November 19th is the Great American Smoke-out
No matter what age you are, quitting smoking or vowing to never start is one of the best things you can do for your health. My patients have certainly heard this from me many times. I know this is much easier said than done however.
If you need some motivation, November 19 is designated as the Great American Smoke-Out sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Fittingly, November is also designated as Lung Cancer Awareness month and COPD Awareness month. Most people now know that smoking is associated with a higher risk of both of those diseases. It might not be as well-known that smoking is also associated with increased risk for a number of other cancers, as well as coronary artery disease and peripheral arterial disease. In short, smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States.
On the converse side, the benefits of quitting smoking include lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, improved circulation, improved lung function, decreased coughing and shortness of breath. Quitting smoking can add up to 10 years to your life. Other benefits include improved sense of taste and smell, not to mention the cost savings from the ever-increasing expense of cigarettes.
Most people who smoke started when they were teenagers. Therefore, it is important that we target that age group to avoid smoking all together. The things that influence our teenagers include friends or parents smoking, the aggressive marketing of the tobacco industry and the newer fashionable vaping devices. Studies show that the younger you are when you begin to smoke, the more likely you are to become addicted to nicotine. Nine out of 10 adult who smoke started before age 18, and 3 out of 4 high school students who smoke will become adults who smoke.
The addictive agent in smoking is nicotine. When taken in small amounts it causes pleasant feelings by flooding the brain with a chemical called dopamine, and also gives a bit of an adrenaline rush. As this feeling wears off the user might start to feel irritated and edgy, and this is what leads them to want to smoke again. Over time the body adapts to nicotine and users develop a tolerance, so will need to increase their usage to keep the level of nicotine within a comfortable range. Because of this, people can suffer physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms if they stop smoking. It’s important to understand that is why it is so difficult for people to quit even when they know it is unhealthy. For this reason, we should all be supportive of friends and family who are on this journey and encourage them when they have setbacks.
Because we are all different, it is important to make a plan to quit that will work for you. You should set a date that you plan to quit and then make a game plan. There are prescription medicines and nicotine replacement therapy that can be helpful. The prescription medicines approved for smoking cessation include varenicline and bupropion. These work in different ways and have various side effects which you should discuss with your physician to decide what might be appropriate for you. There are other off- label medicines that have been successful in helping with smoking cessation as well.
Some have also found Acupuncture and hypnosis helpful. Others might choose to gradually reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke or to quit cold turkey without any medications. It is a good idea to find supportive friends or family in your endeavor. It also may be helpful to talk to your insurance company about any assistance they might cover.
Some have thought that using E -cigarettes is a good substitute for cigarettes or may be helpful to quit smoking. E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, but they do contain nicotine and other substances that are potentially harmful so in general these are not a good idea to turn to in place of smoking cigarettes.
For more information and help:
Minnesota helpline 1-800-Quit-Now
American Cancer Society – cancer.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – cdc.gov/tobacco
Dr. Bridget Dewey
Gateway Family Health Clinic