Opinion: Time to quit

Time to quit
Time to quit
Opinion by Dr. Michael Braida

I am certain that we all are aware that tobacco is a killer! Smokers and other tobacco users are more likely to develop certain diseases and die earlier than those who do not use tobacco. If you smoke, you may worry about what it’s doing to your health and how hard it might be to quit.

What are some of the recommended ways to help a person quit smoking?

Research consistently shows that a multifaceted approach leads to the best chances of success. Medication for smoking cessation aims to reduce the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, however, smoking is both a learned behaviour AND a physical addiction and changing the behaviour is more challenging than dealing with the withdrawal symptoms. Thus support and counselling should be a key part of any person’s plan to quit.

Patches and gum do reduce withdrawal symptoms and research bears this out as well. Nicotine replacement therapy increases quit rates at six months as much as two-fold and while no individual method has been shown to be superior to another, the combination of a long-acting method (patch) plus a short-acting method (gum) has been shown to be better.

E-cigarettes are an electronic nicotine delivery system that uses a battery to vaporise a liquid that users inhale. As the product has only been around for a short time, the long-term health effects are unknown. However, there is little evidence to support their effectiveness as a tool to help smokers quit. In one study, the effectiveness was about equal to people who quit smoking with the nicotine replacement patch. There is also concern that electronic cigarettes will introduce previous non-smokers to an addictive substance which may lead to increased smoking of traditional cigarettes. Thus, it is difficult to recommend electronic cigarettes as a tool to quit smoking when other methods are available and the long-term risks are unknown.

What kind of mental, emotional or even physical challenges can a smoker expect to face on their way to becoming smoke-free?
Nicotine withdrawal can cause people to have trouble sleeping; be more irritable; more easily frustrated or even feel like they are not thinking clearly. Some people gain a couple of kilograms. And you can expect to cough for a few months as your lungs begin to heal. The longer we perform any pattern of behaviour the more automatic it becomes, and most people who smoke quit several times before quitting for good. The more cigarettes you smoke daily, the more likely you are to have a physical addiction, but even those who smoke 2—3 cigarettes a day (and are thus likely not physically addicted) have patterns of behaviour that can end up trapping them.
What are some helpful methods a smoker can practice to overcome these challenges?

Every person who smokes should work with supporters (doctors, counsellors, friends and family) to identify their smoking triggers and plan for ways to cope for situations where they would usually smoke.

Exercise is an excellent way to release tension, overcome smoking urges and relieve withdrawal symptoms. Walking is great exercise for almost all fitness levels. Current recommendations for most people include aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week.

Ask your doctor about the best level of activity for you.

One quick and easy strategy is to use Relaxation Breathing Techniques whenever you feel yourself getting tense. Most counsellors can teach you different types of breathing techniques in more detail.

Change your routines. Take a different route to work. Drink tea instead of coffee. It might seem counter-intuitive that additional changes to routines will decrease stress, but by developing new, smoke-free routines, you are smoothing the way for long-term success.

Reward yourself.

Successfully quitting smoking has rewards — better health, improved ability to smell and taste food, a feeling of accomplishment, better hygiene — but these rewards often don’t come quickly enough to satisfy the immediate reward impulse that you’ve been feeding with cigarettes. Set up some rewards to keep you motivated:
• Stay in bed late and read or watch television
• Buy something practical
• Buy something frivolous
• Take yourself out to dinner
• Invite a friend to a movie

For more information visit: https://www.internationalsos.com/topics/smoking.

Dr. Michael Braida is the regional medical director at International SOS.