Tobacco use is the single most important risk to human health in America and the number one cause of preventable death. Since cigarette smoke contains 4,000+ chemicals, it is also a significant health hazard to nonsmokers as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), second hand smoke, or passive smoke.
Nicotine is legal, socially acceptable, easy to access and the most heavily advertised product in the United States, with women and teens being the prime targets, despite the statements made by tobacco manufacturers to the contrary. Although supporters of the tobacco industry cite "personal choice" as the main reason people smoke, many have repeatedly tried to quit and cannot. Why? Because smoking is much more than a bad habit, it is an addiction.
More addictive than heroin or cocaine, the nicotine in smoke takes 7 seconds to reach the brain, altering mood and brain function, and giving a feeling of satisfaction. Smoking one pack of cigarettes a day provides 160-200 "hits" of nicotine. This is one of the most difficult dependencies to quit. The withdrawal symptoms include irritability, agitation, insomnia, fatigue, headaches, tremors, digestive disorders, constipation, intense cravings, and problems with attention and concentration, as well as short term memory difficulties.
Cigarettes have been called the "Gateway Drug," easily leading to other substance abuse. 80% of recovering alcoholics and addicts are smokers.
Nine out of 10 smokers say they would like to quit. The fact is that everyone is different and quitting is harder for some people than for others. The true nature of nicotine dependency and the difficulties involved in recovery must be considered for future success.
Quitting an addiction is a process involving several transition stages. This is a very predictable process and success is closely linked to where a person is in these stages. The majority of addicted smokers are not in a stage to take action for changing their behavior.
- Pre-Contemplation is the stage characterized by resistance to recognizing or modifying a problem. The individual may request advice but return to his old ways when the pressure is off. This is a stage for discussing what is liked or disliked about the habit, and how the individual really feels about smoking.
- Contemplation involves serious thinking about quitting, but without a commitment. There is a struggle between the positive aspects of quitting and the amount of effort needed to overcome the addiction.
- Preparation is the stage where the individual chooses to take action.
- Action stage focuses on the smoking behavior being modified successfully for a period of one day to six months.
- Maintenance stage involves work to prevent relapses and ways to consolidate the gains made by the quitter.
This recovery process occurs with anyone who overcomes an addiction. An important point to understand is that successful quitters make an average of 3 to 4 attempts before they become long term maintainers. Relapse is the rule rather than the exception. With addictive behavior, linear progression is a rarity, so the person will go through the recovery stages in more of a circular fashion.
The support of friends and acquaintances helps some people quit smoking, if done in the proper way. Support does not mean berating, belittling, nagging, or embarrassing the smoker. Support means encouragement, approval, congratulations, and offering diversions during difficult times. Nobody can make another person quit. It is the smoker’s decision. The best support says "I care."
The chances of quitting are increased if a strategy is mapped out long before actually putting out that last cigarette.
- Set a date to quit one month before quitting.
- Make some rules for your final month of smoking that specify where you may smoke and where you may not smoke. This helps you become aware of how much your surroundings trigger the desire to smoke.
- Limit the number of consecutive puffs you will take before putting out the cigarette, then gradually decrease the amount. This causes you to treat smoking as a craving to be satisfied, an addiction instead of a pleasurable social event.
- Keep track of your smoking intake with a written record.
- Switch to low nicotine brands
- Cut back on your coffee intake.
- Make a list of activities you can do instead of smoking. Place duplicate copies of the list in the places you are used to smoking, so you can immediately select an alternative to the craving for a cigarette.
Look into the available brands of nicotine gum or patches that you may want to try. These can minimize the initial physical withdrawal symptoms, allowing the smoker to focus on learning new coping skills. With these aids, individuals still get nicotine, but not the additional 4,000+ chemicals in smoke. The aids do have some side effects, so consider those also in your decision.
These last month steps are important because when the quitting day arrives, smoking is no longer automatic. It has been indulged in as an controlled addiction, using behavior modification techniques.
On your quitting date, put away all ashtrays and lighters. Go to nonsmoking places. Limit your alcohol intake. You will probably have some negative feelings such as depression, grieving, and anger. It’s OK to feel anger and it may help to focus your anger toward tobacco and your addiction, treating your withdrawal symptoms as an enemy to be defeated. But on your quitting day and after, DON’T SMOKE.
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to cope with the stress of smoking cessation. It is rare to smoke while your are exercising. Exercise has a calming effect that counteracts the irritability and anxiety. There may be an energizing effect that helps reduce depression and fatigue. Doing cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise can reinforce your resolve to clean out your arteries and lungs.
Nicotine increases the metabolic rate, so many quitters experience some weight gain. Hunger also often increases after cigarettes are gone. Exercise burns calories, increasing the daily energy expenditure. Recent studies on exercise and metabolism have shown that a weight training program boosts the metabolic rate as much as nicotine, making resistance exercise an effective method to control your weight after quitting the smoking habit.
Consider joining a fitness facility or sign up for classes where you will be around a smoke-free environment and find social support and instruction for your exercise program.
Learn as much as you can about nutritious food choices which will help your body as it recovers from its addiction to nicotine.
Making the decision to quit smoking and following through with action will be one of the best gifts you give to yourself and those you care about. For more information about smoking cessation, contact the American Heart Association.
- Smoking annually costs the United States economy over $193 billion in lost productivity and health care. (cdc.gov)
- The chances are 9 in 10 that a first time smoker will become addicted.
- 40 million Americans say they have quit.
- Tobacco smoke is the most dangerous airborne carcinogen in the United States.
- Smoking is responsible for 83% of lung cancers
- Smoking doubles the risk of coronary heart disease.
"Cigarettes are the only legal product that, when used as intended, cause death." Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, former United States secretary of Health and Human Services.