Smoking is one of the more challenging habits to undo. If you’re currently having trouble stopping or have tried previously and felt like it was unsuccessful, you’re not alone! Getting control of the habit is possible, and you can stop. The health benefits of quitting start straight away.
Smoking is one of the leading causes of cancer worldwide. Cigarettes contain over 7000 chemicals and over 70 substances that are known to cause cancer in humans. It’s the largest preventable cause of death and disease in Australia.
There are still a number of myths about smoking such as “low-tar” cigarettes being safer, “rollies” being safer and cutting down being a significant health benefit. In short, there is no safe level of cigarette smoking. Even though you might slightly reduce your risk by reducing the number of cigarettes, you’re still significantly at risk.
Another common myth is that if you’re a young person, time is on your side because it’s the cumulative effect that causes disease and smoking related disease tends to affect older people. The truth is that serious disease can affect people in their twenties and thirties and that smoking tends to have other associated health impacts. For example, because your blood-borne carbon monoxide levels are higher if you’re a smoker, that makes exercise harder and likely reduces your overall fitness and health.
Cravings are one of the more challenging aspects of quitting to manage and require some good planning so that you can anticipate cravings, recognise them early and do something (not smoking!) when they occur. The Four Ds is a simple tool to help you to begin quitting and also to manage cravings:
Delay acting on the urge to smoke – the more you delay, the weaker the urge will get. Drink water – sip it slowly. Deep breathing – in to a count of three and out to a count of five. Repeat three to five times. Do something – engage your mind and body in something that will help you refocus and not be focussed on cigarettes.
Fatigue and irritability are commonly experienced in the early days of quitting – one way of thinking about this is that they’re the result of your body adjusting to life without nicotine – the more time that passes, the better adjusted your body becomes and the more these things reduce. Tell those around you that you may be like this for a few days to a few weeks so that they understand and can support and encourage you.
If you decide that you want to quit, the first thing you should do is make an appointment and chat with your GP. But you can also start following the Four Ds above straight away.
There is no doubt that giving up can be hard, but remember that the benefits start straight away:
- Twelve hours after stopping, almost all nicotine is out of your system with most by-products gone within five days.
- After 24 hours, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood has dropped dramatically, meaning your body can take and use oxygen more efficiently.
- After two days, your senses of taste and smell start to return.
- After two months, blood flow to your hands and feet improves.
- After one year, your risk of heart disease rapidly drops.
- After 10 years, your risk of lung cancer is halved.
If you want to quit, or if you’ve tried before and since returned to smoking, don’t stop trying! Every time you make an attempt, you increase the likelihood that you’ll be successful. Remember – there’s no single or best way to quit – you must find what works best for you, which may be a combination of approaches.
Make an appointment to meet with your GP to discuss your plans and get some input from them as well. GPs are well resourced to help people quit.
Cold turkey, gradual reduction, nicotine replacement (patches or gum) or pharmacotherapy (prescribed medication to assist you quitting) are a number of well-established means of quitting. Some people advocate alternative therapies such as herbal or spiritual but there’s insufficient evidence to show that these are consistently beneficial.
Be aware that your appetite will likely increase (nicotine tends to act as an appetite suppressant to some extent) so you’ll need to be careful to monitor your calorie intake, especially in the early stages of quitting, to avoid weight gain.
Plan your quitting strategy carefully and with input from your GP and supportive family to increase the likelihood of success. In particular, have a plan for managing cravings.
National Quitline 13 78 48 (13 QUIT)