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Unless you live under a rock, you know that smoking is bad for your health. Tobacco-related diseases kill more than 480,000 people each year in the United States alone, accounting for around 20 percent of all premature deaths. If you’re a smoker, the habit can shorten your life by up to 12 years. And on average, one in two smokers will die from a smoking-related disease, meaning that if they hadn’t smoked, they wouldn’t have died from that particular cause at that time. Despite these compelling statistics—and even though legions have tried learning how to quit smoking—people still find it very hard to stop. Kicking the habit is the right thing to do, for both yourself and those around you (see Secondhand Smoke: How Harmful Is It?). Yet smokers just can’t stop lighting up.
Why Is Smoking So Bad for Our Health?
When you smoke, you inhale chemicals into your lungs that are poisonous to the human body, including:
- Carbon monoxide, a gas that replaces the oxygen in blood, resulting in a reduction in the amount of oxygen reaching every organ, system, and cell in your body. In turn, this leads over time to reduced function and abnormalities.
- Tar, a resinous brown substance produced when tobacco is burned. It is toxic and damages the lungs through various processes, including a physical coating of the alveoli (the tiny air sacs where oxygen is transferred to the blood). This further reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches the body.
- Carcinogens. Of the 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, around 70 are known carcinogens, which are cancer-causing agents.
Smoking affects all major systems of the body. Research has linked it to many diseases, including:
- Heart and circulatory disease: Atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, angina, heart attack, and peripheral vascular disease (which may lead to amputations of fingers, toes or limbs).
- Lung diseases: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, and pneumonia.
- Cancer: Most cancers are more common in smokers. Some 80 percent of lung cancers are smoking-related. Smoking increases the risk of all other cancers, including: stomach, colon, leukemia, cervical, liver, pancreas, mouth, throat, esophageal, kidney, and bladder cancers.
- Sexual health problems (women): Subfertility, infertility, miscarriage, low birth weight babies, stillbirth, premature birth, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and childhood asthma in offspring.
- Sexual health problems (men): Low sperm count (subfertility or infertility) and impotence.
- Other diseases and conditions: Stroke, dementia, depression, osteoporosis, fractures, autoimmune diseases (like rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes), bad breath, stained teeth, gum disease, tooth loss, and reduced sense of taste. Last, but not least, smoking prematurely ages the skin, increasing wrinkles (especially around the mouth) and making your skin look blotchy and grey.
The good news is that when you stop smoking, you can halt the progression of disease. For example: The stroke risk of an ex-smoker halves after two years of quitting, and heart attack risk returns to that of a never-smoker 15 years after quitting.
How to Quit Smoking: 6 Steps to Success
Stopping the habit of smoking is hard; it may seem near-impossible. The nicotine in cigarettes is addictive and withdrawal is unpleasant (craving, irritability, headaches, sadness, sleep problems, aching). These symptoms last between a few days through to a couple of weeks. And because smoking is a powerful habit, there may be many situations that are will trigger the desire to smoke (like being with friends who smoke); this is just part of the mental challenge of quitting.
Make a plan for quitting in advance and have all your tools ready to go on Day 1.
HOW TO QUIT SMOKING: EXTRA HELP
For more information on how to quit smoking, please visit these posts:
- Quit Smoking: Increase Your Life Expectancy with COPD
- How to Prevent Smoking Diseases—and Add Years to Your Life
Other resources for help:
- Start with a list of reasons why you want to quit. Consider your reasons to give up smoking; they may include health, family, finances, social issues, your looks, lifestyle, or other reasons. Dig deep, and write down the reasons. Look at your list often.
- Prepare for triggers. Figure out your triggers in advance, such as social situations, or stress. Then decide how you’ll cope with these triggers. For example,what will you do when friends are smoking, and how will you relieve stress in the future?
- Learn how to handle cravings and nicotine withdrawal. Cravings are intense urges to smoke, and they can last up to 10 minutes. Distract yourself with, for example, chewing gum, eating hard candy or a crunchy apple, drinking water, watching cat videos, squeezing a stress-ball, exercising, or practicing slow breathing until the craving passes.
- Address nicotine withdrawal. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) has been helping people quit for many years and can almost double your chances compared to going cold turkey. Choose a form that suits you: gum, patch, nasal spray, inhaler, or lozenges. This form of therapy is safe for most people, but if you are pregnant or have a serious medical condition, see your doctor first.
- Get support. Consider a quit-smoking program that will teach you coping skills and give you moral support. Also ask friends and family for their help. Your doctor may be able to prescribe nicotine replacement or medication (Bupropion SR or Varenicline).
- Reward yourself. Even as adults, we love to feel rewarded. The American Cancer Society recommends planning a reward for yourself when you have quit: “Put the money you would have spent on cigarettes or tobacco in a jar every day and then buy yourself a weekly treat…. Or save the money for a major purchase.”
Millions of people quit every year. If they can do it, so can you!