Smoking cigarettes is harmful to almost every organ in the body. It is the main cause of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is often the cause of coronary heart disease, stroke and many other diseases. Every year, millions of deaths worldwide can be attributed to tobacco use. With each cigarette, the risk of developing heart disease or lung cancer increases. Nicotine is the ingredient in cigarettes that causes addiction. Smoking is physically addictive and can also become socially addictive, as many people link smoking with social activities, making it a difficult addiction to overcome.
Smoking cessation is the process of stopping smoking and the use of tobacco products. Quitting smoking has many advantages including improved circulation, healthy blood pressure levels, easier breathing, and increased sense of smell and taste. Giving up tobacco can help individuals live longer, healthier lives and the risk of developing cancer decreases with each smoke-free year. Quitting smoking often requires multiple attempts. A combination of counseling, medication and the support of others, is often effective in helping individuals quit smoking.
How Smoking Affects Health
Every cigarette or cigar smoked causes damage to the body. Smokers spend more time in the hospital and more time in the intensive care units than non-smokers. Smokers double the risk of dying earlier than a non-smoker. Smoking can cause heart disease and respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia. Other conditions that may develop as a result of smoking cigarettes include:
- Peptic and duodenal ulcers
- Chronic lung disease
- Gum disease
- Alzheimer's disease
- Lung cancer
- Cancer of the mouth, esophagus, larynx or pharynx
- Cancer of the bladder, kidney, pancreas, stomach, cervix or bowel
In addition to being harmful, secondhand smoke can be harmful to others. Secondhand smoke produces the same effects as a light smoker and may cause respiratory diseases, cancer, heart disease, lung cancer and other illnesses. Secondhand smoke is especially harmful to infants.
Smoking Cessation Strategies
It is often difficult to quit smoking because the body craves nicotine, the addicting component of cigarettes. Almost immediately after inhalation, the body responds to the nicotine by feeling relaxed, calmer, and happier. In the early stages of quitting smoking, people may experience intense cravings for cigarettes, irritability, anxiety, and other unpleasant symptoms. These are the withdrawal symptoms of cigarettes. Since quitting smoking is often difficult, especially during the first few weeks, it is often helpful to create a customized plan for quitting. In addition to focusing on the health benefits of quitting smoking, the following strategies may help people to quit:
- Pick a specific quit date
- Let others know you are quitting
- Remove any reminders of smoking from the home or car
- Identify smoking triggers
- Join a support group
- Avoiding situations that are normally associated with smoking
While trying to quit, people may experience cravings and temporary side-effects such as weight gain, irritability, and anxiety. Often, people try to quit several times before they succeed.
Medication to Help Quit Smoking
Medication is sometimes used to help with the quitting process. Current over-the-counter nicotine replacement products include nicotine gum, patches and lozenges. Nicotine replacement products act as an alternative source of nicotine when cigarette use is stopped. There are also other types of medications available that provide additional help to quit smoking.
Prescribed Nicotine Medication
There are prescription medications available that contain nicotine and help smokers overcome their addiction. They are often available as inhalers and nasal sprays. These treatments work by gradually decreasing the dependence on nicotine.
Non-Nicotine Prescription Medication
There are several smoking-cessation medications that do not contain nicotine. Varenicline, also known as Chantix®, helps with withdrawal and reduces the effects of pleasurable smoking. It works by attaching to the same receptors in the brain as nicotine, stimulating the receptors and blocking nicotine's ability to attach. Bupropion hydrocloride is a depression medication which has been found effective in helping people to quit smoking.
The most successful quitting programs often use a combination of medication and group or behavioral counseling. Quitting smoking is a process that takes time, however the positive effects on a person's health are immeasurable.
- National Institutes of Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
- U.S. National Library of Medicine
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