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What does 'pack year' mean?

Pack-year and smoking histories

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Pack-year is not a term used in normal day to day conversation. It is more a medical term used by medical professionals to calculate the number of cigarettes you smoke a year in regards to cigarette packets. It is used to express the extent of smoking exposure a person has had over their lifetime.

Usually, pack-years is something you will not be asked to calculate yourself unless you want to do so. This is something your medical profession will calculate on its own. There is a simple mathematical equation that is used to measure pack-years. You can calculate pack-years by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of years the person has smoked. (Number of cigarettes smoked/20) x number of years smoked = pack-years. A standard manufactured packet contains 20 cigarettes.

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So let’s do some calculations together. If you smoke 1 pack a day for 3 years that is 1x3 so 3 pack-years. If you smoke half a pack for 6 years that is 0.5x6 which is also 3 pack-years. There are some websites online that can help you calculate your pack-years if you want to find out your value here. This is just an example website; there are numerous other websites available that can help you with this calculation. 

What about loose tobacco?

Calculating pack-years for loose tobacco or self-rolled cigarettes can be a little trickier as they are not standardised. Different people can roll varying sizes of cigarettes containing different amounts of tobacco. 

You cannot apply the standard pack-year formula to loose tobacco or self-rolled cigarettes. Alternatively, you can calculate pack-years for loose tobacco by measuring the weight of tobacco in manufactured cigarettes and applying it to loose tobacco. 

Half an ounce of loose tobacco contains the same amount of tobacco in 20 manufactured cigarettes. Here is a derived formula to calculate pack-years of loose tobacco: (ounces per week x 2/7) x number of years = pack-years.

What is the relevance of pack-years?

So now we know how pack-years are calculated, but why does it actually matter? Is there a reason why we are calculating pack-years? 

We all know the risks of smoking. They are clearly labelled on cigarette or tobacco packets in explicit images and warnings. Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer and pack-years are primarily used to measure the lung cancer risks in smokers. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) states that the age, pack-year and smoking history of a patient can determine their eligibility for lung cancer screening. 

While there is controversy and debate regarding the accuracy and usefulness of pack-years and their relation to lung cancer risk, researchers still feel that pack-year values provide a good insight into the lifetime risk of lung cancer in smokers. 

Quit smoking

We at Dr Felix, know the adverse effects of smoking and we take pride in championing smoking cessation. There are numerous benefits to stopping smoking like better sex, increased fertility, and younger-looking skin. Did you know that lungs can clean themselves? As soon as you quit smoking, your lungs begin to heal immediately. Quitting also reactivates the cilia, which are important in cleaning the lungs, and removing mucous trapped with bacteria or harmful substances from inside the lungs. Within the first month of quitting smoking, your lung function starts to improve. Within 9 months, the cilia regain their normal function and you will notice a reduction in shortness of breath and coughing. So really the benefits of quitting smoking are endless. 

We understand that quitting can be hard and sometimes we need a little helping hand. Dr Felix offers Champix, a medication to help you quit smoking. Champix helps you manage the withdrawal effects and cravings for nicotine and does this by blocking the effect that nicotine has on your body. Champix has been found to double your chances of quitting smoking. If you complete the treatment and have real motivation to stop smoking, then you have a great chance at succeeding. 

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