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Follow these tips to finally quit smoking and start getting healthy

November 16, 2021
13355250x250 Great American Smokeout Article Refresh

It’s never too late to stop smoking, no matter what your age is.

“It’s hard to quit smoking because nicotine is so addictive, with most people needing several attempts before successfully stopping smoking,” said Dr. Douglas Johnson of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Baystate Medical Center.

Baystate experts explain the benefits of stopping smoking and how to develop a successful quit plan.

SMOKING CAUSES LUNG CANCER AND OTHER ILLNESSES

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable, premature death and illness in the U.S., responsible for almost a half-million deaths each year.

“For perspective, over the past two years, smoking has killed more people in the United States (~1 million) than coronavirus (~750,000 as of November 2021). The COVID pandemic has also led to more smoking (not less) in the past 2 years, reversing a 50 year downward trend,” Dr. Quinn Pack, a preventive cardiologist in the Heart & Vascular Program at Baystate Medical Center.

Although the rates of smoking have declined in recent years for all age groups, nearly 14% of adults in the United States continue to smoke. In Massachusetts, this number is closer to 12%.

Just about everyone should know by now that smoking is a major cause of lung cancer. But what some don’t realize is that smoking is also a major cause of heart disease.

According to Dr. Johnson, many of the patients he sees as a pulmonary physician have lung problems directly caused by smoking.

“Patients may be very short of breath with COPD, need oxygen, be on a ventilator, or have lung cancer. Other patients have heart disease, including heart attacks due to their smoking. These problems can ruin people’s lives while they are still living, knock decades off a life, and be tragic for one’s family. Quitting smoking is usually the best thing one can do to improve your health,” Dr. Johnson said.

The negative impact smoking has on your overall health

“Smoking can result in all kinds of health problems, such as blood clots in the lungs or legs. Inhaled smoke doesn’t just travel into your lungs, but throughout your entire body. So, it’s a big misconception that smoking is only about lung cancer,” said Dr. Pack said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking can:

  • Raise triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood)
  • Lower "good" cholesterol (HDL)
  • Make blood sticky and more likely to clot, which can block blood flow to the heart and brain
  • Damage cells that line the blood vessels
  • Increase the buildup of plaque (fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances) in blood vessels
  • Cause thickening and narrowing of blood vessels.

The recent Surgeon General’s report, The Health Consequences of Smoking: 50 Years of Progress, provides new data that links smoking to:

  • Bone disease
  • Cataracts
  • Diabetes
  • Macular degeneration
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Bladder, kidney, and pancreatic cancer
  • Infertility (both male and female)
  • Poor pregnancy outcomes

What happens when you stop smoking?

Research shows that people who quit smoking, regardless of their age, are less likely to die from smoking-related illness than those who continue to smoke.

“There is no time like the present to quit. Medical studies have shown clearly that those in their sixties and seventies benefit from quitting. So, don’t delay. Do it now and you’ll be glad you did,” said Dr. Pack.

Health benefits of quitting smoking

The good news is that when you put your last cigarette down, the benefits begin immediately.

  • Within the first 20 minutes, your heart rate begins to drop back to normal levels.
  • Within 12 hours after quitting, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood drop.
  • 24 hours after quitting your risk of heart attack decreases.
  • After a couple of weeks your lung functions will improve.
  • In 1-9 months, coughing and shortness of breath decreases, cilla start to regain normal functioning in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs, and reduce the risk of infection.
  • In one year, the excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of someone who continues to smoke, and your heart attack risk drops dramatically.

What are smoking withdrawal symptoms?

When you stop smoking, make sure you’re prepared to handle nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

These could include:

Other symptoms like cold symptoms or dizziness are less common.

FIRST STEP IN QUITTING: DECIDE YOU WANT TO QUIT

“Some quit ‘cold turkey’, but because nicotine is so addictive, many find that nicotine supplements such as the patch or gum, or medications such as Chantix, help them to quit. It can be harder to quit if someone else in your house smokes, so I encourage everyone in the house to try quitting together,” said Dr. Johnson.

Quitting smoking will not only improve your health, but will protect family members and others around you from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

“Secondhand smoke is especially dangerous for pregnant women, babies and children,” said Dr. Johnson. “It can contribute to a number of afflictions from cancer and heart disease to breathing problems and even make it harder for someone to have a baby.”

Second step: Come up with a quit plan

Consider joining a virtual movement, the Great American Smokeout. The American Cancer Society provides resources and programing, so you don’t have to do this on your own.

“Prepare today for tomorrow’s Great American Smokeout quit day by making a survival kit consisting of celery and carrot sticks to munch on and take the place of a cigarette, as well as hard candy and gum,” said Donna Hawk, RRT, AE-C, pulmonary rehab clinician at Baystate Medical Center.

“If you can’t quit on the Smokeout date for some reason, choose another day, perhaps one that has special meaning for you like your birthday or wedding anniversary, and stick with it,” said Dr. Pack. “The Smokeout is a great day to quit, but even just going 1 day without a cigarette is still an accomplishment!”

Strategies to include in your plan

Hawk offers the following additional tips to help you stop smoking:

  • Throw away all cigarettes right now, along with ashtrays, lighters and matches.
  • Make a list of your reasons for quitting. Keep it with you and read it when you are tempted to light up.
  • Limit alcohol consumption and your sugar intake. “This is a big deal. I recommend no alcohol for at least 1 month after a quit attempt,” Dr. Pack said.
  • Talk with any smokers in your home. Make a “indoor smoke-free” policy to assure that any smoking that occurs among household members is done outside, regardless of the weather.
  • Choose one place not to smoke where you do now, for example, your automobile.
  • If cigarettes give you an energy boost, try modest exercise like a brisk walk. Exercise is also useful for fighting cravings.

“Also, talk with your doctor and get some help. There are nicotine patches, nicotine gum, and various drugs and medications. If used correctly, these can double, triple or even quadruple your success rate in quitting,” added Dr. Pack.

Use the 4 Ds when you feel the urge to smoke

Hawk said when you feel the need for a cigarette, remember the 4 Ds:

  • Delay: Wait it out and after 5-6 minutes the urge usually fades away.
  • Deep Breath: Take 3 deep breaths. Hold the last one in for a few seconds and exhale slowly. This will relax you and also use the muscles normally used for inhaling.
  • Drink Water: Unless on a fluid restriction, drink plenty of water or fruit juice to help the nicotine leave your body.
  • Do Something Else: Keep occupied by doing crossword puzzles, reading a book, crocheting or knitting, writing letters, playing cards or doodling.

Never say “I quit smoking” because your resolve is broken if you have a cigarette. Better to say “I choose not to smoke.” This way you maintain your resolution even if you accidentally have a cigarette.

WHERE CAN YOU GET HELP TO STOP SMOKING?

For additional support in stopping smoking, call the American Lung Association’s Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872).

There is also a translation service offering 200 different languages and TTY for hearing impaired at 1-800-501-1068.

You can also call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help. The toll-free number is operated by the National Cancer Institute and will connect you directly to your state’s tobacco quitline. State quitlines provide a variety of services, including brief advice about quitting, individual counseling, information on cessation medications (which can help callers decide whether to use cessation medications in their quit attempt and which medications to use, as well as helping them understand how to use these medications correctly), free or discounted medications, self-help materials, and referrals to other cessation resources.

“I also strongly recommend smokefree.gov. It is paid for by cigarette taxes, is completely free to users, and has a text messaging program that can be very effective,” Dr. Pack said.

The Smokefree Text Messaging Program is SFTXT.