With the right tactics, you can become an ex-smoker. Our GP Dr Mel Wynne-Jones explains
With the right tactics, you can become an ex-smoker.
Smoking rates have fallen by a quarter in the past 10 years, although almost one in five of us still lights up regularly. Rising cost, smoking bans, and smoking cessation services have all helped, and electronic (e-) cigarettes, also known as vapes, have made a difference, too.
Cigarettes contain hundreds of chemicals as well as harmful tar and addictive nicotine. Smoking causes 80,000 deaths in England each year, and 50% of smokers will die (on average 10 years earlier) from smoking-related diseases such as mouth, throat, lung and kidney cancers, heart/lung disease, strokes and circulatory diseases.
It’s also linked to sight and dental problems.
Smoking weakens connective (supportive) tissue, producing premature wrinkles, pelvic floor prolapse/incontinence and bone-thinning osteoporosis. It’s also linked to male/female fertility, miscarriage, premature babies, a quarter of cot deaths, as well as asthma, chest and ear infections in children.
Want to quit?
Maybe you’ve been thinking about it for a while, or have been shocked into stopping because of a health problem (yours or somebody else’s).
UK researchers recently said personalised risk information can help, so it’s worth making a list of how stopping could make your life better – reduced health risks, improved fitness, clearer-looking skin/teeth, losing that ‘smoker’ smell, and saving money.
And you’ll get some instant benefits – nicotine and carbon monoxide disappear from your body in just 48 hours, so food will taste better.
You may cough more at first, but after 12 months your lung function will be improved by 10% and your heart-attack risk will have halved. And all those risks will continue to fall, the longer you stay stopped.
Your GP, local stop smoking service or pharmacist can give advice (see tips box, right) and supply nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). This takes away nicotine cravings, so you can concentrate on other challenges, such as what to do in situations where you’d normally light up.
NRT is commonly used as daily patches in gradually decreasing doses; 16-hour patches are removed at night, but some people prefer 24-hour replacement. It’s also available as lozenges, microtabs, a mouth spray, or an inhalator.
It can irritate the skin or nose/throat, upset your tummy or produce dizziness and headaches. Champix (varenicline) and Zyban (bupropion) are prescription-only tablets that reduce the desire to smoke, but they don’t suit everyone and can have side effects, too.
E-cigarettes have become very popular since 2011, although their use may be levelling off. They’re widely available without a prescription, and use liquids containing nicotine (but no tar or carbon monoxide), and/or various flavouring chemicals.
They’ve been welcomed by Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians as they can help people to quit successfully. However, many doctors are concerned that we still don’t know enough about their long-term safety, especially as they’re not regulated as medicines.
Used wrongly they can also be a fire hazard. E-cigarettes also perpetuate the ‘puffing’ habit. Many former smokers continue to use them afterwards, and (as with NRT), many vapers continue to smoke real cigarettes.
5 tips for quilting
1. Make that stop-list: pick a stop date, tell everyone, and ditch your cigarettes and ashtrays. Wash clothes and even soft furnishings.
2. Plan distractions/alternatives to smoking for high-risk moments (after a meal, stress, or having a drink) and for cravings (which last around five minutes).
3. Exercise more – it distracts, is healthy and boosts mood/wellbeing, too.
4. Don’t despair if you give in to temptation. Just start again.
5. Get support – family and friends, stop-smoking services, online information and support at smokefree.nhs (there’s an app, too).