Was your New Year’s resolution to be tobacco-free in 2015? In the modern era, this isn’t just about quitting smoking but could also include chewing tobacco or e-cigarettes. So much has changed in our culture surrounding smoking and tobacco that it is hard to disseminate the truth from fiction. Regardless of how you’re using it, tobacco can have a number of harmful effects on the body.
Many smokers believe that by transitioning to a smokeless tobacco product, they have a better chance of quitting altogether. While this is partially true, it is extremely important to understand the risks, implications, and challenges involved. Let’s take a closer look at some studies that have tackled these topics.
In November of 2014, the University of West Virginia began a study on the use of tobacco dip and how it helps or harms individuals while they quit smoking. Smoke-free tobacco products, including dip as well as e-cigarettes which we will discuss at length in another section, are marketed to smokers who are looking to break their addiction to smoking. The manufacturers suggest that these products allow users to cut back on the negative effects of tobacco while still being able to consume it in a safer way. However, are these just marketing ploys to convince addicted people to buy more tobacco products?
The researchers want to discover whether or not smokers use these products to lessen their use of tobacco or if they are supplementing their addiction. While the study focuses on tobacco chew, it will also review smokeless tobacco novelty products such as lozenges. If the results show that more people are using these smokeless products in addition to smoking it may demonstrate that they are causing more harm than good as advertised. We’ll follow up on the blog once results are published.
In December, a report published by Cochrane review indicated that e-cigarettes may be a helpful tool in smoking cessation, but not without some risks. It appears that people who use e-cigs can reduce and even stop their smoking habits. The report used information from several studies that looked at whether or not smokers who used e-cigs reduced their intake of tobacco or use of traditional cigarettes. In the studies, around 9% of the participants who used e-cigs containing nicotine were able to reduce or quit their smoking habit. Only 4% of those who used a placebo saw a significant change.
These numbers seem, and are, low but there is some hope that the right use of e-cigs can help individuals live a more tobacco-free life. Many of the existing treatments for smoking cessation also include the use of products that deliver nicotine in a smokeless fashion such as patches or gum. E-cigarettes may have similar value in the market place.
Smoking and men
Recent research demonstrates that smoking causes a higher risk of cancer in men especially. According to a study published by Upsala University in December, there is a connection between smoking and the loss of the Y chromosome in blood cells. The loss of this chromosome has been linked to cancer and, because only men carry this trait, they are at a much higher risk for developing the disease.
According to the report:
“The association between smoking and loss of the Y chromosome was dose dependent, i.e. loss of the Y chromosome was more common in heavy smokers compared to moderate smokers. In addition, the association was only valid for men who were current smokers. Men who had been smoking previously, but quit, showed the same frequency of cells with loss of the Y chromosome, as men who had never smoked.”
The study demonstrated this correlation and researchers believe that reducing the dependence on nicotine and transitioning to a tobacco-free life could make a huge difference in the risk of cancer in men.
Quitting more difficult for heavy drinkers
Almost everybody knows someone who swears they only smoke when they’re drinking. The problem is these people are also likely to be heavy drinkers so their smoking isn’t reduced by a high enough factor to make a difference in their health. And, adding excessive alcohol consumption to the equation creates more possible health issues.
In November of 2014, the Yale Cancer Center released a report linking alcohol consumption with smoking. The information indicated that heavy drinkers have a much harder time quitting than those who don’t drink. They learned that around 20% of the phone calls made to counseling hotlines for smokers came from individuals who were also hazardous drinkers.
These quit-lines discovered if they offered counseling that treated the drinking and the smoking equally the callers had more success in quitting either or both addictions. They suggest that hotlines provide additional training for their counselors to help not only with smoking cessation but also alcohol counseling.
Can money make a difference?
With all of this information about nicotine and all the ways someone can trend toward a tobacco-free lifestyle, what are the best ways to quit smoking? While men are at a higher risk to develop cancer, there is no evidence that smoking is any better for women. Heavy drinkers may have more issues as well, but what about everyone else? Are these smokeless products the only way out?
Another study published in November by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston indicates that money may be one answer. Among individuals in communities with economic disadvantages, smokers had more success quitting if they were given access to small financial incentives. Clinics in a Dallas neighborhood offered gift cards to individuals who were able to reduce or quit their tobacco intake. Researchers noted that:
“Specifically, participants in the intervention group had the opportunity to earn $20 in gift cards for abstinence on the quit date, and this amount increased by $5 each week for continued abstinence up to $40. Thus, participants could earn up to $150 in gift cards over four weeks. Progress was monitored for 12 weeks following the quit date.”
They observed that abstinence rates were higher for these individuals following the quit date. Eight weeks after the incentives were discontinued 33% of the participants remained tobacco-free.
Do you want to be tobacco-free in 2015?
Image by Matt Trostle via Flickr