If you smoke, stopping smoking may be difficult, but it can be done, and there are many ways to make quitting easier.
A person who tries to quit several times is more likely to successfully stop smoking for the long term than someone who has only tried once to quit. The more times you try, the more likely you are to eventually succeed.
Benefits of quitting
Your body starts repairing itself as soon as your last cigarette is stubbed out:
- Within just 20 minutes, your blood pressure and heart rate decrease.
- Within a few hours, your risk of having a stroke drops significantly by about 40%.
- Within 8 hours, the levels of carbon monoxide in your blood decrease while levels of oxygen increase.
- After one day, your risk of a heart attack decreases.
- Within a few weeks, your smoker's cough (that isn't due to chronic lung damage) should improve.
- You will feel less tired and experience less shortness of breath while exercising.
- After one year, you are half as likely to develop heart disease as a smoker is. You will notice that your overall energy levels increase – you feel better!
- After 10 years, your risk of developing lung cancer decreases by almost half.
- Smokers who have illnesses and who quit smoking recover better and live longer than those who don't quit.
Other benefits of quitting smoking include being able to taste and smell food better, having better smelling breath, having younger-looking skin, and not smelling smoke on your clothes and in your home.
Currently, 16% of Canadians (about 4.6 million people) smoke cigarettes. 12% of these smokers are daily smokers, averaging 15 cigarettes per day. More men than women (18% versus 14%) smoke, and 20% of young adults between the ages of 20 and 24 smoke.
Health effects of smoking
About 40,000 Canadians die annually from tobacco use - mainly from lung cancer, heart disease, and lung disease. This makes up more deaths than alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, murder, HIV, and motor vehicle accidents combined. On average, a smoker will live 8 years less than a non-smoker.
Smoking causes an increased risk of stroke, is responsible for 85% of all lung cancers and 85% of cases of chronic obstructive lung disease, and increases the risk of a number of other cancers and medical disorders.
Secondhand smoke also increases the risk of cancers, heart disease, and lung disease. Secondhand smoke or smoking while pregnant can lead to children with low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and serious childhood respiratory diseases, including childhood asthma.
Stages of quitting
It takes practice and time to stop smoking, but it can be done, and the benefits of quitting are worth the effort.
If you are trying to quit, you will likely shift between several stages of quitting, including:
- not thinking about quitting
- starting to think about quitting
- preparing to quit
- attempting to quit (you might try 3 or 4 times – keep trying!)
- successfully quitting for good
During the process, you may experience symptoms of withdrawal, such as an increase in your appetite; feeling irritable, restless, mildly depressed, or anxious; having difficulty concentrating and falling asleep; and coughing frequently. Keep in mind that your symptoms will gradually subside after 3 or 4 days, and the more times you attempt to quit, the more you will know what to expect during the first few days of quitting.
Also, there are medications that may help you manage your withdrawal symptoms. Talk to your doctor about these medications if withdrawal symptoms are a concern or become bothersome to you.
Strategies for quitting
There are many ways to quit smoking, from the "cold turkey" method to a system where you gradually taper off smoking. Each person is unique and different strategies work for different people. However, researchers know that the most effective quitting strategies are ones that address both the physical and psychological aspects of nicotine dependence. Therefore, using strategies to help with the physical dependence (e.g., smoking cessation medications) as well as the psychological dependence (e.g., support groups or counselling) will improve your chances of quitting for good.
Smoking cessation medications
In Canada, 3 types of medications are widely available and proven to help you stop smoking. These include nicotine replacement (patch, gum, inhaler, or lozenge), bupropion*, and varenicline. Research shows that, when used as directed and combined with either support groups or counselling, these medications can increase your chance of success.
Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about which medications may be appropriate for you. These medications are usually only needed for about 3 months.
Support groups and counselling
Group programs usually involve meeting small groups of people who are all trying to quit smoking. Group support programs are one of the most successful methods for quitting smoking. Some group programs are led by qualified health professionals and tend to be more effective. Contact your local public health department to find out which smoking cessation groups are active in your community.
To ensure that the program is based on sound scientific and medical recommendations, check that the program is offered or distributed by a credible organization such as a national or provincial voluntary health agency, public health department, community health centre, hospital, or licensed health care provider.
Individual counselling programs range from brief advice and counselling offered by a health care professional to intensive individual counselling available through specialty clinics for smoking cessation. Specialty clinics are not available everywhere, but are especially helpful for certain smokers. Talk to your doctor about whether individual counselling is an appropriate option for you. Individual counselling support is also offered through telephone help lines.
Tips for quitting
Quitting smoking may be hard, but whether you're a teen or adult smoker, it can be done!
Here are some tips that will help make quitting easier:
- Develop an action plan. Writing down a specific plan will help you to think more carefully about what you need to do and how you will do it. Try the following:
- Make a list of the important benefits of quitting and read it over before, during, and after you quit.
- List the situations (when and where) in which you smoke and the reasons why you smoke – this will help you identify what "triggers" you to light up.
- List fun and healthy activities to replace smoking, and be ready to do these when you feel the urge to smoke.
- Avoid smoking triggers. Starting on the day you quit, try to remove or avoid your smoking triggers. For example, if you associate coffee with smoking, try drinking tea or water instead. If you usually smoke at parties, find other ways to socialize with friends until you feel comfortable and confident about facing these situations.
- Don't carry matches, a lighter, or cigarettes.
- Each day, delay lighting your first cigarette by one hour. After the first cigarette, when you have your next craving to smoke, delay for another 15 or 30 minutes. By delaying each cigarette, you take control.
- Get moving! Exercise is a great way to relax and feel good, instead of smoking. As you exercise, with each deep breath you take, you can start to repair some of the damage done to your body from smoking.
- Enlist the help of a close friend or family member, your doctor, someone you know and respect who has recently quit, or someone who wants to quit smoking with you.
For information and help close to where you live, contact your local public health department or community health centre, or consult your doctor, pharmacist, or other health care professional. Some helpful web sites include www.smoke-free.ca and www.stopsmokingcenter.net.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.