Smoking is bad for your health. Very bad.
Of course, you probably already know this. If you are a smoker, chances are you know smoking is harmful and you’ve had many people – family, friends, coworkers, doctors – advise you to quit over the years. Many smokers would like nothing more than to quit smoking for good – they just haven’t been able to do it yet. The powerful nicotine addiction that comes with smoking makes stopping very hard. But it can be done, and today is as good a time as any to begin making your plan to quit.
November is the perfect month to take a fresh look at quitting smoking. November 19 is the Great American Smoke out, an annual health observance when all smokers are challenged to put down their cigarettes, even if just for a day. November is also Lung Cancer Awareness Month and COPD Awareness Month. Smoking is a significant cause of these two serious diseases.
“Smoking takes a wrecking ball to your body,” explains Dr. Dorris Morrissette, an internal medicine physician. “Smoking causes many different kinds of cancer, heart disease, stroke, COPD, Type 2 diabetes, cataracts, macular degeneration, gum disease, tooth loss and more.”
If those are not enough reasons to quit, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic provides one more. Because COVID-19 is a new disease, there is much researchers do not yet know about it, including how it may affect smokers differently than non-smokers. However, it is well-established that smoking compromises people’s immune systems and makes them more susceptible to respiratory illnesses. A smoker who gets COVID-19 may have a more difficult time recovering than a nonsmoker.
There has been substantial progress in getting people to stop smoking. As recently as 2005, 21% of American adults smoked – as of 2018, that figure had fallen to about 14%. Despite this progress, smoking remains a serious threat to public health. The leading cause of preventable death in the United States, smoking is attributable to 1 out of 5 deaths. Some 480,000 people lose their lives each year because of smoking.
Here’s a look at why it is important to quit smoking, as well as some proven ways you can succeed when you attempt it.
Smoking Damages the Body in Many Ways
Smoking causes damage to virtually every organ in the human body.
Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 250 of those are known to be harmful to humans and a minimum of 69 are proven to cause cancer.
Smoking is the single biggest risk factor for lung cancer. 90% of all lung cancer cases are attributable to smoking and lung cancer is the top cause of cancer death in the United States. In 2017, the most recent year the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has data for, lung cancer was the third most common cancer (excluding skin cancers), behind female breast and prostate cancers. It was by far the deadliest form of cancer, with a rate of 36.7 deaths per 100,000 people.
Possible symptoms of lung cancer include a cough that doesn't go away and gets worse over time, constant chest pain, coughing up blood, hoarseness, wheezing and fatigue.
The carcinogens in cigarettes can lead to multiple other types of cancer, as well, including cancers of the esophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, cervix, colon, and rectum, as well as a type of leukemia.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive and debilitating lung disease and the third-leading cause of death in the United States. Smoking is the cause of 80% of all COPD-related deaths. COPD usually involves two main conditions, chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
COPD restricts breathing, causing shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue and other symptoms. COPD gets worse over time if left untreated and can prevent many people from being able to enjoy an active lifestyle or even accomplish basic day-to-day chores. According to the National Institutes of Health, millions of Americans, mostly middle-aged or older adults, are diagnosed with COPD and there are many more that are unaware they have the disease.
Although there is no cure for COPD, a patient can manage symptoms by eliminating cigarette smoking and following physician’s instructions.
Smoking causes cardiovascular disease – in fact, one-third of all heart disease deaths are due to smoking. Smoking harms the heart and blood vessels in a variety of ways:
- Because smoking constricts the blood vessels, the heart is forced to work harder to pump blood.
- Smoking makes blood more likely to clot inside the blood vessels. A clot that blocks blood flow to the heart can lead to a heart attack. If blood flow to the brain is cut off, a stroke will result.
- Smoking also contributes to unhealthy cholesterol levels by increasing triglycerides in the blood stream and reducing HDL cholesterol, which is beneficial to our heart health.
- Smoking can cause arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat. This condition also makes blood clots more likely, further increasing risk of heart attack and stroke.
Smoking & Pregnancy
Smoking makes it harder for women to become pregnant. For women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, it is imperative to stop smoking immediately for the health of the baby. The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke can prevent the baby from getting enough oxygen in the womb, while nicotine can harm fetal brain development.
Women who smoke during pregnancy are much more likely to deliver the baby prematurely, increasing the risk of a variety of health complications for the newborn. In 20% of cases in which the mother smokes during pregnancy, babies are born with a low birth weight.
Why Is It So Difficult to Quit?
With so many reasons to not smoke, why do people still do it? It’s because they are addicted to the nicotine contained in cigarettes. When someone puffs on a cigarette, nicotine is carried deep into the lungs, dispersed into the bloodstream and then delivered to the brain, where it produces a temporary feeling of pleasure. This process occurs in a matter of seconds.
When a smoker goes a long time without a cigarette, the nicotine level in the bloodstream diminishes, leading to intense cravings. As the cravings intensify, the smoker can become anxious and irritable. Nicotine withdrawal can also make it difficult to concentrate. Nicotine is powerfully addictive.
How to Succeed in Quitting
“For smokers to successfully quit, they must decide it is something they really want to do. Stopping smoking is hard, so it’s going to take hard work, willpower and perseverance” says Dr. Jason Ledbetter, an internal medicine physician. “Find motivation in thinking about the health benefits of becoming a non-smoker, like significantly reducing your risk of cancer and heart disease. Think also about the social benefits – your family and friends will be happy for you; your breath, hair and clothes won’t smell like smoke; and your skin and teeth will look better. Think about these and any other reasons that motivate you to stop smoking and write them down.”
After you have made the commitment to yourself to stop smoking, you have to come up with a strategy to be successful. Because the nicotine addiction is so potent, it’s a good idea to work with your health care provider to come up with a plan that is best for you.
“There are a variety of options we can use to help someone quit smoking,” explains Dr. John Briscoe, an internal medicine physician. “Since many people have difficulty quitting ‘cold turkey,’ it’s often best to try a prescription medication or a form of nicotine replacement therapy to increase the odds of quitting successfully.”
Your physician can prescribe a prescription that will block the nicotine receptors in the brain, making smoking less enjoyable and ultimately reducing cravings. Another option is a nicotine replacement therapy product, which are available over the counter. These include patches, which release a steady amount of nicotine into your system through the skin, as well as nicotine gum and lozenges. These therapies are designed to reduce cravings and wean the smoker from the addiction with a step-down approach, gradually decreasing the amount of nicotine in the body over a period of a few months.
Whether using a prescription medication or a nicotine replacement therapy, experts agree that smokers should take advantage of various online stop-smoking support services, as well. Breaking the mental habit of smoking, continually reminding yourself why you want to be a non-smoker, as well as extinguishing the physical addiction to nicotine, are all crucial to success. Some prescription medications offer their own online support services, as do the CDC and SmokeFree.gov.
“When you are ready to take the plunge and put down the cigarettes, you have to make a plan,” advises Dr. Ledbetter. “Have your strategy in place and pick the specific day you will quit. The night before, get rid of all cigarettes, ashtrays and lighters. Be mindful of habits you have paired with smoking, such as drinking coffee or alcohol. Try to avoid or minimize those habits and change routines, especially in the first few weeks after quitting.”
What about Vaping?
Even though vaping products do not yet carry a Surgeon General’s warning about serious health consequences like tobacco cigarettes do, that does not mean they are safe – it simply means that scientists do not yet have enough data and research available to draw firm conclusions about the effects of vaping.
The CDC reports that while e-cigarettes generally contain fewer chemicals than are found in tobacco cigarettes, they still contain “harmful and potentially harmful substances.”
Some smokers believe that using e-cigarettes will help them quit smoking altogether and take up vaping as a smoking cessation technique. However, there is no scientific evidence that vaping is effective for that purpose.
In late 2019, there were numerous reports of lung injury connected to vaping. Patients affected with vaping-induced lung injury reported symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, chills and weight loss.
There is no question that vaping is harmful to children and adolescents. Parents should teach their children about the dangers of both smoking and vaping. For more on vaping and e-cigarettes, see our article from earlier this year.
Quitting Means Immediate Health Benefits
The human body’s ability to repair itself is quite remarkable. For people who stop smoking, the health benefits begin almost immediately.
- 20 minutes: heart rate and blood pressure drop
- 12 hours: carbon monoxide levels fall to normal
- 48 hours: ability to smell and taste improves
- 1 year: risk of heart attack drops significantly
- 2-5 years: risk of stroke drops to that of a non-smoker
- 5 years: risk of cancer of the throat, mouth, esophagus and bladder is reduced by half
- 10 years: risk of lung cancer drops by half
Remember, these benefits are realized at any age, regardless of how long you have smoked.
Are You Ready?
Are you ready to:
- Improve your health?
- Increase your odds of living longer?
- Have improved sense of taste and smell?
- Not have your car, clothes and hair reek of cigarette smoke?
- Save money?
If the answer is yes, then today is the day to start making your plan to quit.
Privia Medical Group North Texas physicians are committed to doing all they can to help their patients kick the deadly smoking addiction once and for all. If you’re ready to start life as a non-smoker, make an appointment with your physician to create your stop-smoking plan together.
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