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How does smoking affect health?
It is estimated that smoking causes about 120,000 premature deaths each
year in the UK. The list of diseases caused by smoking is long, and includes
cancer, heart disease, stroke, bronchitis and emphysema (a disease that
damages the lungs). Smoking can cause impotence and premature baldness
in men. Young women who smoke and take the contraceptive pill are at greater
risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. Smoking
does not only damage your health, but also it can affect those around
Passive smoking (exposure to other people's smoke)
has been shown to cause breathing problems in people with lung diseases
such as asthma. Babies born to women who smoke are at risk of having a
low birth weight, and are less likely to survive. Children whose parents
smoke are also more likely to suffer from asthma and other respiratory
What are the benefits of stopping smoking?
Stopping smoking is the most important thing you can do for your health
and that of those around you. By 'kicking the habit' you reduce your chances
of developing heart disease, cancer, lung disease or a stroke. You are
also less likely to develop coughs or colds. Your taste and smell will
improve, and your clothes will be cleaner. And think of the money you
save by cutting cigarettes out of your life.
Is it ever too late to stop?
No matter what your age, it is never too late to stop smoking. As soon
as you give up cigarettes, your health improves and those improvements
grow over time. For instance, some studies have shown that, after five
years of stopping, the risk of a heart attack is reduced to the same level
as that for a life-long non-smoker. The same is true for stroke. Giving
up smoking can increase the length of your life, no matter what your age.
How do I plan to stop smoking?
Only you can make the decision to stop, but once you have made it, tell
your family and friends, and ask for their support. Then, set a date.
Choose a date that is not too far off, no longer than a month, and that
is not during a stressful time such as moving house. The day of the week
you choose will also make a difference. If you smoke mostly at work, Saturday
may be a good day to stop. If you smoke mainly on weekends, Monday may
be best. Remember to build regular rewards into your plan – daily, weekly
and monthly. Small 'pats on the back' are important positive reinforcements
to keep you clear of cigarettes.
Consider keeping a diary of your smoking routine,
so you know when and where you most need a cigarette. These are your 'triggers'.
Once you have identified your 'triggers', be prepared for them. For instance,
you may smoke when you drink alcohol or coffee. Choose low-alcohol drinks
or avoid social gatherings for a few weeks until you feel stronger. Instead
of coffee, drink juice or tea. Start to drink your coffee in a different
place to usual so that you break the association with smoking. If you
smoke while you drive, try taking public transport for a while. Make smoking
difficult for yourself – do not take cigarettes when you go out and do
not buy them.
Is it best to stop suddenly or gradually?
Some people have stopped smoking by gradually cutting down, but to follow
such a strategy is only postponing your stopping day. Furthermore, you
may spend most of your day waiting for your next cigarette. Although it
is not easy, your best chance of success may be to give up completely
from the outset.
What withdrawal symptoms will I experience and
how long will they last?
Nicotine is a powerful drug so when you stop taking it, your body
is in withdrawal. Symptoms can include anxiety, irritability, depression,
poor concentration, hunger and sleeping problems. Take heart that these
symptoms are temporary – they are at their worst for the first two to
three days, and then taper off. Within a month, your withdrawal symptoms
are likely to have disappeared.
How can I cope with cravings and withdrawal symptoms?
Plenty of simple remedies can be used. Try chewing sugar-free gum or eating
something healthy, like fruit. To keep your hands busy, fiddle with a
pen, a coin or a ball. Try to distract yourself by deep breathing, doing
the crossword or counting the money you are saving by not smoking!
Exercise is a good antidote. Try to be active every
day, even if it is just climbing the stairs or walking around the block.
Try to follow a nutritious diet, and avoid high-calorie, fatty foods.
You may be worried about gaining weight during this time, but keep in
mind that the average weight gain for people stopping smoking is only
four pounds. If you do gain a few pounds, worry about losing that weight
after you have successfully stopped smoking – one challenge at a time
You may also consider complementary therapies such as acupuncture and
hypnotherapy. You can call QUITline, a national help-line that provides
advice and information. It is a free call from 9am to 11pm on 0800 00
Should I consider using nicotine patches or nicotine
For many people, using nicotine patches or nicotine chewing gum can make
stopping more manageable and more successful. These products work by temporarily
providing a steady supply of nicotine to help prevent withdrawal symptoms
and cravings. They are often very helpful and you should discuss these
options with your doctor.
What if I take up smoking again?
Above all, don't be too hard on yourself. Stopping smoking could be one
of the hardest things you will ever do. Take a break and have a look at
why you started smoking again and why you still want to stop. Then, when
you are ready, try again. Keep in mind that if you can stop smoking for
a month, you have a good chance of stopping for ever.
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