Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable disease, disability and premature death worldwide. Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causes serious chronic and life threatening diseases and reduces overall health. On average, smoking can shorten your lifespan by 14 years. Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do to improve your health and increase your longevity.
According to the National Cancer Institute, these are the cold, hard facts:
- Tobacco smoke is harmful to smokers and nonsmokers. It is estimated that about 400,000 people die in the U.S. each year from diseases caused by smoking. Another 50,000 people die from second hand smoke related illnesses.
- Cigarette smoking causes many types of cancer, notably, cancers of lung, esophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach and cervix as well as acute myeloid leukemia.
- Tobacco smoke contains 250 chemicals known to be harmful. Among these, 69 are cancer causing chemicals.
- Smoking causes heart disease, stroke, aortic aneurysm, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a high risk of developing pneumonia and airway infections.
- Smoking causes death. Nearly one of every five deaths each year in the U.S. can be attributed to smoking.
- More deaths occur each year from tobacco use than from HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol abuse, motor vehicle accidents, suicides and homicides combined.
- Quitting smoking reduces the health risks caused by exposure to tobacco smoke.
Nicotine, found in tobacco products, is the main culprit in cigarette addiction and the reason people continue to smoke even when they know the health risks of smoking. Smoking is an addictive behavior involving:
- Use despite harmful effects
- Relapse following abstinence
- Recurrent cravings
Smoking is also considered a habitual addiction. Quitting smoking is difficult and often requires multiple attempts. Overcoming nicotine addiction is the key to success. Nicotine withdrawal and recovery is unpleasant at best. Symptoms of withdrawal hit a peak about the third day and last about 2 weeks. Symptoms such as hunger, perspiration, dizziness, irritability and anger are all temporary and a sign that your body is healing from the damage caused by tobacco use.
Certain activities, known as triggers, are huge barriers to quitting. These triggers can be overcome once identified. Start with a list of the times and activities that provide an urge to smoke and find solutions to overcome them. For example, if you normally smoke when you have a cup of coffee, wait until you are finished to have a cigarette. Gradually increase the time between the coffee and the cigarette until you can enjoy a cup without a cigarette. Next, make a list of places you normally smoke. One good rule, is not to smoke while drinking alcohol. Chose a nonsmoking bar or restaurant for happy hour. Lastly, come up with alternate ways to approach an activity or emotion. If mealtimes are a trigger for you, keep your mind and hands busy after a meal, by doing the dishes or taking a walk. If stress leads you to smoke, give yourself five minutes to take deep breaths and think during stressful moments. Reward yourself daily for the first two weeks. After that, continue to reward yourself weekly as the urge to smoke is powerful but can be overcome.
A timeline of benefits of quitting:
- Blood pressure, pulse and heart rate return to normal levels with 20 minutes.
- In 24 hours, your lungs start to clear. The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
- In 48 hours, taste and smell start to improve and your body is nicotine free.
- After 3 days, breathing becomes easier and energy increases.
- After 2 weeks, your circulation and lung function begin to improve and your risk of having a heart attack begins to drop.
- At 3 months, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath decrease.
- Within 9 months, your lung capacity improves by 10%.
- After 1 year, your risk of heart attack and coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker.
- After 5 years, your risk of stroke drops significantly as does your risk of throat, mouth and esophageal cancer.
- In 10 years, your risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a smoker.
- After 15 years, your risk of coronary heart disease is equal to that of a nonsmoker.
Cigarette smoking creates an abundance of free radicals which cause cellular damage and depletes essential vitamins and minerals. If you are a smoker, a recent nonsmoker or have intentions to stop, you might want to consider the following supplements:
- Antioxidants, such as vitamin C and vitamin E, to support the immune system, rid the body of toxins and fight inflammation.
- Calcium, to keep bones strong and healthy and to replace what nicotine strips away.
- Lobelia has the ability to mimic the effect of nicotine on the brain without being addictive.
- Peppermint can promote relaxation and aid in detoxification.
- Ginger aids digestion and can relieve nausea that nicotine withdrawal can produce.
- Multivitamin and mineral formula for nutritional recovery.
- Vitamin B Complex is thought to help curb nicotine cravings.
- Niacin is chemically similar to nicotine and is thought to help ease nicotine addiction.
Counseling, medication and nicotine replacement products can help. Once a decision is made to quit, you and the people around you can begin to breathe easier. You can be one of the 48 million Americans who have quit for life. If knowing the facts is not enough to encourage you stop smoking, remember this:
If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.