Tobacco causes cancer, emphysema, and heart disease. It contributes to the deaths of 400,000 Americans each year. One in three of these deaths is related to heart disease. In fact, smoking hurts every organ in the body.
Tobacco smoke contains toxic substances known to cause health problems. Three of them –- nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide -- are especially deadly.
Nicotine is an addictive drug. It forces the heart to work harder, leading to high blood pressure. It narrows blood vessels so that the blood flow to the heart is slowed or blocked.
Tar produces irritation of the respiratory system. It damages the linings so that they cannot work properly with the heart.
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous substance that gets into your blood from tobacco smoke. It damages blood vessel linings, leads to the hardening of the arteries, and increases the risk of a heart attack.
Is any of this news? No. Two-thirds of smokers in an a recent poll agreed that smoking will probably kill them someday. 75% of current smokers have tried to quit at least once. For long-time and heavy smokers, quitting isn't easy. If you smoke a pack or more a day or light up within 30 minutes of waking up in the morning, you qualify as a heavy smoker.
How can I quit?
Many people have quit "cold turkey". If you are a light smoker or have just started smoking, this may be the best path for you. If you are a heavy smoker, you have a 5% chance of this method working. It may work eventually, but you'll probably have to try several times.
Other more successful methods exist. These include nicotine replacement with counseling, counseling alone, nicotine replacement alone, and prescription medications.
Nicotine replacement with counseling. Nicotine replacement includes the nicotine patch and nicotine chewing gum. A nicotine nasal spray is available, as well as a nicotine inhaler. Both the spray and the inhaler give heavy smokers a faster and higher nicotine dose.
These replacement tools have a higher success rate when they are used with a smoking cessation program. These programs report a success rate of 20% to 40%.
Quit smoking programs. Local hospitals, health plans, your employer are good sources of these programs. Many employers now sponsor and pay for such programs. Some also pay for nicotine replacement tools.
To be effective, the programs should be four to eight weeks long. They should provide plenty of encouragement and weekly one-on-one meetings with a counselor. They should include ways to cope with stress.
Nicotine replacement alone. Without counseling, nicotine replacement has a success rate of 10%. It doubles the cold turkey approach.
Prescription medication. Your doctor may prescribe a prescription drug that controls the craving for nicotine.
How can I stay smokeless?
Many smokers would say that staying "smokeless" is harder than quitting. The National Cancer Institute and other sources suggest the following steps:
- Put your reasons for quitting in writing. - Brush your teeth after every meal - Keep your cigarette money in a separate fund for a splurge - Keep your fingers busy. Some ex-smokers use a ballpoint pen and click away. - Chew on a piece of straw - Go to places where smoking isn't permitted - "Hang around" with nonsmokers.
If some of these steps sound odd, remember the reason you're doing them. The outcome of good health isn't odd. You may have other tricks of your own that work.
What do I do when I crave a cigarette?
Nicotine is classified as addictive for good reason. When you really crave a cigarette, try some of the following suggestions:
- Chew on celery stalks, apple slices, and carrot sticks - Take a shower or bath - Do basic relaxation exercises - Use the four "D's" - delay, distract, drink water, deep breathing.
Don't be tempted to "smoke just one".
What if I gain weight?
Many people gain 6 to 10 pounds when they quit smoking. Increase your exercise. Brisk walking is especially good. Any exercise can take your mind off craving a cigarette. Hold off on losing excess pounds until you conquer smoking.
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