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01 Apr 2010
blackmores naturopath

Blackmores

Cigarette smoking - your guide to quitting

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Research shows that most smokers want to quit. When you do, you'll reduce your risk of developing many serious health conditions, including cancer and heart disease.

Symptoms

Smoking has numerous detrimental effects on health, which affect nearly every part of the body. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Respiratory tract: Irritation and reduced functioning of the airways; breathlessness; mucous congestion; lowered resistance to infection; increased risk of lung cancer (and other forms of cancer throughout the body), emphysema, and bronchitis.
  • Cardiovascular system: Elevated blood pressure; increased heart rate; greater tendency to form blood clots; damage to the lining of arteries and an increased tendency to form atherosclerotic plaque (plaque in the arteries); reduced blood flow to extremities such as fingers and toes; increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Immunity: Lower resistance to infection and increased recovery time when infections occur; depleted vitamin C levels.
  • Men’s health: Reduced fertility and sexual performance.
  • Women’s health: Reduced fertility; menstrual irregularities; earlier menopause; and increased risk of cervical cancer. Smoking during pregnancy increases the likelihood of miscarriage, stillbirth and having a baby that is premature, of low birth weight, or affected by birth defects.
  • Other: Increased risk of:
    - Osteoporosis and hip fracture
    - Gum disease (gingivitis and periodontitis)
    - Premature ageing of the skin
    - Digestive irritation and ulceration

Withdrawal symptoms that occur when smoking stops abruptly may include (but are not limited to):

  • Cigarette cravings  
  • Mood swings (e.g. irritability, aggression, anxiety, depression)  
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Restlessness and difficulty concentrating  
  • Increased hunger (which may lead to weight gain)
  • Mouth ulcers

Most of these symptoms will have resolved after you’ve stopped smoking for a month or so, although the increased appetite may continue for over 10 weeks. Unfortunately, cravings for cigarettes may persist for even longer, especially during times of stress.

Causes

It is the nicotine in cigarettes that is addictive and makes it hard to quit smoking. Nicotine creates a chemical dependency, so that the body develops a need for a certain level of nicotine in order to control cravings and mood. When you try to do without it (and especially if you try to quit ‘cold turkey’), the withdrawal effects make it difficult to resist smoking again.

Other difficulties that may be encountered when trying to quit may be emotional or psychological. For example:

  • Fear that you may gain weight or become depressed without cigarettes.
  • A feeling of being unable to cope with stress without cigarettes.

Diet and lifestyle

  • Your body will thank you for giving up smoking and so will the people around you. The health advantages of stopping smoking are numerous and include a decreased risk of cancer and heart attack. 
  • If you’ve tried to quit in the past unsuccessfully, rest assured you’re not alone. Many people take several attempts before they finally kick the habit. Make past attempts part of your new quitting strategy by reflecting on what went wrong last time, and planning effective ways to overcome the same problems this time. 
  • Seek the support of your friends, family and healthcare professional. Classes and counselling services are also available, and some people have success with nicotine replacement therapy or hypnotherapy.
  • Many withdrawal symptoms can be minimised by using nicotine replacement therapy. Follow the instructions of your healthcare professional. Do not exceed the recommended dose.
  • Examine your motivations for quitting smoking, and refer back to them when you feel the urge to have a cigarette.
  • It can be helpful to analyse your smoking habit and its triggers. Common triggers for cigarette cravings are emotional ("I always need a cigarette when I am stressed"), social (“I always smoke when I’m with John”) or environmental ("I only smoke when I'm at the pub"). By understanding when and where the cravings are likely to strike, you’ll be able to plan for them in advance, and enhance your likelihood of success.
  • Experts recommend employing a strategy based on the ‘four Ds’ to help you manage cravings:
    - Delay lighting a cigarette
    - Breathe deeply
    - Drink water
    - Do something to distract your mind until the craving is gone (it will usually only take a few minutes)
  • It is also a good idea to pick a specific day to stop smoking and tell all your friends and family of your intention. They will be invaluable support and you will also feel a sense of commitment once you have spoken of your intentions out loud.  
  • Some people find it motivating to think about the amount of money they’ll save by not smoking, and to start planning to use it to reward themselves once they’ve quit.
  • Throw away all cigarettes, tobacco and smoking related paraphernalia (e.g. ashtrays and lighters).
  • Eat a healthy diet that incorporates fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and lean proteins, and avoid sugary and fatty foods, which may cause you to put on weight.
  • Drink plenty of water, but cut back on caffeine, which may make you feel anxious and jittery in the first few weeks after quitting.
  • Remember that if you do have a cigarette, it’s not the end of your quit attempt. Learn from what went wrong and keep trying.

Important notes

Consult your healthcare professional about nicotine replacement therapy and/or counselling services.