The benefits of quitting smoking
Quitting gives your health an immediate boost. Within 8 hours, levels of toxic carbon monoxide gas in your bloodstream drop to normal. Within a day, your heart attack risk begins to drop. Over your first smoke-free year, your circulation will improve, your senses of taste and smell will sharpen, and you’ll have fewer lung infections, cough less and have less sinus congestion. After just a year, your odds of developing heart disease drop by half. And the payoffs mount with each smoke-free year: after four years, your chance of having a heart attack falls to that of someone who has never smoked. After 10 years, your lung cancer risk drops to nearly that of a nonsmoker, and your odds for cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, bladder and kidney decrease significantly, too. To help yourself quit successfully, try these strategies.
Exercising three times a week may work even better than a behavioural therapy program. In one study, nearly 20 percent of people who exercised were still smoke free after a year compared to 11 percent of the therapy group; they also gained less weight. Of course, counselling plus exercise is an even better idea.
Line up help before your quit date
After you smoke that last cigarette, a relapse can occur very quickly. Within two days, half of all people light up again; by the end of the first week, two-thirds are back to smoking. Help at the right moment can be crucial, and it’s easy to get. Before your quit date, set up a visit with your doctor, a cognitive behavioural therapist or a smoking-cessation support group for your first smoke-free week. Or plan to call a telephone quitline. All of these resources can offer custom-tailored help to cope with specific challenges, such as what to do if you’ve always had a cigarette after dinner (schedule an activity for that time — mow the lawn or take an evening walk with a friend), or smoked when life threw a few challenges your way. In one U.S. study, 43 percent of people who used a telephone quitline were still smoke free after nine months compared to just 5 percent who didn’t.
Consider a behavioral therapy program or support group
When researchers at Oxford University in the UK reviewed 55 smoking-cessation studies, they found that people who joined therapy groups doubled their odds of succeeding, compared to those who tried to kick the habit by themselves.
Use the correct nicotine-replacement dose
Chewing gum, patches, lozenges, sprays and inhalers containing nicotine can all be helpful. They all release nicotine very slowly into the bloodstream, easing symptoms of withdrawal without all the other toxins in cigarette smoke.
Studies find that the patch increases quit rates by about 7 percent compared to a placebo, the gum and inhaler by about 8 percent, and the nasal spray by 12 to 16 percent. But make sure you’re getting enough. If you smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day, for example, choose a higher-dose (usually 21-mg) patch. And if you have your first cigarette within half an hour of waking up in the morning, start the day with a 4-mg lozenge rather than a 2-mg dose.
If you still have cravings, using a patch plus a faster-acting product such as gum, lozenges or a spray or inhaler can further boost your chances of succeeding, according to experts.
Use medications to help you
There’s a choice of two prescription medications to help you quit smoking: bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Champix). They are not addictive and work by decreasing cravings, although doctors are not sure how they do this, but both medications significantly increase your chances of quitting and staying smoke free. Varenicline is taken for at least 12 weeks and the commonest side effect is nausea (it can’t be used by pregnant women, but they can use nicotine-replacement therapy). Bupropion is taken for at least seven weeks and the commonest side effect is headache. It is not suitable for anyone who has had a seizure (fit) or is at risk of seizures. Before prescribing either medication, your doctor will need to know your full health history and your regular medications.