By now, it is common knowledge that smoking is no good for your health. In addition to causing lung, mouth, throat, and esophageal cancer, smoking has been pinpointed as a risk factor for a variety of other diseases and conditions, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Respiratory disease
- Low birthweight babies in mothers who smoke and higher infant mortality
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type 2 diabetes
Smoking makes Type 1 diabetes more difficult to control, makes getting (and staying) pregnant more difficult, and is a key risk factor for obesity.
And finally, there is death. A large-scale study of adult smokers over four years in Australia found that as many as two out of three smokers in the study died from smoking.
Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do for your health and wellness, with immediate results:
- Within 20 minutes of your last cigarette: Your heart rate slows
- Within one hour: Carbon monoxide, a toxic gas that is a by-product of smoking, drops to normal levels in your blood
- Within two weeks to three months: Your risk of heart attack begins to drop
- Within nine months: Your lungs begin to function properly, reducing the chance of lung infections and illness
- Within one year: Your risk of heart disease plunges to just half that of a smoker’s
- Within five years: Your risk of stroke is the same as a person who has never smoked
- Within ten years: Your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreas decreases dramatically, and your chance of dying from lung cancer is half that of a smoker’s
- Within 15 years: Your risk of heart disease is the same as that of a non-smoker
With these immediate and long-term health benefits it is clear to see that quitting smoking is in your best interest, but it is also one of the hardest habits to change. So how do you make sure that your quitting will be successful?
First, understand that most smokers will go through what is known as The Six Stages of Change. These stages include:
- Precontemplation: Not even considering quitting.
- Contemplation: Thinking about it but not committed.
- Determination/Preparation: The decision to quit is made, and you reflect on what has helped in the past and what made it harder.
- Action: This is when the quitting actually happens.
- Maintenance, relapse, recycle: This stage acknowledges that there may be times of relapse or faltering. This does not mean change has failed but that the stages must be re-entered with renewed commitment.
- Termination: At this final stage, the habit is completely changed. There is no chance of relapse.
In this popular Evans Health Lab video, Dr. Mike Evans breaks down these six stages and adds other helpful strategies, including identifying what needs to change, why you are making the change, and what supports you need in place to help you to be successful. The American Lung Association has an excellent site with online support, including live chats with a counselor, plus resources to find local support in your community.
For those who want to quit but don’t feel like they can do it alone, there is new evidence that the medication varenicline not only helped smokers to quit but also helped them to remain so over the course of a year. This can be very helpful for those who feel like the “cold turkey” method won’t work.
Nicotine patches and gum are also excellent over-the-counter supports for smokers who want to ease withdrawal symptoms.
Developing a plan for quitting is probably the best thing you can do to guarantee your success.
In The Six Stages of Change, the preparation stage is when the planning happens. In this stage, you might locate support resources. You may make a list of all of the reasons why you think quitting smoking is the right thing to do.
You might also take some time to think about what other changes you need to make to successfully quit smoking. You may not realize just how much time smoking takes until you stop. Planning for positive, productive activities during the times when you would normally smoke is imperative. For example, if you normally take a smoke break at work mid-morning, take that break anyway, but use that time to go for a walk around the block outside. You are still outside, you are still taking a break, but you have not smoked.
Think about all of the times, activities, places, and people you associate with smoking. You will need to consider making temporary changes to these things in order to support your goal of quitting smoking. If you have formerly smoked inside your home but are quitting, it is important to let people know that you have made this change and to enforce it. It can be very difficult to make these lifestyle changes, but doing so will give you a better chance at success.
Finally, perhaps the most important part about developing a plan to quit is understanding that you can do it. Maybe you tried in the past and were not able to maintain. Maybe it seems too daunting, or maybe you feel like you are too old to quit and it won’t make any difference.
It may be a difficult task, but you are up to the job and able to complete it.
You know in your heart and mind that quitting smoking is an important and valuable gift to give to yourself and your loved ones, and it is important to keep that focus when you are faced with inevitable moments of temptations. By having a plan in place and coming up with a powerful motivation for quitting, you can help yourself be successful.
And know that even if you relapse, it doesn’t mean you have failed. Mark Twain once said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.” It takes the average smoker more than one attempt before they are able to quit for good. Knowing this can make it easier to get back on track if you falter.
If you know a smoker who is trying to quit, take a look at these dos and don’ts for family and friends.
Photo by Military Health via Flickr