Was your New Year’s resolution to be tobacco-free in 2018? In the modern era, this isn’t just about quitting smoking but could also include chewing tobacco or e-cigarettes. So much has changed in our culture surrounding smoking and tobacco that it is hard to disseminate the truth from fiction. Regardless of how you’re using it, tobacco can have a number of harmful effects on the body. It can lead to more pain, including neck, joint, and back pain. And, it can obviously lead to serious health risks from cardiovascular and respiratory issues. Here’s how to finally kick your smoking habit for good, so you can look forward to a more healthful year.
Why is it so important to kick a smoking habit?
By now, it is common knowledge that smoking is no good for your health. In addition to causing lung, mouth, throat, and esophageal cancer, smoking has been pinpointed as a risk factor for a variety of other diseases and conditions, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Respiratory disease
- Low birthweight babies in mothers who smoke and higher infant mortality
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type 2 diabetes
- Lower back pain and neck pain
- Joint pain and reduced healing from injuries
- Makes Type 1 diabetes more difficult to control
- Makes getting (and staying) pregnant more difficult
- Is a key risk factor for obesity
And finally, there is death. A large-scale study of adult smokers over four years in Australia found that as many as two out of three smokers in the study died from smoking.
Why is it so important for men to stop smoking?
Recent research demonstrates that smoking causes a higher risk of cancer in men especially. According to a study published by Upsala University in December, there is a connection between smoking and the loss of the Y chromosome in blood cells. The loss of this chromosome has been linked to cancer and, because only men carry this trait, they are at a much higher risk for developing the disease.
According to the report:
“The association between smoking and loss of the Y chromosome was dose dependent, i.e. loss of the Y chromosome was more common in heavy smokers compared to moderate smokers. In addition, the association was only valid for men who were current smokers. Men who had been smoking previously, but quit, showed the same frequency of cells with loss of the Y chromosome, as men who had never smoked.”
The study demonstrated this correlation and researchers believe that reducing the dependence on nicotine and transitioning to a tobacco-free life could make a huge difference in the risk of cancer in men.
Is quitting more difficult for heavy drinkers?
Almost everybody knows someone who swears they only smoke when they’re drinking. The problem is these people are also likely to be heavy drinkers so their smoking isn’t reduced by a high enough factor to make a difference in their health. And, adding excessive alcohol consumption to the equation creates more possible health issues.
In November of 2014, the Yale Cancer Center released a report linking alcohol consumption with smoking. The information indicated that heavy drinkers have a much harder time quitting than those who don’t drink. They learned that around 20% of the phone calls made to counseling hotlines for smokers came from individuals who were also hazardous drinkers.
These quit-lines discovered if they offered counseling that treated the drinking and the smoking equally the callers had more success in quitting either or both addictions. They suggest that hotlines provide additional training for their counselors to help not only with smoking cessation but also alcohol counseling.
What happens when someone quits their smoking habit?
Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do for your health and wellness, with immediate results:
- Within 20 minutes of your last cigarette: Your heart rate slows
- Within one hour: Carbon monoxide, a toxic gas that is a by-product of smoking, drops to normal levels in your blood
- After two weeks to three months: Your risk of heart attack begins to drop
- Within nine months: Your lungs begin to function properly, reducing the chance of lung infections and illness
- Within one year: Your risk of heart disease plunges to just half that of a smoker’s
- After five years: Your risk of stroke is the same as a person who has never smoked
- Within ten years: Your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreas decreases dramatically, and your chance of dying from lung cancer is half that of a smoker’s
- Within 15 years: Your risk of heart disease is the same as that of a non-smoker
How to quit your smoking habit, for good
With these immediate and long-term health benefits it is clear to see that quitting smoking is in your best interest, but it is also one of the hardest habits to change. So how do you make sure that your quitting will be successful?
First, understand that most smokers will go through what is known as The Six Stages of Change. These stages include:
- Precontemplation: Not even considering quitting.
- Contemplation: Thinking about it but not committed.
- Determination/Preparation: The decision to quit is made, and you reflect on what has helped in the past and what made it harder.
- Action: This is when the quitting actually happens.
- Maintenance, relapse, recycle: This stage acknowledges that there may be times of relapse or faltering. This does not mean change has failed but that the stages must be re-entered with renewed commitment.
- Termination: At this final stage, the habit is completely changed. There is no chance of relapse.
In this popular Evans Health Lab video, Dr. Mike Evans breaks down these six stages and adds other helpful strategies, including identifying what needs to change, why you are making the change, and what supports you need in place to help you to be successful. The American Lung Association has an excellent site with online support, including live chats with a counselor, plus resources to find local support in your community.
For those who want to quit but don’t feel like they can do it alone, there is new evidence that the medication varenicline not only helped smokers to quit but also helped them to remain so over the course of a year. This can be very helpful for those who feel like the “cold turkey” method won’t work.
Nicotine patches and gum are also excellent over-the-counter supports for smokers who want to ease withdrawal symptoms.
Prepare to quit
Developing a plan for quitting is probably the best thing you can do to guarantee your success.
In The Six Stages of Change, the preparation stage is when the planning happens. In this stage, you might locate support resources. You may make a list of all of the reasons why you think quitting smoking is the right thing to do.
Also, take some time to think about what other changes you need to make to successfully quit smoking. You may not realize just how much time smoking takes until you stop. Planning for positive, productive activities during the times when you would normally smoke is imperative. For example, if you normally take a smoke break at work mid-morning, take that break anyway, but use that time to go for a walk around the block outside. You are still outside, you are still taking a break, but you have not smoked.
Think about all of the times, activities, places, and people you associate with smoking. You will need to consider making temporary changes to these things in order to support your goal of quitting smoking. If you have formerly smoked inside your home but are quitting, it is important to let people know that you have made this change and to enforce it. It can be very difficult to make these lifestyle changes, but doing so will give you a better chance at success.
Know that you can do it
Finally, perhaps the most important part about developing a plan to quit is understanding that you can do it. Maybe you tried in the past and were not able to maintain. Maybe it seems too daunting, or maybe you feel like you are too old to quit and it won’t make any difference.
It may be a difficult task, but you are up to the job and able to complete it.
You know in your heart and mind that quitting smoking is an important and valuable gift to give to yourself and your loved ones, and it is important to keep that focus when you are faced with inevitable moments of temptations. By having a plan in place and coming up with a powerful motivation for quitting, you can help yourself be successful.
And know that even if you relapse, it doesn’t mean you have failed. Mark Twain once said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.” It takes the average smoker more than one attempt before they are able to quit for good. Knowing this can make it easier to get back on track if you falter.
Can money make a difference?
A study published in November by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston indicates that money may be another answer to help you quit. Among individuals in communities with economic disadvantages, smokers had more success quitting if they were given access to small financial incentives. Clinics in a Dallas neighborhood offered gift cards to individuals who were able to reduce or quit their tobacco intake. Researchers noted that:
“Specifically, participants in the intervention group had the opportunity to earn $20 in gift cards for abstinence on the quit date, and this amount increased by $5 each week for continued abstinence up to $40. Thus, participants could earn up to $150 in gift cards over four weeks. Progress was monitored for 12 weeks following the quit date.”
They observed that abstinence rates were higher for these individuals following the quit date. Eight weeks after the incentives were discontinued 33% of the participants remained tobacco-free.
Don’t use other tobacco products as a crutch
Many smokers believe that by transitioning to a smokeless tobacco product, they have a better chance of quitting altogether. While this is partially true, it is extremely important to understand the risks, implications, and challenges involved. Let’s take a closer look at some studies that have tackled these topics.
In November of 2014, the University of West Virginia began a study on the use of tobacco dip and how it helps or harms individuals while they quit smoking. Smoke-free tobacco products, including dip as well as e-cigarettes which we will discuss at length in another section, are marketed to smokers who are looking to break their addiction to smoking. The manufacturers suggest that these products allow users to cut back on the negative effects of tobacco while still being able to consume it in a safer way. However, are these just marketing ploys to convince addicted people to buy more tobacco products?
The researchers want to discover whether or not smokers use these products to lessen their use of tobacco or if they are supplementing their addiction. While the study focuses on tobacco chew, it will also review smokeless tobacco novelty products such as lozenges. If the results show that more people are using these smokeless products in addition to smoking it may demonstrate that they are causing more harm than good as advertised. We’ll follow up on the blog once results are published.
In December, a report published by Cochrane review indicated that e-cigarettes may be a helpful tool in smoking cessation, but not without some risks. It appears that people who use e-cigs can reduce and even stop their smoking habits. The report used information from several studies that looked at whether or not smokers who used e-cigs reduced their intake of tobacco or use of traditional cigarettes. In the studies, around 9% of the participants who used e-cigs containing nicotine were able to reduce or quit their smoking habit. Only 4% of those who used a placebo saw a significant change.
These numbers seem, and are, low but there is some hope that the right use of e-cigs can help individuals live a more tobacco-free life. Many of the existing treatments for smoking cessation also include the use of products that deliver nicotine in a smokeless fashion such as patches or gum. E-cigarettes may have similar value in the market place.
No matter where you are, know that you have the support you need to stop your smoking habit this year. Use the resources given up above, or reach out to your primary care or pain doctor for more help. Quitting smoking not only provides cardiovascular and respiratory benefits, it can also decrease your pain levels.
2018 can be the year you stop using tobacco. Let’s do it.