Did you know that about 12 times more British people have died from cigarettes than in World War Two? Sadly, 3450 American teenagers smoke their first cigarette each day and smoking is the main risk factor contributing to the disease burden in Australia. It was responsible for 9.3% of the total burden of disease in 2015 and almost three-quarters (73%) was fatal.
Furthermore, 38% of debris collected at the yearly International Coastal Cleanup consists of cigarette filters, tips and tobacco packaging. In one test, a burning cigarette produced hydrocarbons 7 times as quickly as car exhaust. Interestingly, about 10 million cigarettes are sold every minute in the world while a quit smoking product can cost less than a pack of cigarettes nowadays.
Why Is Smoking So Addictive?
Nicotine, the active and addictive substance found in tobacco, is a stimulant. It has similar effects as amphetamines and cocaine, activating similar neural pathways in our brain’s award system. The faster the delivery of nicotine to your brain, the greater the addictive effect.
Inhalation is the quickest way for a substance to reach your brain and it only takes 6 to 10 seconds for nicotine to reach it when you smoke. This makes smoking tobacco very addictive and difficult to stop.
Smoking is described as pleasurable and relaxing. Many smokers enjoy the ritual. On the other hand, the withdrawal symptoms (anxiety, cravings, negative mood changes, tremors) start promptly after you’ve finished your last cigarette. And so, the cycle continues.
Smokers usually experience relief as soon as they smoke again or use other tobacco products. Luckily, you can experience relief by using a quit smoking product i.e. nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).
How Can I Stop Smoking?
Try Quit Smoking Products
NRT has been available for more than 30 years. You can find a quit smoking product in the form of nicotine gums, transdermal patches, nasal sprays, inhalers and sublingual tablets/lozenges. Their purpose is to give you a surge of nicotine without all the tar, carbon monoxide, arsenic and many of the other carcinogens.
Believe it or not, even though nicotine is addictive, the harm to your body is caused by all the other additives in the cigarettes. Nicotine is just the means to an end, a way to get you hooked on the carcinogens even though it’s not a carcinogen by itself. Research has proven quit smoking products as safe for almost all adults. Most people can take NRT without consulting with a doctor. On the other hand, pregnant women, teens and people with serious health issues should talk to a doctor or health care provider before using NRT.
Now that we’ve covered safety, it’s time to talk about effectiveness.
Does Nicotine Replacement Therapy Work?
There are many randomized trials in which different quit smoking products and doses were compared to placebo or to no treatment whatsoever. One comparative study included 117 trials with over 50.000 participants using any type of NRT and a placebo or a non-NRT control group. Trials that didn’t report cessation rates were excluded.
In highly dependent smokers, a 4 mg gum was much more efficient compared to a 2 mg gum. On the other hand, the benefits of using a patch with a higher dose were lacking. There was evidence that combining a nicotine patch with a rapid delivery form of NRT (nasal spray, inhaler) was more effective than a single type of a quit smoking product.
Adverse effects from using NRT depend on the type of quit smoking product you use. They include skin irritation from patches and irritation inside the mouth from gum and tablets. There is no evidence that quit smoking products increase the risk of heart attacks.
To conclude, all of the commercially available forms of NRT (gum, transdermal patch, nasal spray, inhaler and sublingual tablets/lozenges) can help people who are attempting to stop smoking. Without a doubt, quit smoking products increase the rate of quitting by 50 to 70%. Importantly, the effectiveness of NRT appears to be independent of the intensity of any extra support the smoker might be getting in order to quit smoking. Getting a quit smoking product can help you kick a horrible habit and say hello to health.
Healthy Habits Go Hand in Hand
It’s easier to stay on track when you’re on a roll. Changing your diet will not only make you feel better and help you stay motivated but it will also help your body in its regeneration efforts. You are what you eat right?
As your lung capacity improves, exercise will feel less of a burden and more of a pleasure. Plus, it helps you avoid triggers and is a great way to set your mood right so you can continue your fight. Instead of looking for calmness in smoke, try to find your piece of paradise on a yoga mat or in the nearest park. Plants and trees smell much better than tar.
The trigger is that little devil on your shoulder that whispers in your ear: “Go on, light it up, what’s the harm in one smoke. It will make you feel so much better” They are usually emotional, social, pattern or withdrawal triggers. First and foremost, you need to understand what triggers you as everyone is different and the variety of Achilles heels in people is much more versatile in real life than it is in human anatomy.
Emotional triggers are either negative or positive feelings that make us reach for some comfort. They set us up to try and find a way to relieve the stress and calm our nerves. Whether you’re up or down, bored or exhilarated, there are healthier ways to channel your inner feelings. Try talking about them with your friends or family as communication is one of the simplest yet most effective ways to blow some steam.
Also, try exercising. The endorphin boost might make you forget what you were worried about in the first place and clear your mind so you can set your priorities. Try to take deep breaths. One of the reasons smoking is so hard to give up is because it is so intimately related to breathing. When was the last time you decided to just consciously breathe for a couple of minutes?
Finally, even if you are not a fan, having a quit smoking product by hand, like nicotine gum, spray or patch, could really be a last-minute saver when you’re just about to reach out for a cigarette. It could be the mind and game-changer you so desperately need.
A pattern trigger is performing an activity that you usually did while smoking. These include talking on the phone, watching TV, driving, finishing a meal, drinking coffee, taking a work break or after having sex. You need to find a suitable replacement as it would be unrealistic and downright masochistic to never ever do these activities again.
Start chewing gum while you watch tv or drive, replace that cigarette with your coffee with some dark chocolate or carry around a bottle of water which you’ll jug down on anytime you think of smoking. Apart from this, keeping your hands busy is very important. You could squeeze a handball or play with a rubber band on your hand.
One of the reasons people tend to smoke is the sociality behind it. There are even movies like “Coffee and Cigarettes” and “200 Cigarettes”. After you quit, you might feel like you’re missing out but the reality is, you’ll be gaining so much more. Social triggers include going to bars, parties, concerts or just simply being with friends who smoke.
It’s best to avoid places where people smoke at the beginning of your journey. It will get easier over time and you’ll be able to visit all of the places you want as soon as you get over the hardest part which is the beginning. Tell your friends and family about your decision and ask them for the courtesy to not smoke around you.
Drinking is both a pattern and a social trigger, one of the strongest there is. Have you ever wondered: “Why do I want to smoke so much when I drink?”
Alcohol and tobacco have a between-person and a situational interaction. Firstly, people who drink may also smoke (and vice versa). Secondly, people who use both drugs may use them together in the same situations. Most smokers (i.e., 86 %) drink alcohol, and smokers are 1.32 times more likely to drink than are non-smokers. Conversely, smoking prevalence is 75 % higher among drinkers than among nondrinkers.
Heavier drinkers tend to be heavier smokers. Smokers increasing the number of cigarettes smoked or by inhaling larger puffs while drinking.
Moreover, the use of alcohol and tobacco may reflect a common genetic predisposition. Alcohol and tobacco may induce a cross-tolerance for each other meaning that increasingly stronger doses of a drug are required to produce the same effect. Cross-tolerance is a phenomenon where tolerance to one drug induces tolerance to another one.
Some researchers suggested that people use tobacco when they drink to counteract alcohol’s depressant effects with nicotine’s stimulant effects. Additionally, as alcohol’s effects on releasing certain inhibitions are well known, it may release those related to smoking.
Last but not least, a stress-coping theory proposes that people resort to drug use, especially multiple drug use when they are stressed beyond their capacity to cope. High stress or poor coping skills may precipitate the use of both substances together.
To conclude, alcohol is one of the strongest triggers that could push you off the wagon so make sure you avoid it as much as possible, at least until you’ve won a couple of battles against the war on cigarettes.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
Pick yourself up a try again. Giving up smoking is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. In fact, out of 70% of smokers in the US who wanted to stop, a mere 7% were successful. The percentage is even lower if some support or a quit smoking product is not included.
Your brain is used to functioning on nicotine so it’s no wonder it’s going to struggle and rebel against you trying to deplete it from its propellant. Every step counts and even if you fail the first couple of times, you’ll still be stronger and closer to your goal than before.
Pat yourself on the back instead of bringing yourself down. Next time you’ll do better.
Create an Award System
In order to stay motivated, one must find reasons to keep going. As mentioned above, your brain is hooked on nicotine so you have to give it other pleasurable stimuli in order to keep up the fight.
Each day you go without a cigarette is a victory meaning that a celebration is in order. Buy yourself that pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing or that bedside table that really matches your bedroom style. Not only do you deserve it but now you can afford it as you’ve cut down on the most useless expense. Also, it might be the perfect time to remodel your kitchen. You’ll keep your hands busy, refresh those smoke-stained walls and give yourself the dining place you deserve.
What Happens After You Stop Smoking?
The recovery starts as soon as 20 minutes pass from your last cigarette. First and foremost, your pulse will return to normal. After 8 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood will be reduced by half and your oxygen level will start returning to its physiological values.
All carbon monoxide will be flushed out in just 2 days. Your lungs are already cleaning out the mucus while your senses of taste and smell will start regenerating. 24 hours later and you’ll notice higher energy levels and easier breathing as your bronchial tubes have started relaxing.
After 2 weeks, your heart will start regaining its pump power, restoring your circulation all the way from your legs to your brain.
Any coughs, wheezing or breathing problems will improve after 3 to 9 months as your lung function will increase by up to 10%. Importantly, your risk of a heart attack and lung cancer will be halved compared to a smoker after 1 and after 10 years, respectively.