CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The cost of a pack of cigarettes or priceless time with your family? It’s your choice.

The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Your Choice education campaign encourages Tennesseans to stop smoking, improve their health and protect their wallets.

“Smoking is a bad habit that affects your wallet as well as your health because smoking and tobacco use are a leading cause of preventable illness and death in America,” said Dr. Steve Coulter, senior vice president and chief medical officer for BlueCross. “When you choose to stop smoking, you not only improve your chances to live a long and healthy life, but you also help hold down your medical costs and the costs for everyone in your health plan.”

Each year an estimated 440,000 Americans are killed by smoking-related illnesses, according to a 2004 Surgeon General’s report. On average, female smokers cut their lives short by 14.5 years and male smokers by 13.2 years.

In addition to the shortened life expectancy and mortality rate, the report indicates economic losses of $157 billion annually in the United States. Nearly $75 billion of that total is attributed to direct medical costs.

According to Tennessee Department of Health data, 26 percent of Tennesseans in 1998 reported that they smoked, while 20 percent of all deaths in the state during that same year were smoking related. The Surgeon General’s report warns that cigarette smoke toxins can go anywhere the blood flows in the human body, thus causing diseases in nearly every organ. The report expands the list of 11 previously known diseases conclusively linked to smoking. The new additions include pneumonia, periodontitis, abdominal aortic aneurysm, acute myeloid leukemia, cataract, and cervical, kidney, pancreatic and stomach cancers.

“Smoking and second-hand smoke can negatively impact people of all ages,” Coulter said. “From unborn babies to senior citizens, each life stage is at risk. So, it’s important that smokers quit and that teenagers and young adults never start the deadly habit.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest several ways to kick the habit:

· Make a commitment to yourself and set a date to quit.

· Seek advice from your health care provider and enlist the help of family and friends.

· Adopt or increase healthy behaviors. Try exercise, drinking more water or changing your routine.

· Ask your doctor about helpful and correct use of medications to stop smoking.

· Anticipate difficult situations or relapses like alcohol consumption, weight gain or mood swings.

“Don’t watch your health or your wallet go up in smoke. The more money you spend on cigarettes and tobacco, the more money you may end up spending on treating your health problems down the road,” Coulter said.

The stop smoking message is part of the ongoing BlueCross Your Choice campaign, designed to educate Tennessee businesses and their employees that when it comes to the cost and quality of health care their choices can make a difference.

For more ways to help keep health care affordable, BlueCross fully insured and self-funded group accounts may request a free copy of the Your Choice CD toolkit, available in English and Spanish. Groups may contact their account manager or send an e-mail to YourChoice@bcbst.com.

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.