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The risks of smoking and how to quit

The risks of smoking and how to quit

Did you know? Worldwide, tobacco use causes more than seven million deaths per year, and on average, non-smokers live at least 10 years longer than smokers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) deemed 31 May every year World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence from consuming tobacco in any form around the world. Every year there is a theme to promote awareness around the damages tobacco causes to our health. In 2019 the WNTD theme is Tobacco and lung health.

While the South African population as a whole has become less tolerant of smoking because of stringent laws dictating where smokers are allowed to smoke and where not, the statistics regarding tobacco-related deaths are still quite frightening. According to the Tobacco Atlas, more than 42,100 South Africans are killed by tobacco-related disease every year.

So why don’t smokers simply give up? Well, it isn’t that easy because tobacco is laced with the chemical called nicotine which is highly addictive. Consuming nicotine by smoking cigarettes or vaping releases the “feel good” chemical dopamine in our brains. Unfortunately, it also teaches the brain to crave the nicotine over and over again, thereby causing an addiction to cigarettes.

The problem is that tobacco smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals including at least 70 which can cause cancer and are referred to as carcinogens. The most common diseases caused by tobacco use are:

  • Lung cancer
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Asthma
  • Reproductive issues
  • Diabetes
  • Blindness by cataracts
  • Various cancers, including Colon, Cervix, Liver, Stomach and Pancreatic Cancer

These alone should be motivation to give up smoking. Plus, the benefits of quitting are endless.

First and foremost, find a good programme that will work for you. When you are doing your research, make sure the programme addresses both the short-term challenge of stopping smoking and the long-term challenge of preventing a relapse.

Before quitting, it might be a good idea to speak to your doctor about the various programmes and what type of support you require. If you have concerns about gaining weight or having withdrawal symptoms, your doctor will be able to give you good advice and remind you that it is better to gain a little weight which you can easily lose than to continue smoking and risk getting heart disease or cancer.

As a matter of fact, the benefits of giving up are almost instant. As soon as a smoker quits smoking this is how the body starts to recover:

1 hour later – The heart rate drops and returns to normal. Circulation improves and blood pressure is reduced.

12 hours later – Carbon monoxide levels return to normal and oxygen levels increase. This means blood pressure drops further and decreases the risk of stroke and heart disease.

1 week later – Smell and taste returns as nerve endings begin to heal.

1 month later – Lung function improves and exercising becomes much easier to do. If you have developed a smoker’s cough, it may disappear.

9 months later – The lungs significantly heal themselves. You will stop getting lung infections such as bronchitis.

1 year later – The risk of getting coronary heart disease decreases by half. This risk will continue to drop after one year without smoking.

5 years later – The arteries and blood vessels to begin to widen again which means the blood is much less likely to clot and cause a stroke.

10 years later – The chance of getting lung cancer is roughly decreased by half compared with someone who carries on smoking. Also, the risk of developing mouth, throat or pancreatic cancer significantly decreases.

15 years later – The chance of getting coronary heart disease or pancreatic cancer is the same as that of a non-smoker.

20 years – The risk of death from smoking-related causes, including lung disease and cancer, decreases to that of a person who has never smoked before.

No matter how you choose to give up smoking, it’s important to be good to yourself and your body. Don’t eat unhealthy comfort foods to replace the oral gratification and deal with the stress of giving up. Try these 5 simple tricks to help support you while you’re on a good quitting programme:

  1. Take walks – As soon as you feel the urge, go for a brisk walk to clear your head and release dopamine in a healthy way.
  2. Drink lots of water – Smoking dehydrates the body and water rehydrates it; plus drinking water gives your mouth something to do instead of smoking a cigarette.
  3. Have healthy snacks on the ready – When you quit smoking you will need to replace the oral gratification from cigarettes. Don’t fixate orally on bad foods by ensuring that healthy foods are available to you at all times.
  4. Eat a variety of healthy meals – Make it interesting for your brain to register various tastes and textures of food. This way you will replace feelings of boredom after quitting, for feelings of excitement about eating good food.
  5. Pamper yourself – Give yourself a pat on the back for giving up smoking and treat yourself using the cash you have saved from expensive cigarettes.

Quit the bad habit of smoking before it’s too late and enjoy the benefits from day one.

For more information please contact:
Dr AJ Mahmood (Surgeon)
FCS (SA), H Dip Surg (SA), MB BS Chittagon,
Daxina Private Hospital,
Telephone: +27 87 087 0644
Email: info@lenmed.co.za or mahmoodaj@hotmail.com

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.