Quit Smoking | Why and How?

Mikaela Millan

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October 22, 2022
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Smoking is bad for your health. It negatively affects almost all the organs in your body and can lead to serious health conditions down the line. 

Currently, there are more than one billion smokers1 in the world, 37% of men and 8% of women. Low- and middle-income countries2 comprise more than 80% of the world’s smokers. Amongst those aged 13–15, 24 million are estimated to smoke while 13 million use smokeless tobacco products. 

Clearly, smoking is a persistent and worrying problem. But, just how bad is smoking for your respiratory health and health in general? And how can you successfully quit this detrimental habit? Read on to learn more. 

Smoking Facts

  • Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death.3 
  • The number of people who have died from tobacco use has jumped from 100 million in the 20th century to one billion people in the 21st century. 4
  • In the U.S., smoking causes 480,000 deaths. This means one in five people die from tobacco use.
  • Smoking causes more deaths each year than any of these other causes combined:
    • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
    • Illegal drug use
    • Alcohol use
    • Motor vehicle injuries
    • Firearm-related injuries
  • 90% of all lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking.
  • The risk of death increases with cigarette smoking in both men and women. 

These numbers are truly alarming. Smoking has also been found to dramatically increase the risk of death if you have an underlying disease. Despite the evident health risks associated with smoking, many people still smoke.  Let’s look at how exactly smoking affects the body.

Smoking’s Effects on the Body

Smoking negatively affects almost every organ in the body. It not only impairs function but also tears down the body’s defenses and makes you more susceptible to a host of diseases. Here are just some of the ways smoking is detrimental to your health. 

Cardiovascular Disease

Smoking has been found to cause stroke and coronary heart disease5. Even if you smoke less than five cigarettes a day, you may already develop early signs of cardiovascular disease. Smoking damages blood vessels by causing them to thicken. When this happens, the passageway where blood flows becomes narrow. This makes your heart beat faster and causes an increase in blood pressure. These conditions are conducive for blood clots to form. If a clot blocks blood flow to your brain or if a vessel in the brain bursts due to the blockage, a stroke can occur. 

Respiratory Disease

Smoking damages the airways and the lining of your lungs6. This leads to conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and bronchitis. Death from COPD is 12 to 13 times more likely in smokers compared to non-smokers. Smoking can trigger or worsen asthma attacks. Finally, lung cancer is most commonly caused by smoking.7

Cancer

Smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in your body.8 It can affect your bladder, blood, cervix, colon and rectum, esophagus, kidneys, liver, larynx, pancreas, stomach, and, of course, your lungs. One out of every three cancer deaths in the U.S. could be prevented if only nobody smoked. 

Other Health Risks

Smoking can negatively affect a person’s reproductive status.9 Smokers find it more difficult to conceive. The risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight, stillbirth, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and ectopic pregnancy also increases with smoking. Even if only the male parent smokes, there is an increased risk of birth defects and miscarriage. Male smokers can have reduced fertility and erectile dysfunction.10

Smoking also negatively impacts other organ systems11. Female smokers who are past their child-bearing years have been found to have weaker bones more prone to fractures than non-smokers. Tobacco affects tooth and gum health, leading to tooth loss. You are also more likely to develop cataracts if you smoke. If you have type 2 diabetes, smoking can make this condition more difficult to control or lead to you developing it in the first place: smokers are 30–40% more likely to develop diabetes. Lastly, smoking can cause rheumatoid arthritis.

Evidently, smoking has deleterious effects on the body. It causes and worsens disease and smoking also dramatically increases the likelihood of death.

Knowing these health risks, it might be time to consider quitting smoking. What happens to your body when you choose to quit?

Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that people see numerous health benefits once they choose to quit.12 Over time, positive changes in the body build up and continue.

Time After QuittingHealth Benefits
MinutesHeart rate drops
24 hoursNicotine level in the blood drops to zero
Several daysCarbon monoxide level in the blood drops to that of a non-smoker
1 to 12 monthsCoughing and shortness of breath decrease
1 to 2 yearsRisk of heart attack drops sharply
3 to 6 yearsAdded risk of coronary heart disease drops by half
5 to 10 yearsAdded risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, and larynx drop by half

10 years
Added risk of lung cancer drops by half after 10-15 years

Risk of cancers of the bladder, esophagus, and kidney decreases
15 yearsRisk of coronary heart disease drops close to that of non-smoker
20 yearsRisk of cancers of the mouth, throat, and larynx drops to close to non-smoker

Risk of pancreatic cancer drops close to non-smoker

Added risk of cervical cancer drops by half

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention13

The best decision you can make for your health is to quit smoking. Regardless of age or how long you have been smoking, you will be able to enjoy these health benefits14 once you decide to quit the habit:

  • Improved health status and enhanced quality of life
  • Reduced risk of premature death and an increase in life expectancy of as much as 10 years
  • Reduces the risk of poor reproductive health outcomes, cardiovascular disease, COPD, and cancer
  • Benefits people with coronary artery disease and COPD
  • Improves the health of pregnant women and their babies
  • Economic benefits to people who smoke, healthcare systems, and society

Approach to Quitting Smoking

Two people talking to a doctor

Although most smokers know that smoking is bad for their health, actually quitting the habit is not as easy. Some people may have tried to quit before but were not successful for a number of reasons. 

Fortunately, there are numerous resources available to help you successfully ditch the habit. The American Lung Association15 has the following suggestions to help set you up for success:

  • Know Your “Why?”
    • Understanding why you want to quit is an important initial step. It will be your motivation as you go through the process. Take time to reflect and really think about your reasons for quitting.
    • This reason can be as grand and as abstract as wanting to see your potential grandkids grow up or as specific and concrete as wanting rid of the yellow staining on your fingers.
  • Talk to a Doctor
    • Your physician can be your partner through this journey. They can be a helpful resource to not only educate you on smoking cessation, but also discuss medications that may increase your chances of success. 
    • They can also put you in touch with local resources to support you through the process.
  • Get Help

When building a new habit (or breaking old ones), your mindset matters. Understanding your motivations and tempering expectations will definitely help keep you on track as you go through the process of quitting smoking.

How to Quit Smoking

Any process that requires change can wear you down. Tobacco cravings or the urge to smoke can be strong and difficult to resist. 

Thankfully, these urges will probably pass in 5-10 minutes even if you choose not to give in. Everytime you deny the temptation, you take one step towards better health.

 Here are some tips to curb cravings and quit smoking for good16:

1. Nicotine Replacement Therapy
17

There are numerous options to work around cigarette smoking. Nicotine replacements may come in the form of nasal sprays, inhalers, patches, gums, lozenges, and even certain medications. Consult your doctor to determine the best replacement for you.

2. Avoid Triggers18

The urge to smoke can be triggered by certain places, situations, and stressors. It is important to identify your triggers and come up with a plan to avoid them or work through them. By doing this, you are effectively modifying your environment to increase your chances of success.

Psychotherapies19, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness, can help deal with triggers and help with your smoke-free journey.

3. Delay Cravings20

Give yourself 10 minutes to let the tobacco urges pass. Distracting yourself by taking a walk in a smoke-free zone or engaging in another task may help curb the urge to smoke. 

4. Oral Stimulation

Instead of smoking, chew on gum or suck on hard candies. You can also opt for healthier alternatives like carrots, nuts, or sunflower seeds, or other crunchy food. Additionally, toothpicks and cinnamon sticks can be brought to your mouth and chewed on for a similar overall movement to smoking21.

5. “Just one” Is a Joke

You are unlikely to ever smoke “just one” cigarette. Avoid giving in to the tobacco urges as one stick is likely to lead to more.

6. Exercise

Curb tobacco cravings by engaging in exercise. This can mean taking a walk, going up and down stairs, doing chores, and other physical activities. 

This will not only benefit your body physically, but also energize you mentally and emotionally, putting you in a better headspace to fight smoking urges. 

Aerobic exercise is particularly effective at curbing craving if you are anxious22 and/or are using nicotine lozenges.23 

7. Relaxation Techniques24

Stress can be a trigger to smoke. In these instances, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, massage, and listening to calming music can help you relax and stave off urges. 

8. Social Support25

Lean on family, friends, and online support groups whenever the journey of quitting gets difficult. Surrounding yourself with supportive and like-minded individuals can help take the edge off quitting and even give you a much needed motivation boost. 

9. Remember Your “Why”

Write down or reflect on why you want to quit in the first place. Some of these reasons may include:

  • Wanting to feel better
  • Getting healthier
  • Protecting your loved ones’ health from second-hand smoke
  • Saving money

Quitting smoking can be a long and difficult journey. However, it is worth keeping in mind that each urge resisted is a vote for a healthier you. Hopefully the information you learned today can not only put you in the right mindset, but also give you practical tips on how to start and eventually succeed in quitting the habit. 

Conclusion

Smoking is detrimental to your health. It negatively affects almost every organ in your body and greatly increases your risk for other diseases and even death. While quitting smoking may not be easy, coming into the process armed with the proper mindset can help achieve your goal. Remember to be consistent; the little steps you take every day will eventually add up in the long run. 

References
  1. World Health Organization. (2021). WHO global report on trends in prevalence of tobacco use 2000-2025, fourth edition. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240039322[]
  2. World Health Organization. (2020). WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic 2019: Offer help to quit tobacco use. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241516204[]
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/index.htm[]
  4. Eriksen, M. & Mackay, J. (Eds.). (2015). The Tobacco Atlas. (5th Ed). Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society[]
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/index.htm#cardio[]
  6. Centers for Disease Control. (2010). How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: What It Means to You. Centers for Disease Control. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/2010/consumer_booklet/index.htm[]
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/index.htm[]
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/index.htm[]
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/index.htm[]
  10. Surgeon General, & Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). 2014 Surgeon General’s Report: The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/sgr/50th-anniversary/index.htm[]
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/index.htm[]
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Benefits of Quitting. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/quit_smoking/how_to_quit/benefits/index.htm[]
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Benefits of Quitting. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/quit_smoking/how_to_quit/benefits/index.htm[]
  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Benefits of Quitting. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/quit_smoking/how_to_quit/benefits/index.htm[]
  15. American Lung Association. (2020). How to Quit Smoking. American Lung Association. https://www.lung.org/quit-smoking/i-want-to-quit/how-to-quit-smoking[]
  16. Mayo Clinic. (2022). Quit Smoking. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/quit-smoking/in-depth/nicotine-craving/art-20045454[]
  17. Krist, A. H., Davidson, K. W., Mangione, C. M., Barry, M. J., Cabana, M., Caughey, A. B., Donahue, K., Doubeni, C. A., Epling, J. W., Kubik, M., Ogedegbe, G., Pbert, L., Silverstein, M., Simon, M. A., Tseng, C., & Wong, J. B. (2021). Interventions for tobacco smoking cessation in adults, including pregnant persons: US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. JAMA, 325(3), 265. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.25019[]
  18. Know your triggers. (n.d.). Smokefree. https://smokefree.gov/challenges-when-quitting/cravings-triggers/know-your-triggers[]
  19. Vinci, C. (2020). Cognitive Behavioral and Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Smoking Cessation: a Review of the Recent Literature. Current Oncology Reports, 22.  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11912-020-00915-w[]
  20. How to manage cravings. (n.d.). Smokefree. https://smokefree.gov/challenges-when-quitting/cravings-triggers/how-manage-cravings[]
  21. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Tips For Quitting – Find safe substitutes for cigarettes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/quit-smoking/quit-smoking-medications/tips-for-quitting/index.html#safe-substitutes-for-cigarettes[]
  22. Smits, J. A., Zvolensky, M. J., Davis, M. L., Rosenfield, D., Marcus, B. H., Church, T. S., Powers, M. B., Frierson, G. M., Otto, M. W., Hopkins, L. B., Brown, R. A., & Baird, S. O. (2016). The Efficacy of Vigorous-Intensity Exercise as an Aid to Smoking Cessation in Adults With High Anxiety Sensitivity: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Psychosomatic medicine, 78(3), 354–364. https://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.00000000000002649[]
  23. Tritter, A., Fitzgeorge, L. & Prapavessis, H. (2015). The effect of acute exercise on cigarette cravings while using a nicotine lozenge. Psychopharmacology, 232, 2531–2539. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-015-3887-0[]
  24. Jeffries, E. R., Zvolensky, M. J., & Buckner, J. D. (2020) The Acute Impact of Hatha Yoga on Craving Among Smokers Attempting to Reduce or Quit. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 22(3), 446–451, https://doi.org/10.1093/ntr/nty263[]
  25. Ask For Help. (n.d.). Smokefree. https://smokefree.gov/quit-smoking/getting-started/ask-for-help[]

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