Cigarette smoking is a major cause of sickness and the leading preventable cause of death. World Health Organisation (WHO) has described cigarette smoking as an epidemic, with an estimated three million deaths annually worldwide because of smoking. This figure is expected to rise to 10 million by the year 2020, if the current trends of smoking continue and worsen with rising levels of societal stress.
Smoking is also linked to many other non-fatal problems, such as brittle bone disease, skin wrinkling, stomach ulcers, impotence, and pregnancy complications. Even smoking as little as one cigarette a day is associated with increased health risks.
Quitting smoking is not only beneficial to the smoker himself, but also to family members and others close by. Exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke is associated with a number of serious health conditions such as lung cancer, asthma, heart attacks, and stroke.
Smoking is recognized as a chronic addictive disease, and for some it can be very challenging to quit. People differ greatly in their quitting success rates, withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop, as well as factors that may lead to relapse. Many people attempt to quit on their own, without any help from medications or other support, resulting in a much lower success rate. In such situations, seeking help the next time you try to quit can make a great deal of difference.
Deciding to Quit
Once you decide to quit smoking, the first step is usually to set a quit date. This is the day when you will completely quit smoking. Many doctors recommend stopping smoking all at once on your quit date. However, some people prefer to gradually reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke prior to the quit date.
Once you have set your quit date, there are things you can do to help you prepare.
Getting yourself mentally prepared
- Speak with your friendly family doctor about ways to quit smoking. Changing lifestyle behaviors and taking medication are the two main methods of quitting smoking. Using both methods together increases your chances of successfully quitting.
- Think about what happened with your previous quit attempts. What worked? What did not work? What contributed to your relapse? Is there anything you have learned that you can do differently this time to be more successful?
- Seek support through free counseling services by calling QuitLine, a toll-free helpline, at 1800-438-2000 (Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 5pm, Saturday from 8.30am to 1pm)
- Tell your family, friends, and co-workers about the plan to quit and ask for their support and encouragement.
Prepare for nicotine withdrawal symptoms when they occur
The main withdrawal symptom would be craving for a cigarette. Other symptoms are more general and often not recognized as related to nicotine withdrawal. These include anxiety, difficulty sleeping, irritability, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, frustration or anger, and depression. These symptoms are reduced and more tolerable if you use a stop-smoking medication. These include over-the-counter medications, like nicotine patches, gum, or lozenges, or prescription medications like varenicline. If you get a craving for a cigarette, keep gum or hard candy handy, for you to pop into your mouth.
Identify your smoking triggers and how to deal with them.
Triggers can include having other smokers in the household or workplace, stressful situations, and drinking alcohol. If you are in the habit of smoking during the workday, it might be easier to quit during a vacation from work. If you live with someone else who smokes, consider asking that person not to smoke in the house or car to help you succeed in becoming smoke-free.
Plan an exercise program and a healthy diet.
This helps to reduce the weight gain that may occur, as people tend to eat more after quitting. While this can be frustrating, it can help to keep in mind that the benefits of quitting smoking are much greater than the risks associated with gaining weight.
If you don’t quit on your first try, or if you quit but then start smoking again, don’t give up hope. Lots of people have to try more than once before they are able to completely quit. Quitting and staying smoke-free can be a challenge, but many people have done it successfully. Press on and work hard to do it!
Dr Vincent Chong
Healthway Medical Group