While most people are aware of the health risks associated with smoking tobacco, it remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States today. According to the American Lung Association, tobacco use, including e‑cigarettes, and exposure to second-hand smoke are responsible for as many as 480,000 deaths each year. Deciding to quit smoking is the first step towards achieving a longer, healthier life. However, quitting smoking isn’t a one-time event, it’s an ongoing process that will require an individualized quit plan. To be successful, you will need to change some of your daily habits and identify ways to manage cravings and any withdrawal symptoms. Oncologist, Samir Desai, MD, shares the health benefits of quitting and tips to help you achieve a smoke-free life.
In recent years, while not originally intended to be a smoking cessation aid, e‑cigarettes have become increasingly popular for those trying to stop smoking. This is because e‑cigarettes were introduced as a less-addictive, safer alternative to cigarettes. Despite their popularity, using e‑cigarettes to stop smoking can actually have the opposite effect. In fact, nearly 40 percent of teen smokers never smoked cigarettes prior to using e‑cigarettes.
Along with being addictive, e‑cigarettes are not as health risk-free as you may think. Research has shown that the chemicals found in e‑cigarettes can be just as harmful to your health as cigarette smoke. They can cause DNA damage, raise your blood pressure and heart rate and lead to other heart and lung conditions. In general, anything that is inhaled into your lungs can affect the health of your lungs. Whether you want to stop smoking cold-turkey or plan to gradually wean yourself off, committing to a completely smoke-free lifestyle provides you with the most health benefits.
The positive effects of a smoke-free lifestyle begin in as little as minutes after you quit and your health continues to improve as each additional smoke-free day passes. Immediate and long-term health benefits of a tobacco-free lifestyle include:
Within the first day:
Your heart rate and blood pressure lower and the carbon monoxide level in your blood returns to normal.
Within the first few days:
Your sensory nerve endings begin to repair themselves, improving your sense of smell and taste.
Within the first few months:
Your lung function and circulation improves.
Within the first five years:
You reduce your risk of developing heart disease and certain cancers by 50 percent.
Quitting smoking is often a long journey filled with ups and downs. Try to stay focused on the future and all you are looking forward to with a smoke-free lifestyle rather than the physical act of giving up smoking or vaping. Your doctor can recommend additional cessation methods including medications, support groups and behavior modifications to help you along the way.
Regardless of the method you choose, you will experience cravings and will have to work to overcome these urges in order to stay on track. Some behavior modifications have been proven to be effective in reducing cravings, including:
Building a support system
Don’t rely on willpower alone. Lean on family and friends, reaching out when you feel like smoking. Not only can it help you get through your cravings, you also get the added bonus of staying connected to the people you care about.
Chewing gum or eating a crunchy snack
When you experience a craving, try snacking on hard candy, carrots or a handful of nuts. For more persistent cravings, chewing gum may be more satisfying.
Establishing a new routine
Without smoke breaks, you free up time to participate in other activities. Even something as simple as going for a walk outside can be more enjoyable as your lung capacity improves.
Keeping yourself busy
Tobacco withdrawals can leave you feeling antsy. Keep a rubber ball at work to squeeze whenever you find yourself fidgeting and distract yourself with puzzles or games.
Making rest and relaxation a priority
Stress and fatigue can be a trigger when you’re trying to stop smoking. Give yourself enough time to rest and limit your stress as much as possible. During stressful moments, focus on your breathing, taking a few deep, calming breaths. Establishing an exercise routine, meditation or yoga can also help.
Start a money jar, depositing money every time you resist the urge to smoke or would have bought tobacco products. This serves as a great visual reminder of all the money you are saving and the progress you are making.
Preparing for set-backs
It’s important not to get discouraged if you experience a set-back. It takes most people multiple attempts to quit smoking before they are successful. After a set-back, think about the reasons you decided to quit smoking in the first place.
Your primary care physician can prescribe nicotine replacement therapies (gum, lozenges or skin patches), as well as non-nicotine medications to help you wean yourself off smoking.
Utilizing a support group or cessation program can also be a helpful way to stay accountable and committed to your new smoke-free lifestyle. Through the Courage to Quit® program developed by the Respiratory Health Association, six week cessation classes are available free-of-charge. Each session provides information to help you with:
- Addiction and withdrawal
- Avoiding triggers
- Cessation medications
- Identifying additional resources
- Managing cravings
Quitting smoking is an on-going decision you make each day. It can be a difficult addiction to overcome, but committing to a completely smoke-free lifestyle will provide you with significant health benefits and improve the longevity and overall quality of your life. Quitting smoking allows your body to begin to heal itself, and overtime, drastically reduces your risk of smoking (and vaping) related illnesses, including several preventable types of cancer. Learn more about our upcoming smoking cessation classes.