It's never too late to quit smoking. According to the American Cancer Society, about half of all smokers who keep smoking will die from a smoking-related disease. Quitting has immediate health benefits.
Better Health After Quitting
Time after last cigarette
Blood pressure and pulse rates return to normal.
Levels of carbon monoxide and oxygen in the blood return to normal.
Chance of heart attack begins to decreases.
Nerve endings start to regrow. Your ability to taste and smell increases.
Bronchial tubes relax and the lungs can fill with more air.
2 weeks to 3 months
Improved circulation; lung function increases up to 30%.
1 to 9 months
Decreased rates of coughing, sinus infection, fatigue, and shortness of breath; regrowth of cilia in the airways, increasing the ability to clear mucus and clean the lungs and reducing the chance of infection; overall energy level increases.
After a year, the risk of dying from heart attack and stroke is reduced by up to 50%.
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 40% of smokers who want to quit make a serious attempt to do so each year, but fewer than 5% actually succeed. A June 2006 report published by the NIH says that the available smoking cessation products and therapies are greatly underused. If more smokers asked for or were offered such help, the agency says quit rates could double or triple.
Some people have certain genes that make quitting easier. Researchers at Duke University have identified more than 200 genes that distinguish those who have successfully quit smoking. It is the first time such genes have been identified. The findings could lead to new smoking cessation therapies that target a person's specific genetic makeup.
Nicotine replacement therapy involves the use of products that provide low doses of nicotine that do not contain the contaminants found in smoke. The goal of therapy is to relieve cravings for nicotine and ease the symptoms of withdrawal.
In general, nicotine replacement therapy benefits moderate-to-heavy smokers the most. However, it does appear somewhat helpful for light smokers (people who smoke fewer than 15 cigarettes a day).
Nicotine Patches. Nicotine patches deliver nicotine through the skin. This is called transdermal nicotine delivery. It is effective in reducing symptoms during withdrawal. Nicotine patches are available over the counter.
Patches may work in different ways:
Patches are applied and used in similar ways:
Children should not come in contact with the patches, even while the smoker is wearing them. If the child has worn the patch, the affected skin should be washed right away. Urgent medical care may be required if the child has eaten nicotine or worn a patch for a prolonged time.
Nicotine Gum. Nicotine gum (Nicorette) is available over the counter and has helped many people quit. Some prefer it to the patch because they can control the nicotine dosage, and chewing satisfies the oral urge associated with smoking.
Tips for using the gum:
Some people prefer other methods or cannot use the gum for the following reasons:
Long-term dependence may be a problem with the gum. Although such dependence is probably safer than smoking, research is needed to confirm this, and experts recommend people chew gum for no more than 6 months.
The Nicotine Inhaler. The nicotine inhaler resembles a plastic cigarette holder. It comes with a number of nicotine cartridges, which are inserted into the inhaler and "puffed" for about 20 minutes, up to 16 times a day. The dose is gradually decreased. It requires a prescription in the United States. Several studies have reported that the inhaler triples abstinence rates (between 17 - 28%) compared with placebo (6 - 9%) after 6 months. It has some specific advantages over other nicotine replacement products:
Using a combination of the inhaler and the patch may be particularly effective.
The Nicotine Nasal Spray. The nasal spray satisfies immediate cravings by providing doses of nicotine rapidly and thus may play a useful role in conjunction with slower-acting nicotine replacement therapies. (Nicotine levels peak within 5 - 10 minutes after administering the spray). The spray can irritate the nose, eyes, and throat, so it may not be suitable for those with allergies or sinus infections. Most people, however, can tolerate the side effects, which usually go away within the first few days.
Nicotine Lozenge. A nicotine lozenge (Commit) is available over the counter. It is made from pressed tobacco and comes in two strengths for heavier or lighter smokers..Side effects included heartburn, hiccups, nausea, headaches, and cough. The Commit lozenge also contains phenylalanine, a chemical that certain people may need to avoid.
Facts about Nicotine Replacement Therapy:
Side Effects. Side effects of any nicotine replacement product may include headaches, nausea, and other gastrointestinal problems. People often experience sleeplessness in the first few days, particularly with the patch, but the insomnia usually passes. Patients using very high doses are more likely to have symptoms. Reducing the dose can prevent them.
Special Concerns for Specific Individuals. There has been some concern that the patch might be harmful for people with heart or circulatory disease, but studies are finding that it poses no danger for these individuals. In fact, it may help reduce angina attacks brought on by exercise. However, unhealthy cholesterol levels (lower HDL levels) caused by smoking remain abnormal with use of the nicotine patch. HDL levels improve when all nicotine is stopped.
Nicotine replacement may not be completely safe in pregnant women, although it has been used successfully in this group without ill effect. There is an increase in heart rates in unborn children of women who use the patch as compared with those who smoke.
Keep all nicotine products away from children. Nicotine is a poison. All nicotine products should be kept safely away from small children. A parent should call a physician or a poison control center immediately if a child has been exposed to a nicotine replacement product, even for a short duration. Parents should also call the doctor if a small child has been exposed to a nicotine product and has any symptoms, including stomach upset, irritability, headaches, a rash, or fatigue.
Warnings Against Long-Term Use. No one should use nicotine replacement therapies as a long-term substitute for smoking. Any nicotine replacement therapy should be temporary. In one study, use of nicotine gum for more than a year was associated with insulin resistance, an abnormality that occurs in diabetes. Some studies have now suggested that nicotine itself may have properties that increase the risk for cancer, independent of carcinogenic chemicals in smoke. More studies are needed.
Antidepressants. The tricyclic antidepressant nortriptyline (Pamelor, Aventyl) may help reduce nicotine action. Quit rates with either of these medicines are as high as 30%. Long-term abstinent rates are more than twice those of placebo. Most other antidepressants, including fluoxetine (Prozac), have no additional benefits for smokers.
Nortriptyline has been specifically studied for helping smokers. It is best to start taking the medication 10 - 28 days before your intended quit date. Studies have reported quit rates of 14 - 24%. Side effects of nortriptyline include dry mouth and changes in taste. It should be noted that in rare cases, tricyclics can have serious side effects, and overdose can be deadly. Tricyclics may pose a danger for some patients with certain types of heart disease.
Bupropion (Zyban, Wellbutrin) is a type of antidepressant that is also an FDA-approved product for smoking cessation. It differs from most other antidepressants because it increases the effects of dopamine, the brain chemical that appears to play a strong role in nicotine addiction. Using Zyban along with nicotine replacement therapy may help you better control cigarette smoking cravings. Zyban does not contain nicotine. In most cases, Zyban is started a week or two before quitting, and must be taken for 7 - 12 weeks. The usual maintenance dose is 150 mg tablet twice a day. No single dose should be higher than 150 mg.
Side effects of bupropion include gastrointestinal problems, headaches, insomnia, dry mouth, and irritation. In very rare cases, seizures have occurred, although usually in people who exceeded the recommended dose or who already had risk factors for seizures.
Varenicline. A newer drug called varenicline (Chantix) may significantly reduce cigarette cravings and may work better than Zyban. The FDA approved Chantix as a smoking cessation aid in May 2006. It is for use in cigarette smokers age 18 and older. It should not be combined with nicotine replacement therapy.
Warning about Chantix: As of February 2008, the FDA instructed that Chantix carry a warning regarding serious mental health side effects that may occur while using the medication, or immediately after stopping it. These uncommon but potentially serious side effects include "changes in behavior, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal ideation and suicidal behavior." People taking Chantix, as well as their family members, should be aware of these potential dangers and report any symptoms to their doctor immediately.
Everyone who quits should aim to quit completely. Most people who return to smoking "cheat" in the first few weeks. Quitting completely is essential to regain good health and reverse bad effects caused by smoking. Reducing smoking, even by half, does not eliminate the risk for cancer and other health problems. Although smokers take in less smoke and nicotine, the body is still unable to heal itself from the ongoing intake of toxins. It should also be noted that changing to low-tar cigarettes is not a solution. In fact, smokers of these cigarettes tend to inhale deeper, perhaps even increasing health risks.
Create a List
Write down 10 reasons to quit. In addition to health reasons, the list might include having better smelling hair, clothes, and breath; having fewer wrinkles; enjoying the taste of food; and saving money. Read the list often during the quitting process to help stay motivated.
Decide on a Specific Quit Date
Some people find it helpful to choose a particular date to quit when little or no stress is anticipated for at least the first 3 days. Women affected by PMS should avoid quitting right before getting their period. It may help to write out a quit contract, putting the date on paper, and getting a friend to sign it. Discard all smoking paraphernalia on the eve before the quit date, and make plans to stay busy on the day itself, and especially at night, when the urge to smoke will be high.
Make an Oath
Take an extreme oath. For example, "If I smoke one more cigarette my dog will die." Although this seems absurd, some people, even well-educated individuals, who have failed all other methods have reported that they quit completely and successfully after taking such an oath.
Let the Body and Mind Heal During Withdrawal
Get Family and Friends Involved
Studies continue to show that smokers who exercise can greatly increase their ability to quit smoking while reducing their risk for weight gain. Move the muscles when cravings occur. Dance, run, walk, jump up and down, stretch, do push-ups. Yoga is an excellent exercise program for quitting. Older people and anyone with health problems should consult their health care provider before starting such a program.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
Change Daily Habits
About 4% of smokers who quit without any outside help succeed. Nevertheless, most people try to quit alone, and many have reported activities that can help the process of withdrawal. The primary obstacle in trying to quit alone is making the behavioral changes necessary to eliminate the habits associated with smoking. Excellent books, tapes, and manuals are available and are strongly recommended to help people who want to quit without other assistance.
Smokers who use outside help have the best record for quitting, with success rates of 25 - 35%. Those who are counseled in addition to using nicotine replacement and Zyban have the best chance. Brochures, audio tapes, and other self-help materials are often ineffective when used alone, but may be helpful in conjunction with a counseling program.
Problem Solving or Coping Strategies. Smokers more likely to quit smoking when they learn thinking (cognitive) and behavioral techniques for breaking the link between certain cues and smoking, stress management techniques, and ways to handle the symptoms of withdrawal and the urge to relapse. The more intense the counseling program, the better. Smokers should look for programs that offer the following:
The Staged Approach. The intent of the staged approach is to plan quitting interventions customized for each individual rather than imposing some general method for quitting. The approach takes the smoker through six stages with behavioral interventions at each point:
Most studies of this approach, however, were weak, and better research is needed on its benefits.
People who follow this approach do not proceed from one stage to another in a simple, step-by-step fashion. They actually cycle or spiral back and forth, so that they may move from stage 1 to 2 to 3, and then back to 2 again. They may stay in maintenance mode for years and then fall back to stage 2. Remember that this is normal -- if you tried quitting in the past and didn't stick with it, don't consider yourself a failure. Just try again.
Stage 1: Pre-Contemplation.
People at this stage have no plans or desire to stop smoking. They aren't even considering quitting. People at this stage are generally unaware of the specific benefits that quitting can bring. Or, they may simply have "failed" in the past and have given up. There's no point in talking about how to start a cessation program at this stage. Instead, it is important to think about how quitting will help you feel better, have more confidence, or live longer. The benefits must be identified before a person will consider quitting. If you are at this stage, a good activity is to ask several friends or family members why they quit.
Stage 2: Contemplation.
A person at this stage is thinking, "I think I should probably quit, but I need help getting started." People at this stage know that quitting is good for them, but it seems like a daunting task or they don't think they can pull it off. Some may have tried and failed in the past. It's important for people at this stage to consider some of the truths and falsehoods of quitting. If you are at this stage, write down (brainstorm) all your potential roadblocks -- the things that you believe make quitting difficult -- and learn strategies for overcoming or side-stepping those hurdles. People at this stage might benefit from making a pledge, contract, or other commitment that they are going to get more active in the near future. The goal is to identify the roadblocks and ways to overcome these hurdles, and make a commitment to quitting.
Stage 3: Preparation.
Smokers at this stage are ready to quit. The goal of this stage is to create a specific action plan that takes all factors into account, so that quitting is successful. People at this stage need to know what methods work and what support exists to help them. If you are at this stage, you should consider some backup plans -- what to do when the urge to smoke hits you.
Stage 4: Action!
People at this stage have just quit. This stage is where the most behavioral change occurs. It requires significant commitment and energy. If you are at this stage, keep talking to friends and family for inspiration. Review your backup plans. Reward yourself for small achievements. Having a fellow smoker quit with you can be a huge support as you both get through this stage.
Stage 5: Maintenance.
People at this stage have been smoke-free at least 6 months. The goal now is to prevent relapse. If you are at this stage, continue to be wary of roadblocks and keep reminding yourself of the benefits you have gained. Think about what you have found most enjoyable about being smoke-free.
Hypnosis. Although rigorous studies are lacking, some people report successful cessation from smoking when hypnosis is given in individual sessions. The process is effective only if you trust the therapist and can feel completely at ease in the vulnerable and passive state necessary for hypnotic suggestion.
During a typical session, the hypnotherapist will use various techniques (such as imagery, silent counting) to put you in a relaxed state.
When you are very relaxed, but not asleep, the hypnotherapist quietly suggests motivations for not smoking. The hypnotherapist should also reinforce a positive self-image while you are in deep relaxation. This helps many people avoid the depression that accompanies withdrawal.
The sessions usually take about 1 hour.
You should be taught methods of self-hypnosis to use at home, and follow-up once to reinforce what you've learned.
Acupuncture and Acupressure. The acupuncture technique for quitting smoking usually uses very tiny curved staples inserted into three different points around the edge of the ear. The procedure is painless. You will be told to press each staple in a certain order for a few seconds whenever the craving for a cigarette occurs. The acupuncturist may also use acupuncture points elsewhere on the body. There are no side effects except for some soreness if the acupuncture staple is pressed too hard.
A related technique called acupressure involves simply pressing select points on the body when a craving hits. Some studies have reported good quit rates with acupuncture, but few rigorous studies have been conducted using this approach.
Denormalization is the idea that smoking is no longer normal. This concept of denormalization is best instituted by laws and local regulations making smoking inaccessible in public places, raising prices, and putting stricter limitations on cigarette advertising.
Increasing taxes on cigarettes may be one of the most important methods for reducing smoking in the population, particularly in younger people.
Evidence suggests that banning smoking in work and public places may be leading to a higher quit rate than in places where smoking is permitted.
Denormalization can also work on a personal level. A British study showed that when one spouse makes healthy changes, including quitting smoking, the other one follows. In couples where smoking continues, it usually continues in both.
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