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Live Better, Live Longer: Quit Smoking for Good

Smoking is really bad for you.  But you knew that already.

Most people — smokers included — are well aware of the devastating toll smoking takes.  Despite this knowledge, the highly addictive nature of smoking makes it difficult for many smokers to quit.  That’s why smoking remains a serious health threat in the United States and across the globe.

The health care providers of Privia Medical Group North Texas understand the challenge smokers face in quitting, and they want you to have the information you need to kick the tobacco addiction for good.

Thursday, November 17 is the Great American Smokeout – a day dedicated to challenging smokers to put down their cigarettes and turn a new page to a healthier life.  November is also Lung Cancer Awareness Month and COPD Awareness Month.  Smoking is a key risk factor for these two devastating illnesses. 

If you’re still smoking – now’s the time.  Here’s your guide to kicking the habit for good!

Why Quit?

Smoking causes damage to virtually every organ in the human body and will shorten your life.  On average, smokers live 10 years less than non-smokers. 

Cancer

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 2019, 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 also the deadliest form of cancer, with a rate of 33.4 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, including cancers of the esophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, cervix, colon, and rectum, as well as a type of leukemia.

COPD

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.  The disease gets worse over time if 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 their physician’s instructions.

Heart Disease

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 must 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 harmful triglycerides and reducing beneficial HDL cholesterol. 
  • Smoking can cause arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat.  This condition also makes blood clots more likely, further increasing risk of heart attack and stroke. 

Pregnancy % Smoking

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 Quitting So Hard?

Nicotine makes smoking addictive.  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 period of time without smoking, 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.

How to Succeed in Quitting

To successfully quit, a smoker must first decide it’s something he or she really want to do.  Embrace and accept the reality it will take hard work, willpower and perseverance — but know that the effort will be well worth it! 

Start by identifying your motivations for quitting and write them down.  You will probably find multiple reasons to quit.  What are yours?

  • Is it your health? 
  • The health of those around you? 
  • You want to set a good example for your kids?
  • The social stigma associated with smoking? 
  • You don’t want your clothes, hair, car and home smelling like smoke?
  • You want to improve your physical appearance? 
  • You want to save money?

All of these are great reasons to quit!

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 powerful, it’s a good idea to work with your health care provider to come up with a plan that gives you the greatest chance to be successful. 

Your physician may write 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.   

What about 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. 

A few years ago, 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: nicotine interferes in the brain development of young people.  Parents should teach their children about the dangers of both smoking and vaping.  Children remain at serious risk of getting hooked on nicotine: the CDC reports that in 2022, 2.5 million middle and high school students have used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days. 

Quitting Means Immediate Health Benefits

The human body has an amazing ability to repair itself.  For people who stop smoking, the health benefits begin almost immediately. 

Within…

  • 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

It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long and how much you have smoked — you will begin to realize these health benefits when you kick the habit!

Are You Ready?

Are you ready to:

  • Improve your health?
  • Live longer?
  • Get your taste and smell back?
  • 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.

This article contains information sourced from:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The National Cancer Institute

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