Quit Smoking FAQ
Why Is It So Hard to Give up Smoking?
Cigarettes are basically just a device that delivers nicotine and other chemicals to our brains, via inhaled smoke. Nicotine is a psychoactive substance and an addictive stimulant that we come to depend on. Smoking also creates a strong psychological dependence, that may be harder to beat than the physical aspects of the addiction.
Cigarette smoking is an ingrained personal habit that our brains associate with comfort, reward and pleasure. It can also ease hunger pangs, alleviate stress and form a pleasurable daily routine. If we grew up in a home where our parents smoked, the smell and taste of tobacco smoke can influence us on the deepest emotional and psychological levels. Smoking can also be an important social activity, particularly at work.
Why Should I Quit?
Smoking is dangerous. It will either kill you in some fairly horrific ways, or it will shorten your life. It may also substantially decrease your quality of life, particularly as you grow older. Passive smoking (inhaling other people’s smoke) can damage your family’s health, particularly babies and children.
In the UK smoking is also prohibitively expensive. A 20 a day habit can easily set you back over £4,000 a year. That’s before you factor in loss of earnings due to illness.
What Are the Risks of Smoking?
The health risks of smoking are well documented and have been known for years. These are some of the illnesses caused by smoking any tobacco product - that includes cigarettes, roll ups, pipes, cigars, nargilahs (water pipes) or cannabis joints containing tobacco1.
- Lung cancer
- Oropharyngeal Cancer
- Esophageal Cancer
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Heart disease
- Reproductive problems in women
- Erectile dysfunction in men
- Premature, low birth-weight babies
- Aortic Aneurysm
We’ve all heard anecdotal stories of the heavy smoker who lived into his nineties and never had a day’s sickness. You may even know of similar real life examples, but these people are in a tiny minority. They are in fact a statistical anomaly. If you smoke, you are likely to develop serious - and possibly fatal - health problems as a consequence.
Did you know?
Cigarette smoking is one of the biggest causes of house fires in the UK. Over 100 people - including children - are likely to die this year in fires caused by cigarettes.
Smoking while pregnant, while nursing, or smoking in a house with newborns substantially increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The risks of this tragic condition, also known as cot death syndrome, can be reduced if you give up smoking and do not allow others to smoke in your home.
What’s the First Step to Quitting?
The first step to quitting smoking is mental preparation. You need to understand the benefits of giving up smoking, the challenges that you will face, and your plans for dealing with them. It’s vital to build your resolve, determination and focus. You’re about to begin a life changing process and it may be a long and difficult one2.
When you think that you are adequately prepared mentally, you can choose a date to quit smoking. The groundwork, research and preparation that you do prior to giving up, may make all the difference as to whether you succeed to stop smoking.
What if I’ve Tried Before?
If you’ve already failed to stop smoking, you at least know your own strengths and weaknesses, and the traps that you will face along the way. You’ll be in a stronger position for your next attempt.
It’s important to remember that giving up smoking is different for everybody. It can also be a very different experience for you when you make another attempt. You may be more mature or your personal circumstances may be easier. Your attempt may have a lot more urgency if you have experienced health problems as a consequence of smoking, or you have become a parent.
Just because you failed to give up smoking once, doesn’t mean that you’re condemned to keep on failing. Analyse where you went wrong last time, make a better plan, and try to generate some additional willpower and determination. It’s definitely worth researching different strategies to give up smoking.
What Steps Can I Take to Help Me Stop Smoking for Good?
It’s never been easier to stop smoking for good. Medical understanding of nicotine addiction has improved dramatically and there is a wealth of useful medications, therapies and support materials. The challenge is finding the method - or combination of methods - that best meets your individual needs.
How do I plan to stop smoking?
Get ready for your quit date.
Unless you’re very impulsive, you’ll probably want to set a date for when you stop smoking for good. It might be a New Year resolution, a child’s birthday, or the first day of a holiday abroad.
You’ll need to decide whether you’re going for a straight cold turkey approach, or a phased withdrawal. Either way, you’ll need to know your triggers and stress points. Think in terms of personal rewards and consider NRT strategies or even stop smoking medication.
Get support and encouragement.
A supportive family, friends and colleagues can make all the difference. Kind words, encouragement and support can be a big help if your struggling to give up smoking. There’s also the issue of personal pride; if you have a stubborn streak in your character - use it to the full. Once you’ve told the whole world that you’re giving up smoking, it’ll be a lot harder to start smoking again and lose face!
What Medicines Help?
There are a number of stop smoking medicines on the market - both prescription medicines and over the counter medicines. Prescription stop smoking medicines like Zyban and Champix usually work by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain, reducing cravings for nicotine. Prescription medications are believed to be beneficial for heavy smokers, lifelong smokers, patients who previously tried to quit and failed, and people who feel that they lack the willpower to give up smoking.
100% nicotine free stop smoking prescription medications available in the UK include:
- Champix - active ingredient varenicline
- Zyban - active ingredient bupropion
Patients begin treatment with Champix 1-2 weeks before they give up smoking and may need to continue the treatment for 3 months or more to stand the best chance of quitting successfully, Zyban treatment also begins prior to giving up smoking and may continue for up to 7 weeks, or longer as necessary.
How can I stop smoking naturally?
If you’ve made the decision to stop inhaling carcinogenic smoke into your lungs, you may not be enthusiastic about using other chemical products to help you quit the habit. Fortunately there are plenty of natural remedies and treatments to stop smoking.
- Natural herbal remedies
- Green tea and lobelia tea
Alternative methods for giving up smoking place an emphasis on an holistic approach, including healthy diet, meditation and detoxification - cleansing both mind and body. One possible advantage of an holistic approach to stopping smoking is that you may stay more focused and motivated on your goal.
Will I Gain Weight?
Some people complain that they gain weight when they stop smoking. Not everybody gains weight and weight gain isn’t inevitable for those that do3. Nicotine can function as an appetite suppressant, causing us to eat a little bit less. Also, when people stop smoking they will sometimes begin to eat more. This is partly to alleviate nicotine cravings and partly to substitute the former pleasure/reward/comfort ritual of smoking a cigarette.
If you choose to replace cigarettes with food, opt for a healthy low calorie snack. If you eat a bar of chocolate every time you experience a nicotine craving it’s obvious that you’ll gain weight when you stop smoking. It may be more helpful to develop a mini exercise routine rather than eating.
What Can I Do When I Feel the Urge to Smoke?
The single most important thing that you can do when you feel the urge to smoke is to recognise the craving for what it is - a temporary irritation. Don’t confuse it with a genuine ‘need’. Cravings invariably pass within a few minutes, so you just have to tough it out for a short time.
It usually pays to be cunning when you’re dealing with cravings and to beat them with distraction tactics. If you’re with other people tell them that you have an urge to smoke. They’ll offer you moral support and the craving will be reduced, you’ll also be reluctant to give in and start smoking in front of them.
If you’re alone, try a strong coffee, spicy snack or a quick exercise routine - whatever works for you. Staying away from any supply of cigarettes is vital. If you’re with smokers, or near a newsagents, and you get an urge to smoke- take a walk!
I Smoke First Thing in the Morning. Now What?
Start by congratulating yourself on the fact that you’re no longer beginning each day with an expensive, life-destroying cigarette. You’ll immediately feel a lot better - and a lot more in control.
If you need to replace the ritual of a smoke first thing in the morning, invest some of the cigarette money that you’re saving in some really good coffee. It’ll give you a similar jolt and is a lot more healthy.
A piece of sweet fruit might also kill the craving, or a long hot shower followed by a blast of cold water. There’s no limit to the positive and satisfying things that you can do to replace the first smoke of the day. It’s just a question of personal preference and imagination.
I Smoke When I Drink. Do I Have to Give Up Alcohol?
If alcohol is a major trigger for smoking, it might be worth taking a break from drinking - even just for a week or two. It can help you to get through the initial nicotine withdrawal, and maintain your commitment to stop smoking. Once the nicotine cravings begin to ease, you can try a small amount of alcohol and see if you are still tempted to smoke when you drink. The real challenge may not come from the alcohol itself, but from being with fellow drinkers who are smoking. Most people who succeed to give up smoking do not have to give up alcohol.
A good strategy is to find a positive activity that replaces drinking time e.g. instead of going to the pub, go to the gym. It will also help you to deal with the urge to smoke. If it sounds difficult to give up alcohol for a couple of weeks, or even just to reduce your alcohol intake for a while, you should consider seeing your GP. You may have some issues with alcohol dependency that need to be explored.
What Should I Do if I Need More Help to Stop Smoking?
Smoking doesn’t just kill, it can kill in a variety of horrible and agonising ways. It can also have a devastating effect on your quality of life. As a smoker you’re already damaging your health and possibly that of your family. If you need more help to stop smoking, it’s imperative that you get it4.
There are many good stop smoking treatments available on the NHS. It’s definitely worth going to see your GP who should also know about local initiatives and resources. You can also do your own research and look for the treatment - or combination of treatments - that matches your personal needs.
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