Once upon a time, thanks largely to classic American films such as Rebel Without A Cause and Breakfast At Tiffany’s, smoking was perceived as the height of coolness. Even modern television shows such as Mad Man still emphasize how prevalent smoking was in the 1960s. All throughout the twentieth century, in fact, popular culture and mass media advertising continuously perpetuated the aura of glamour and intrigue that surrounded men and women who smoked. With the onslaught of these images that infiltrated our television screens and magazines, it’s not a surprise that smoking grew to be such a popular and widespread habit.
In today’s world, however, things have changed considerably. Puffing on a cigarette is no longer considered a social status symbol. These days, ex-smokers outnumber current smokers, and there’s a good reason for this: the health risks have simply become too alarming to ignore. The more research that is conducted on the topic, the more evidence shows that smoking is a sure-fire way to damage your immune system, weaken your body’s natural defences and shorten your life span.
While quitting certainly isn’t easy, especially if you’ve become particularly accustomed to the habit over a period of years, there are countless reasons why living a smoke-free life will make you much happier and healthier in the long run.
All you really need to accomplish this momentous goal is a can-do attitude and a healthy dose of determination – and a little helpful advice never goes amiss, either! Read on to discover how to put your theoretical plan into action and quit smoking for good.
Impact of Smoking on Health
Whether you’re a casual social smoker or you have a pack-a-day habit, smoking is always going to have a vastly negative impact on your physical, and sometimes even mental, health. Smoking is now the largest preventable cause of death and disease in Australia, with a tobacco-related death occurring every 28 minutes, adding up to more than 50 deaths per day. The correlation between smoking and cancer is particularly evident, as tobacco smoke contains over 60 cancer-causing chemicals, also known as carcinogens. When a tobacco cigarette is smoked, these carcinogens are absorbed through the lining of the lungs into the bloodstream, where they are dispersed throughout the body to cause the cells in major organs to multiply uncontrollably and become cancerous.
Apart from the dangers of these carcinogens, smoking has countless other negative effects on the respiratory and circulatory system. Tobacco smoke impairs the lungs’ clearance system and narrows the lung airways and passages, leading to a build-up of excess mucus and other poisonous substances that increase the risk of irritation and infection. Smoking tobacco also raises your blood pressure and heart rate, damages the lining of the arteries, causes blood to become more prone to clotting, and overall increases your chance of having a stroke or heart attack, due to blockages in your blood supply.
You may think that smoking is only particularly harmful in the long run, and certainly the longer and more often you smoke, the more likely you are to develop seriously fatal diseases such as mouth and throat cancer, blindness, stomach ulcers and emphysema, the collapsing of the walls of lung tubes. But the short-term effects are nothing to be scoffed over, either. During or immediately after smoking a cigarette, it’s likely you’ll experience shortness of breath due to less oxygen flowing to the lungs, as well as stained fingers, smelly hair and breath, problematic skin, and increased proneness to colds and coughs. It’s clear that smoking wreaks havoc on the body inside and outside, causing you to look and feel less than optimum. This could potentially even be impairing your ability to function at your best, both physically and mentally, on an everyday basis.
Smoking and Pregnancy
Along with the harmful side effects that smoking can have on your body, smoking when you’re pregnant can be extremely dangerous for both you and your unborn child. There are a number of complications that can arise with both the development of the foetus and the actual birthing process, including:
- Problems with the placenta, which is the source of the baby’s food and oxygen during the pregnancy
- Increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as SIDS, wherein the cause of an infant death cannot be found
- Increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth or low birth weight, the latter of which is likely to make the baby ill and force them to remain hospitalized for a longer period
The most concerning effect of cigarette smoke is that it constricts the growth of the foetus. In this way, the babies of women who smoked during their pregnancies may invariably be born with genetic abnormalities that are immediately evident, such as a cleft lip or palate, or problems with the eyes, ears, bowel and/or spinal cord. Otherwise, there are health defeats that may come into fruition later on in a child’s life. Asthma and other respiratory problems, for example, commonly develop in children whose mothers’ smoked.
The fertility of female smokers is also seriously compromised, as tobacco smoke impedes the transportation of the egg through the fallopian tubes to the womb, while nicotine affects the production of certain essential pregnancy hormones.Even if you are not yet pregnant but are considering conceiving a child, smoking can make the process much more difficult for both partners. Male smokers tend to have a sperm count that is fifteen per cent lower than that of non-smokers, and tobacco sperm also harms the motility and shape of sperm.
While it’s generally well-known that smoking is hazardous for health reasons, have you also considered the effect that regularly purchasing cigarettes is having on another important factor in your life – your pocket? Today an average packet of 20-25 cigarettes costs around $16 in Australia, and the tax on cigarettes has steadily been increasing for the past four decades. The most recent tax increase will see Australian smokers paying 69 cents (up from 39 cents) per cigarette by 2017. The general consensus on the rationale behind raising the taxes on tobacco is that, due to the increased pressure on the public health system, smokers pay a levy to augment the additional financial burden arising from smoking-related health issues.
One particular set of statistics compiled by the organization Tobacco in Australia testifies to the way in which cigarette prices have only continued to rise over time. These statistics trace the price changes of a popular Australian cigarette brand which originated in the 1940s, with the approximate cost per packet escalating from $2.80 per packet in 1990, to $6.20 in 2000, to $10.36 in 2012. While this may appear fairly inexpensive on its own, the accumulative value of these purchases over the period of a year, or five years or even ten years, comprises a significant chunk of cash that could otherwise fund an overseas holiday, the purchase of a new car, or even a deposit on a house.
You’ll start to notice (and undoubtedly appreciate) the benefits of having extra cash in your wallet when you don’t have to constantly shell out for a new pack of cigarettes. It only keeps getting better the longer you go without smoking. After only two days smoke-free (at a rate of a pack a day), you’ll have enough to go out to the movies or for a nice lunch; after a week, you can treat yourself to a massage or buy a few DVDs or books; after a month, you can splurge out on a shopping trip or that much-needed car service, or even plan a special weekend getaway. There are several other cost benefits to not smoking that you may not have considered, such as less money spent on medication for coughs, colds and other illnesses, as well as fewer trips to the doctor and dentist overall.
Strategies For Quitting Smoking
When it comes to quitting smoking, different things work for different people. There’s no one perfect process that will ensure you’ll be done with smoking for good, and you may find that you need to try several ways of quitting before discovering the most helpful method. The important thing is to consider all options, and if you’re unsure about one way, learn the most you can about it and be willing to give it a go. If you try to be as positive and open-minded as possible, you’re much more likely to be successful.
This method remains a mystery, for the most part; the definitive success rate of people who have permanently quit smoking due to hypnotherapy continues to be elusive. There has been considerable debate over how and if hypnotherapy actually works. It has been suggested that people who are more willing to submit to the hypnosis, for example those who actively wish to quit smoking, are more likely to find that hypnotherapy is successful for them.
The way that the process generally works is to put the subject into a trance-like state, wherein the hypnotherapist will then encourage them to associate smoking with unpleasant things in an attempt to eliminate the desire to smoke. A particularly popular technique, created by American psychiatrist Herbert Spiegel, is to convince the subject to focus on and reiterate three main ideas or mantras:
• That smoking poisons the body
• That you need your body to live
• That you should respect and protect your body
The smoker is taught to self-hypnotize in order to be reminded of these affirmations, every time they feel tempted to smoke
Studies that have been conducted examining the success of hypnotherapy in relation to quitting smoking have yielded mixed results. The placebo effect was questioned and often found to be a potentially disruptive factor.
A study that was carried out in 2008 revealed highly variable results, with some cases reporting an extremely high success rate, while in other cases the success rate was demonstrably low. In this situation, the lack of causation and continuity in results meant that researchers were unable to offer a conclusion as to whether hypnotherapy had a greater effect in comparison to other methods, or to no treatment at all.
2. Nicotine Replacement Therapy
Also known as NRT, nicotine replacement therapy is used to replace some of the nicotine obtained from cigarettes in the body, minus the harmful constituents found in tobacco smoke. This treatment can take a variety of forms, from patches and inhalers to gum, lozenges and tablets. The idea is to wean the body off the addictive nicotine cravings which result from smoking tobacco, thus allowing people who smoke to focus on other ways in which they can quit.
In this way, NRT is only intended to be successful as a short-term method of quitting, and it works best when combined with another technique, particularly one that addresses the behavioural attitudes and habits of smokers. Feelings of stress, boredom and other negative emotions, for example, often provoke people into smoking, so having the double-attack approach of NRT plus a coaching service or other form of medication ensures that smokers are covered in all aspects of their addiction.
Studies conducted on the success rate of NRT confirm this idea. In comparison to other methods of smoking cessation, one research experiment found that the patch was the most successful form of NRT, particularly when combined with a non-nicotinic medication, which raised the success rate from 16.4% to 35.5%. Furthermore, in a large-scale review of 3,000 subject studies, the results revealed that even simple quitting advice from a physician raised long-term quit rates from 7.9% to 10.2%.
One significant factor to keep in mind when considering NRT is that there are possible side effects, which vary depending on the form of nicotine intake. Patches may cause skin irritation, dizziness, headaches and/or muscle stiffness, while inhalers, nasal sprays and gum can result in nausea, mouth sores and cough and cold symptoms, as well as nasal and throat irritation. There’s no concrete evidence to suggest one form of NRT is more suitable over another, so if you’re uncertain over the options, it would be a good idea to consult your general practitioner or other health professional.
Prescription medicines are another option to consider, if you’ve found that other methods aren’t quite doing the trick. There are a range of types, so if you think you’d like to give them a go, it’s best to discuss your options with your doctor first, especially if you have any history of depression or mental illness. This way, you’ll be informed on the benefits, disadvantages and possible side effects of each medicine, and your doctor will have a much better idea of what will work for you. Some people do experience severe changes in their moods and behaviours, which can occur even after you’ve stopped taking the medicines, so it’s vital that you contact a doctor immediately if you feel any violent or aggressive impulses, or start to experience severe anxiety or panic attacks.
The most popular options are two medicines called Bupropion and Varenicline, both of which take the form of a tablet. Bupropion is a prescription anti-depressant that works to reduce nicotine withdrawal by acting on certain chemicals in the brain, but unlike NRT, Bupropion does not contain nicotine. Smokers should start their dosage, which is usually one or two 150 milligram tablets per day, one to two weeks before their quit day. According to Quit Victoria, doctors often recommend that smokers who wish to use Bupropion should do so alongside another method of smoking cessation, whether a nicotine patch or a short-acting form of NRT such as gum or lozenges. Often this two-pronged approach works better for people than using any one part alone.
Varenicline is the second prescription medicine, which works by interfering with nicotine receptors in the brain to lessen the pleasure that people feel from smoking, and again to reduce the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. The process of taking Varenicline is slightly more complex than that of Bupropion, in that the dosage and frequency of the tablets increases incrementally over the first eight days the medicine is taken, and then is doubled again in the second week. More definitive research needs to be conducted on how effective Varenicline is when taken in combination with NRT products, although studies have suggested that in doing so, side effects such as headaches and nausea are more likely to occur.
4. Cold Turkey vs. Weaning Off
Although many people have made the successful conversion from smoker to non-smoker, unfortunately the world has yet to discover one fail-proof approach to quitting smoking. The bottom line is that every individual is unique, and as it goes with everything else, different things work for different people. Some may find it difficult to stick to their guns when they try to quit cold turkey, while others may find this method preferable so as to definitively eliminate all possible temptation.
Studies have shown a similar rate of success for both methods. A review conducted by the United Kingdom Centre for Tobacco Control Studies examined ten different cases, wherein the purpose of each study was to get their participants to quit smoking, albeit in a variety of ways. These methods ranged from asking the subjects to reduce their smoking by fifty per cent over four weeks and then quit completely, to providing the subjects with face-to-face counselling and self-help information that would teach them how to avoid smoking when tempted. Across the ten studies, all participants were asked to choose, or were given, a quit day to work towards, whether this was a ongoing process or an abrupt finish. Lead reviewer Nicola Lindson revealed that in these structured circumstances, gradual reduction was just as successful as abrupt quitting.
Testimonials from current non-smokers who have successfully quit smoking further emphasize the incredible versatility of methods, and the way in which both weaning off slowly and going cold turkey have their individual benefits and disadvantages. The Harvard Medical School Health Publications website features a collection of personal anecdotes and helpful advice from people who discovered the role smoking played in their lives, and who were able to figure out how best to stop themselves from giving into their cravings. One woman, who had smoked for forty years, decided to begin by establishing and increasing no-smoking zones in her day-to-day life, such as in her car, in the bathroom, and while she was on the phone. For another woman who had previously smoked a pack a day, pride was what saved her when she decided to quit abruptly. She made a bet with a friend, was cheered on by friends and family, and cited her stubbornness as instrumental in her path to success. Another man found the gradual approach worked better for him; he promised himself each morning he wouldn’t have a smoke, making no effort to commit to the decision in the long run, and noted that his desire to smoke eventually diminished.
While you may find you need to try a few different methods before finding what works best for you, often a good way to begin is to establish a plan to keep you on track. Take the time to consider what kind of smoker you are – how often and how much you smoke, when your cravings strike, if certain emotions trigger the urge, so on and so forth. From there, you can figure out how best to adjust your home and workspace to accommodate your new smoke-free lifestyle. The following tips may be helpful in inspiring you to set up your own plan of attack:
• Set a quit date – do it as soon as you can, so you don’t have time to lose the motivation to quit
• Tell friends, family and co-workers – their support and encouragement will help you to stick to your goal
• Prepare for challenges and set-backs – don’t lose hope if it doesn’t work out the first time, the important thing is to keep trying
• Keep yourself busy – often people find that having their hands occupied, snacking on nuts, or sucking on a mint helps to relieve their cravings
• Address the cause of the problem – if you tend to smoke when you’re feeling stressed or upset, it’s worth rethinking how you could deal with these issues in a different way, so that you’re not tempted to reach for a cigarette
Emotional support, encouragement and external motivation are always significantly helpful in prompting people to reach their goals, and the same rule applies when it comes to quitting smoking. Whether you decide to set up a regular appointment with your general practitioner or you wish to seek guidance from another health professional, experiencing some form of coaching often greatly influences how successful you are, and how quickly you are able to quit.
For those who are a little apprehensive about reaching out initially, there are a range of helpful and friendly services that can provide tips, advice and information to help you get started. Quitline is a nationwide confidential telephone service that boasts a plethora of experienced counsellors, who can offer support, encouragement and resources for people who are trying to quit, or even for smokers who may not yet be ready to start trying. If you’re using the prescription medication Varenicline, a support program called My Time To Quit is available, which offers regular email or SMS tips to help you while quitting. Your GP can also assist you if you are experiencing personal issues as you attempt to quit smoking and require support from a psychologist, or other Allied Health professional.
Quitline also offers an effective, comprehensive online program called QuitCoach, which provides personalized advice to suit your individual habits and lifestyle. The service it provides is similar to that of a Quitline advisor; it begins by asking a series of questions to determine how best to structure your quitting plan, and then adjusts advice and information accordingly as your behaviour and attitude changes over time.
As the results of other quitting methods have also suggested, the QuitCoach program is most effective when paired with one of the aforementioned quitting aides, such as an NRT product or prescription medication.
One alternative to coaching you may not have considered is quitting smoking with a friend, partner or family member. The solidarity of a shared goal is a great motivator, as you can push each other to stay on track and tackle any challenges together as a team, as well as plan fun activities to keep yourselves busy and take your minds off of your cravings. When it comes to quitting smoking, having the support and encouragement of someone who personally understands your struggle is utterly invaluable.
The Benefits of Quitting
If you think that quitting smoking means countless improvements in your overall health and fitness, you’d be right – but it’s not just about your physical wellbeing. In this case, quality is just as important to quantity, and quitting smoking not only increases your chances of living longer, but also of living a more enjoyable life. The short-term and long-term benefits of quitting smoking are numerous, and once you’ve gotten over the hurdle of your cravings and the withdrawal systems, you’ll start to realize all the ways in which your mind, body and spirit genuinely feel better.
You may find it hard to believe, but the health benefits start on the very day you quit smoking. The longer it’s been since your last cigarette, the better and faster your body begins to recover from the effects of tobacco smoke.
- 20 minutes: Your heart rate decreases
- 12 hours: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops dramatically
- 2-12 weeks: Your circulation and lung function improves, making exercise easier
- 1 month: Skin appearance becomes much better as a result of improved skin perfusion
- 3-9 months: Coughing, wheezing and breathing problems decrease
- 1 year: The risk of coronary heart disease is halved, in comparison to that of a continuing smoker
- 10 years: The risk of lung disease is again halved, and your chances of developing cancers of the bladder, kidney and pancreas are greatly lessened
- 15 years: The risk of heart disease and death fall to approximately the same as a person who has never smoked
Along with decreasing your risk of developing the aforementioned serious and potentially fatal diseases, you will also vastly decrease your risk of suffering health conditions such as impotence, fertility problems, cataracts, psoriasis, gum disease, tooth loss and osteoporosis, among others.
It’s not hard to understand why the sooner you quit, the sooner your quality of life will start to improve. You will both look and feel fitter and healthier, and even smell better! You’ll also be saving money that would otherwise be spent on increasingly expensive cigarette packs, and you’ll likely find that your tastebuds also improve, so that everything you eat and drink tastes even more delicious.
The Final Word
We live in a modern world now, one where there are a range of products and resources readily available to help smokers curb their addictions, whether this is gradually or abruptly. If you truly want to quit smoking for good, however, one thing has always remained constant: the importance of willpower. In order to succeed, you need to exhibit a great deal of determination and even enthusiasm, as all other treatments are completely meaningless if you don’t actively want to quit. Once you strongly set your mind to the task, however, and constantly urge yourself on, you’ll find your self-motivated drive goes a long way towards achieving your goal for you.