Healthy Changes for the New Year: Quitting Smoking

We know a lot of the bad things that smoking does but there are a few more things people may be surprised to learn:

  • Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals; 69 of which are known to cause cancer
  • Patients who smoke before surgery have twice the risk of infection of nonsmokers
  • Smoking slows healing after surgery
  • A smoker’s broken bones take almost twice as long to heal
  • Lung cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death among American women – it surpassed breast cancer in 1987
  • Smoking is a major factor in coronary heart disease and stroke
  • Smoking by parents is associated with a wide range of adverse effects in their children including asthma, increased frequency of colds and ear infections

ACCORDING TO Dr. Geoff Priest, Meriter’s Chief Medical Officer – Quitting Smoking is the Single Best Thing you can do to Improve Your Health!

The benefits* of quitting are almost immediate – and continue for years:

  • 20 minutes after quitting: Your heart rate and blood pressure drop. (Mahmud A, Feely J. Effect of Smoking on Arterial Stiffness and Pulse Pressure Amplification. Hypertension. 2003;41:183.)
  • 12 hours after quitting: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. (US Surgeon General’s Report, 1988, p. 202)  
  • 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting: Your circulation improves and your lung function increases.  (US Surgeon General’s Report, 1990, pp. 193, 194, 196, 285, 323)
  • 1 to 9 months after quitting: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia (tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs) regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the (ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs, and reduce the risk of infection. (US Surgeon General’s Report, 1990, pp. 285-287, 304)
  • 1 year after quitting: The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s. (US Surgeon General’s Report, 1990, p. vi)
  • 5 years after quitting: Your stroke risk is reduced to that of a non-smoker 5 to 15 years after quitting. (US Surgeon General’s Report, 1990, p. vi)
  • 10 years after quitting: The lung cancer death rate is about half that of a person who continues smoking. The risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix, and pancreas decreases, too. (US Surgeon General’s Report, 1990, pp. vi, 131, 148, 152, 155, 164, 166)
  • 15 years after quitting: The risk of coronary heart disease is the same as a non-smoker’s. (US Surgeon General’s Report, 1990, p. vi)

Why is it so hard to quit?

  • Surveys say three out of four smokers want to quit
  • Quitting is hard because your body craves the nicotine, or is addicted to tobacco. Giving it up is more than just kicking a bad habit. Your body has to stop craving the nicotine. Nicotine gum, lozenges, patches, and other medicines can help reduce the cravings without the harmful effects of tobacco.
  • In addition to the physical component of nicotine addiction – there’s also a mental side. There are social and emotional aspects to addiction. You may not even think about using tobacco. You just do it. You may chew tobacco when you are stressed. Or maybe you have a cigarette with coffee. Before you quit, think of new ways to handle these things.
  • It is difficult – but not impossible – need a plan

What are the kinds of things that go into a successful quit plan?

You don’t have to quit alone. Ask your family, friends, and doctor to help you. Quitting is hard, but if you have help and a plan, it is much easier.

  • Get ready. You don’t have to stop right away, but set a date to quit. Pick a time when you won’t have a lot of stress in your life. Get rid of ashtrays, lighters, or spit cups before you quit. Don’t let people smoke in your house.
  • Change your routines. For example, if you smoke after eating, take a walk instead.
  • Use medicine. It can help with cravings and stress. You can buy nicotine gum, lozenges, or patches without a prescription. Your doctor can also give you medicine, such as bupropion (Zyban) or varenicline (Chantix). Using nicotine replacement products and/or medicine doubles your chances of quitting tobacco for good.1, 2
  • Get support. Resource include:
    • Meriter Health Library –
    • Your insurance company. Physicians Plus has a smoking cessation program – GO-TO Healthy Choices: Breathe that helps participants develop a customized action plan and follow up newsletters to stay motivated throughout the quitting process.
    • Wisconsin Quit Line – 1-800 QUIT NOW (800-784-8669). It’s available 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
    • Medication and counseling from doctors, nurses, or therapists.

Other self-help tips:

  • Spend free time in places that don’t allow smoking
  • Drink lots of liquids
  • Avoid beverages you associate with smoking
  • Keep your hands busy so you won’t miss holding a cigarette
  • Keep oral substitutes – such as healthful snack foods handy
  • Learn relaxation techniques to combat anxiety
  • Start exercising to help reduce the possibility of weight gain
  • Get plenty of rest

What happens if you relapse – say two – three weeks into the plan you decide you have to have a cigarette?

  • Most people are not successful the first few times they try to quit smoking. Don’t beat yourself up. Make a list of things you learned, and think about when you want to try again, such as next week, next month, or next spring.
  • You might try something new next time, such as a new medicine or program. You might try combining tools, such as counseling and medicine. Keep trying, and don’t be fooled by light cigarettes, or reducing your smoking. Neither one appears to make smoking safer.
  • Never quit quitting!

*American Cancer Society

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