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DEAR ABBY: Would you please forward my letter to a very good friend of mine? I have never met this remarkable woman, but she has been a big part of my life for a couple of years. I met her through your column. Her name is "Heartbroken Sister."

I recently celebrated my first year of abstinence from tobacco. She was my inspiration. Had it not been for her letter, I would never have been able to stop. Like "Heartbroken's" sister, I, too, am in my early 40s with small children. Like her, I started smoking at 13. That letter broke my heart, but it also made me think about the importance of being responsible for my health. I know she was trying to get through to teenagers, but she wound up saving my life. Her sister didn't die in vain!

Please tell "Heartbroken" that I love her and that she's always in my heart and prayers. Her letter remains posted on my refrigerator where I can see it every day as a reminder of her inspiration and love. -- LYDIA ELDREDGE, POCATELLO, IDAHO

DEAR LYDIA: Congratulations for conquering your addiction. Your letter warmed my heart. You chose the right time to write. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and today is the 27th annual Great American Smokeout. For those who may not know about it, the Smokeout is an upbeat, good-humored, one-day campaign to encourage smokers to quit for 24 hours -- just to prove to themselves they can do it.

The letter that inspired you appeared in my column in November 2000. Today I'm printing excerpts from it because more than half of all smokers start before age 14. A majority of teenage smokers have tried to quit, but can't. They're "hooked." An estimated 2,000 teens a day begin to smoke. Tragically, half of them will eventually die from a smoking-related illness. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Aug. 4 would have been my sister's 45th birthday. Sadly, she died in October of 1999. She had been a smoker since she was 13.

During her illness, I promised her I would try to stop as many kids as I could from making the same deadly mistake.

Teenagers and Preteens: Smoking isn't "cool." It's deadly! If you don't smoke, please don't ever start. If you do smoke, quit NOW -- if you can. Tobacco products are silent killers. By the time you find out you have a tobacco-related illness, it's usually too late.

More than 440,000 people in the United States die of tobacco-related diseases each year. I'm sure each and every one of them thought, "It won't happen to me." That's exactly what my sister thought. She was wrong -- dead wrong. Thanks to her addiction, she'll miss her sons' graduations, she'll never attend their weddings or see the faces of her grandchildren. She won't grow old with the husband she loved and who adored her.

Our family is devastated. We miss my beautiful sister with all our hearts. Please help me spread the word. -- HEARTBROKEN SISTER

READERS: The American Cancer Society informs me that when smokers quit, the benefits begin immediately. Twenty minutes after the last cigarette, blood pressure drops to a level close to that before the last cigarette. Eight hours after quitting, carbon monoxide levels in the blood drop to normal. Twenty-four hours later, the chance of heart attack decreases.

After one to nine months, coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue and shortness of breath decrease, and cilia regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs and reduce infection. One year later, excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker's.

After five years, stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker. After 10 years, the lung cancer fatality rate is about half that of a smoker's, and the risk of oral, throat, esophageal, bladder, kidney and pancreatic cancer also decreases. Fifteen years after quitting, the risk of coronary heart disease is the same as that of a nonsmoker's.

Take it from me -- those are all terrific incentives to quit TODAY.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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