Can you quit smoking for just 24 hours?

Mark Potuck (left) with Josh Baxter, who quit smoking 22 months ago after his second heart attack. Baxter raises pumpkins and decorated this one to share with the “Beat Tobacco” support group Potuck leads at Goshen Health.

GOSHEN — The Great American Smokeout on Thursday is an initiative to help smokers make a first step toward quitting.

Each year, the American Cancer Society sponsors this event to encourage smokers to give up smoking – first for 24 hours, then maybe for 26 hours or 40 or even 48 and continuing the progress toward living smoke-free.

But despite the sponsorship of American Cancer Society, heart disease – not lung cancer – is the greatest health risk associated with smoking.

“You may or may not develop cancer,” said Mark Potuck, tobacco education specialist for Goshen Health. “But smoking is the single most independent risk factor for developing heart disease. This means that even if you have no other risk factors for heart disease, you would be at greater risk of developing it, based on smoking alone.”

Josh Baxter, 41, who attends the weekly support group led by Potuck, knows this first hand. He quit smoking after his second heart attack on Jan. 8, 2018. Baxter began smoking when he was 8 years old. He had his first heart attack at the age of 29. Then he quit smoking for six months. But then he started again. Most smokers try to quit five to seven times before they are successful.

“The support group helped me a lot,” Baxter said. “I realized that other people have the same problem I do.” He doesn’t crave smoking anymore but continues to attend the group to support others who are trying to quit.

According to the American Heart Association, smoking-related heart and vascular disease kills 480,000 adults in the U.S. each year. Of these, 41,000 are attributed to secondhand smoke exposure.

Baxter is motivated by his children to continue on his smoke-free life. He has six children, the youngest is his 4-year-old daughter. “I feel like I need to be there for them,” he said.

Goshen Health’s support group is free. It meets every Tuesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on the second floor of Goshen Heart & Vascular Center.

— Goshen Health 

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