The reality is much more complicated than that, of course, but it is a battle worth fighting for the sake of not only you (because you are important!) but for everyone who loves and cares for you, too. Take it a step at a time.

There is an abundance of literature out there on the topic of quitting smoking, if you need an extra push in the right direction. One of the very best thing you can do is to tell a core group of people, whom you trust. They will provide for you a solid support system to cheer your victories and listen when the going gets tough (and it will). They will also add an extra dimension of healthy peer pressure. Consider, too, teaming up with a friend who wants to quit, or asking someone who has quit to be your mentor in the process.

Realize that smoking is not just an addiction, but a habit. If you can cut out the triggers you might find yourself not automatically reaching for that cigarette with the cup of morning coffee. (Switch to tea or fruit smoothies!) Stay confident in your ability to quit; don’t be self-defeating and don’t beat yourself up if you slip. Flushing the rest of the pack is just as easy as it was buying it. Reward yourself: a new pair of shoes after three months of being smoke free or that guitar you’ve been eying after a whole year.

Think about the patch or the gum. Talk with your doctor to see if you’re a good candidate for prescription medication to help you. Remember: you can quit. You will quit.