- Smokers can greatly improve their health and prevent illness and disease by quitting smoking at any age.
- More than 5 methods have been proven to help smokers quit. Quitting may require a combination of methods.
- The benefits of quitting smoking begin as soon as 20 minutes after the last cigarette.
Smoking is a physical and psychological addiction that can create serious health problems. Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of illness and death in the United States and is known to affect all parts of a person’s body.
Smoking is the primary cause of cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. In addition, smoking is known to cause one-third of all cancer deaths in the United States. Because smoking narrows blood vessels, smoking negatively affects a person’s sex and reproductive health, causing erectile dysfunction and infertility.
Once a person starts smoking and becomes a regular smoker, quitting can be difficult. People attempt to quit many times before they successfully stop smoking permanently. A smoker may not use just one method to quit smoking; quitting may require a combination of many methods.
Quitting smoking is made even more difficult by withdrawal symptoms, such as:
- Difficulty concentrating;
- Increased appetite;
- Difficulty sleeping; and
- Frequent urges to smoke.
Withdrawal symptoms usually peak after 2 days of quitting, then disappear during the following weeks.
Fortunately, people can quit smoking and prevent or slow the progression of many illnesses and conditions. A physician can help a smoker through the quitting process by recommending one or more smoking cessation methods.
What Conditions Will Quitting Smoking Help?
Quitting smoking helps to prevent or slow the progression of many, if not all, conditions affected by smoking. In addition to reducing a person’s risk of cancer, quitting smoking may also reduce chances for developing one or more of the following:
- Coronary artery disease;
- Congestive heart failure;
- Peripheral artery disease;
- Carotid artery disease;
- High blood pressure;
- High cholesterol; or
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other lung diseases.
Quitting requires planning. The first and most important step that a person can take to quit smoking is to decide to stop. The person should also set a deadline to quit smoking. Finally, he or she should contact his or her physician to get support and recommendations for quitting programs.Before the quit date, the smoker should plan activities to occupy the time when he or she usually smokes. Some examples of replacement activities may include:
- Taking a short walk after meals;
- Snacking on fruits and vegetables;
- Chewing gum (preferably sugarless); and
- Practicing breathing exercises (inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply).
Just prior to the quit date, the smoker should throw out all smoking-related items, such as cigarettes, ashtrays, matches, and lighters.
Are There Any Risks?
The benefits of quitting smoking strongly outweigh the few risks. The risks include:
- Weight gain;
- Increased stress; and
- Side effects to smoking cessation medications.
Most studies show that smokers do not gain a large amount of weight after quitting. The average weight gain in most cases is only 5 pounds.
For dealing with stress, the best approach is to be prepared for stressful situations when they arise. Consider breathing exercises, exercising, a stress-management program, or meditation or prayer as ways to alleviate stress.
Smoking cessation aids have a variety of side effects, although the side effects are mostly minor.
What To Expect
Quitting smoking may take several attempts before a person completely stops smoking. The more a person attempts quitting, the better his or her chances are for successfully quitting.
The steps to successfully quit smoking include:
- Decide to quit;
- Set a quit date;
- Select a smoking cessation method;
- Cope with withdrawal; and
- Maintain the cessation by not smoking.
Once a smoker decides to quit, there are many programs to use that have proven successful at helping people stop smoking. Some different ways to quit smoking include:
Quitting cold turkey. To quit cold turkey means to stop smoking completely and, often, abruptly, without using any smoking cessation aids.
Using nicotine replacements. Nicotine substitutes replace the nicotine that the body gets from smoking. Substitutes for nicotine include:
- Inhalers; and
- Nasal sprays.
Taking medication. Bupropion (Zyban) is a nicotine-free oral medication designed to decrease urges for cigarettes and alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Varencline (Chantix) is another prescription medication to help people stop smoking. The FDA has released warnings about varencline, however. People using varencline should be carefully monitored by their physician for behavior and mood changes; patients should contact their physician immediately if they notice these changes. In addition, patients should inform their physician if they have a history of mental illness, depression, or kidney problems.
Calling a “quitline.” A quitline is a free telephone service. A quitline provides a smoker with access to information on smoking cessation, advice on how to quit, and support for smokers going through the quitting process. Quitlines often work well in combination with other smoking cessation programs.
Joining a support group. Many organizations, hospitals, and state programs offer free classes or support groups that are led by trained smoking cessation counselors.
Another option for a support group is through an online group. Online smoking cessation programs offer guidelines on quitting smoking, online discussion groups, and access to a smoking cessation counselor.
How Soon Will Quitting Smoking Make A Difference?
The benefits of quitting smoking begin immediately. The body begins healing as soon as 20 minutes after quitting.
For more information, please read this brochure from the American Heart Association®.