Have you ever heard of an epidemic so dangerous that is kills almost half of its victims? An epidemic that each passing year kills more than eight million people, seven million of which are directly affected, and 1.2 million are fatalities through simple exposure? The worst part is that this epidemic affects almost 1.1 billion people around the world, with 80% of that number living in low- to middle-income countries.
What is this fatal epidemic that wreaks such havoc around the world? You’ve probably guessed by now: It’s smoking—or more specifically, tobacco. Considered by WHO as one of the biggest public health threats around the world, smoking is not only a health hazard, the sheer cost of this expensive habit contributes heavily to poverty. Tobacco use affects the economy of a household in two ways. The first is the cost of the habit itself, as it causes users to divert their finances from food, shelter, and education to purchase tobacco. Due to the addictive nature of tobacco, smokers are hard-pressed to quit and continue despite knowing that the habit is affecting both their lives and their family’s.
“Smoking is related to practically every terrible thing that can happen to you.” – Loni Anderson
Outside of the cost of the product, the second way tobacco use affects household finances is the resulting health care expenses for treating diseases associated with the use of tobacco. Medical bills for the treatment of lung cancer, emphysema, and other related diseases take a significant toll on personal finances. Considering that the majority of smokers come from low- to middle-income countries, then the impact becomes even greater.
Why You Should Stop Smoking
Let’s face it, statistics about the effect of smoking rarely convince anyone to quit, but if you’re reading this, then that means you’ve already taken a big step to stop smoking. After all, the first step is accepting that there is a problem, and then it’s a matter of finding a way to resolve it. Before we go into the list of reasons why you should stop smoking, here is a brief timeline to show you the benefits you’ll reap when you quit:
|Time After Quitting Smoking||Benefits|
|After 30 minutes||Heart rate normalizes, and blood pressure starts to drop|
|After 12 hours||Oxygen levels in the body increase as it removes carbon monoxide in the system|
|After 24 hours||Blood pressure continues to normalize, and oxygen levels increase in the body reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke|
|After 48 hours||You’ll start to notice improvements in your sense of taste and smell as nerve endings connected to these senses begin to heal|
|After 72 hours||The body completely flushes out nicotine, and nicotine withdrawal occurs, but it’s a sign the body is recovering|
|After 30 days||Your lungs begin to heal, and you’re able to take deeper breaths and experience less coughing, and your capacity for cardiovascular exercise increases|
|After nine months||Circulation continues to improve, you start feeling more energetic, your lungs have significantly recovered by now, and your resistance to infection increases|
|After a year||Your risk of coronary heart disease has decreased by half|
|After five years||Your blood vessels have healed by now and begin to widen, reducing the risk of clotting and stroke, and will continue to do so for up to 10 years|
|After ten years||Risk of lung, pancreatic, mouth, and throat cancer is reduced by half|
|After 20 years||The risk of smoking-related diseases and death is now the same as a person who never smoked at all|
Source: Medical News Today
You may be asking yourself whether you read that last statistic right, but yes, it takes 20 years for your body to recover from the effects of smoking altogether. The bottom line is that you must start today, not when you start feeling the symptoms of a smoking-related disease. Do yourself and your family a favor—begin your healing today, and you’ll thank yourself 20 years from now.
Plan to Stop
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” The first step to quitting smoking for good is acknowledging that you will stop by setting a quit date for yourself. Mark it on your calendar or set the alarm on your phone—and make sure that it is not too far into the future, to make sure your resolve to quit stays strong.
There are two ways you can go about quitting smoking. You can quit abruptly, meaning that you’ll continue smoking as much as you always have until your set quit day. Or, you can quit gradually, wherein you slowly reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke daily up until quit day, to ease yourself into a life without cigarettes. Studies show that there isn’t a difference in the success rates between the two methods, so don’t worry about choosing between the two processes.
Now that you’ve chosen how you’ll be quitting, let’s talk about the methods that will help keep you smoke-free.
We believe in the power of the mind. We know that through sheer will power and discipline, a person can achieve whatever they desire, which is why the first method on our list is cold turkey. Quitting cold turkey means that you won’t use any aids, medicine, or therapy to help you quit. This option is all-natural, without any pharmacological aids or supplements.
Quitting cold turkey requires a huge amount of self-discipline and a great deal of self-control, especially in times when the craving becomes hyper-intense. Here are a couple of tips you could apply to help you deal with the cravings and other problems that come with withdrawal:
- Dispose of all your smoking paraphernalia (ashtrays, lighters, cigarette containers)
- Keep oral substitutes on hand (gum, sugar-free candy, vegetable sticks, snacks)
- Tell your friends and family, especially smokers, that you’re quitting and to not smoke around you
- Stay away from your smoking triggers, or situations where you’d typically smoke (cocktail parties, card games, etc.)
- Break the association with daily activity triggers, such as coffee breaks, post-meal smoking, or talking on the phone
We’re going to be straight with you: Cold turkey is difficult to pull off. Even though an overwhelming majority (90%) of smokers try and start with this method, only around 7% are successful. However, if you feel that cold turkey is the best place to start, then, by all means, we believe in you!
Nicotine Replacement Therapy
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is a method of quitting that is effective on its own but works best in conjunction with other methods. Remember that at its roots, smoking is an addiction to nicotine, so the world of medicine came up with a way to give you that dose of nicotine without all the bad effects of smoking tobacco. NRT isn’t meant to replace tobacco, though; it is only a means of weaning your body off of cigarettes. NRTs do the latter by providing your body with controlled, progressively-reduced doses of nicotine, slowly helping your body adapt, and at the same time, it is saving you from the harmful effects of smoking.
NRTs come in different delivery methods and potency, and currently, there are five types approved by the FDA for use in the US:
- Nasal Spray and Inhaler (these are prescription NRTs)
- Skin patch
To start using an NRT, you should first consult with a healthcare professional. Regardless of its efficacy, there are still contraindications and side effects that accompany each method. You may even end up being allergic to a specific NRT, so never begin using them on your own. Do remember that while NRTs help to reduce your craving for nicotine, it’s not meant to replace tobacco. Ideally, you’ll eventually quit both, and NRTs are merely temporary solutions to keep you from relapsing—quitting altogether is still up to you.
Wait—didn’t we just talk about NRTs? Then why are we talking about medications again, you ask? Well, there is a difference between the two methods: NRTs are sources of nicotine to help relieve symptoms of withdrawal while quitting smoking. Prescription medications, on the other hand, are FDA-approved drugs that do not contain nicotine but still help you kick the habit. There are currently two types of drugs on the market that do this—varenicline and bupropion—and they differ according to how they act in the body.
Before going into their specific actions, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the risks attributed to the use of these prescription drugs. Potential side effects include suicidal thoughts or actions, depression, aggression, and other behavioral changes. It is vital that you consult with a medical professional if you notice such changes while taking these drugs.
Varenicline acts on the nicotine receptors in the brain. Without getting too technical about the process, you could think of it as the drug that reduces the pleasurable effect nicotine (and hence, tobacco) brings. Varenicline greatly reduces the effects of withdrawal symptoms. You will need to consult a doctor first to get a prescription for this drug, and you can expect to be taking it for 12 weeks. Your doctor may prescribe more to ensure that you do not relapse after you’ve quit smoking, but that’s up to their discretion.
Bupropion acts similarly, but this medication affects the chemical and signaling systems in the brain. In doing so, it reduces both the cravings for nicotine and its withdrawal symptoms. Also similar to varenicline, you will need to take it for 12 weeks—and you can continue to take bupropion for as long as six months to reduce the risk of relapsing. Of course, how long you continue to take the medication will again primarily depend on your healthcare provider.
Using Support Systems
No man is an island—and this adage certainly rings true when you want to quit smoking. Sure, self-discipline and medication are effective, but they can only go so far. Eventually, you will need the support of others to keep your will strong and to keep you from relapsing. Medication can help ease physical symptoms, but it can’t help with the emotional struggle and mental upheaval that surrounds any kind of substance dependence. When you reach out for emotional support, consider the following thought: It is replacing an unhealthy dependence with a healthy one, in that you can depend on others that have gone through the same ordeal, or on loved ones who want to help.
Studies show that a healthy combination of pharmacotherapy and behavioral support systems drastically increases the success rate of smoking cessation and reduces the risk of relapse. The various behavioral support systems that prove to be effective are:
- Group therapy
- Individual counseling (personal, phone, or online)
- Nicotine Anonymous (NicA)
What About E-Cigarettes or Vaping?
There are plenty of alternative therapies out there that have helped people quit smoking. Thus, these same people end up vouching for the product’s effectiveness. Unfortunately, until we find scientific evidence to back up those claims, we don’t want to advise you to try things like magnet- or cold-laser therapy. However, two smoking alternatives that have risen in popularity and have even developed their own culture a such are e-cigarettes and vaping.
While they are not exactly smoking cessation aids, e-cigarettes are quite popular today as a replacement for or a way to quit smoking. They are seen as less addicting, and they relieve the oral fixation attributed to smoking cigarettes. However, studies on whether e-cigarettes do more harm than good are ongoing. So, until there is a better medical understanding around this new fad, we think it best to keep to the tried and tested methods.
Smoking is an addiction, and the unhealthy effects that come with it are too significant for you to continue the habit. Remember that if you’re a chain smoker, it will take 20 years before your body returns to normal, and thus reducing all the health risks associated with smoking. Don’t wait until the health issues start popping up—strengthen your resolve, begin planning, and commit to quitting today.