By Scott Eisman
MD, Scripps Memorial
Did you know that each cigarette smoked shortens a life by 14 minutes, which equates to a four-hour loss of life per pack! Smoking is also the leading cause of blindness. Smokers also have a decreased sense of smell. Both passive and active smokers are at a greater risk of developing chest infections, and active smokers are at much greater risk of developing cancer of the throat and lungs.
November is the time for smokers to quit or seek assistance with smoking cessation by joining the Great American Smokeout on Thursday Nov. 19.
In America, 46 million people light up a cigarette on a regular basis, but many of them are also trying to quit. And for good reason. According to the 2004 Surgeon General’s Report, The Health Consequences of Smoking, eliminating smoking can greatly reduce the occurrence of coronary heart disease and other forms of cardiovascular disease. In addition, quitting, also known as smoking cessation is important in order to manage contributors to heart attack and other disorders, such as arteriosclerosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD.
Some may ask, “If I quit smoking, will my body ever totally heal from it?” The answers are yes and no, depending on your own circumstances.
When you quit smoking, the inflammation in your airways does go down, and the lungs get better overtime. Breathing gets easier, although those who have recently stopped smoking may notice that they cough more. That is the lungs’ way of cleaning themselves out!
If you’ve been smoking a long time and have developed COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis or emphysema, the lungs never totally heal. Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation of the airway. Some of that type of inflammation can be reversed, but if the inflammation has led to scarring, it cannot be fully reversed. Emphysema is a chronic respiratory disease where there is over-inflation of the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs, which causes a decrease in lung function, and often, breathlessness.
When it comes to other smoking-related diseases, it is directly related to the total number of cigarettes smoked in a lifetime, measured in “pack-years.” Pack-years are measured by the average number of packs per day multiplied by the number of years they’ve smoked. The greater the pack-years, the greater the risk. When pack-years reach into several decades, the risk of lung cancer, as an example, never goes back down to the risk of a non-smoker.
Tips on how to be successful at quitting smoking
Setting a goal, a “quit date” and quitting completely on that day is best. In order to prepare for that day, identify the times that you normally light up a cigarette. Keep a log of those times, such when you are out at night with friends, when you are bored, when you are driving, etc. In your diary, record the times that you do have a cigarette and what you are doing at that time, to reveal trends in your behavior.
Make a plan about what you will do instead of smoking at those times when you are most likely to smoke. For example, drink tea instead of coffee — tea may not trigger the desire for a cigarette. Remove ashtrays and cigarettes from your car. Consume pretzels or hard candies if the desire to smoke is present. Maybe even pretend to smoke by using a straw!
Bringing your family and friends into your plan is important because they can act as your motivators. Just being aware of your goals and plans can be helpful.
Before your quit date, start reducing your cigarette use, including decreasing the number and strength of the cigarettes. Get rid of all of your cigarettes just before the quit date and clean out anything that smells like smoke, such as clothes and furniture. Avoiding smoke-filled settings and situations that will give you the urge to smoke will help to allay your desire to smoke. Exercising when you have the urge to light up is a healthy option too.
Enrolling in a smoking cessation program at a nearby hospital, community center, as well as at your work site, if your employer offers it, is a good way to quit and be in a group setting that provides lots of support.
Talking to your physician for advice is equally important, whether you are exploring possible prescription medications to help you quit, and to see if they are the safest choice for you. Your physicians can also be a strong supporter of your quit plan. Are nicotine patches your best choice, chewing nicotine gum or the use of sprays best for you? These are all things you can explore with your physician.
Most important of all is not to get discouraged. If you are not able to quit smoking the first time you try, seek out more resources, quit with a buddy and continue to try and stop the nicotine addiction. Your lung health and longevity depends on your breaking the cycle of addition. Seek out whomever and whatever resources you can by trying new ways to stop smoking.
By Scott Eisman