Time and again, a lot of people make good New Year’s resolutions at the end of the year. The most popular of these is to quit smoking. Nevertheless, a lot of smokers can’t get away from cigarettes, which proves that quitting smoking is a very hard thing to do for many people. In this article, we will talk about how you can become and stay a non-smoker.
Why Should You Quit Smoking?
Smoking is certainly one of the greatest preventable health risks. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 480,000 people die each year in the United States as a result of tobacco consumption. Even though most smokers know about the health consequences of their addiction, many find it difficult to quit. However, there are many good reasons to beat the addiction for good.
For example, the misconception that smoking only causes lung cancer is false – because other types of cancer, like breast cancer, pancreatic cancer or tumors in the upper digestive tract (oral cavity, tongue, esophagus) are also caused by the harmful substances in tobacco smoke. Particularly those with a family history of smoking should give up their harmful habit.
But the cancer risk is not the only reason. Cigarette smoking promotes the development of arteriosclerosis, i.e. deposits in the blood vessels. Narrowing of the blood vessels can result in heart attacks, strokes and also peripheral arterial occlusive disease (smoker’s leg).
In addition, smoking is a major risk factor for the lung disease known as COPD. Furthermore, smoking also accelerates skin aging, leads to tooth discoloration and bad breath, and to periodontitis. If left untreated, the latter can contribute to premature tooth loss. Damage to blood vessels can cause erectile dysfunction in men. Females who not only smoke but also take the pill have an increased risk of thrombosis.
Smoking during pregnancy will increase the risk of miscarriage or premature birth. There are therefore many good reasons to quit smoking. By not smoking, parents protect their child from the damage caused by passive smoking – for many, the most important reason to stop smoking.
Quitting is Always Good for Your Health
Here’s the good news: quitting is worth it at any age and will improve your health and life expectancy. What sounds logical has now been proven by studies. In fact, even long-time smokers recover amazingly well when they are no longer exposed to the toxins in tobacco smoke.
For example, three days after quitting smoking, respiratory function improves. After a week, blood pressure drops. Within a few years, the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease is reduced, in some cases to the level of lifelong non-smokers. Anyone who is already suffering from a cigarette-related disease increases the chances of successful treatment by stopping smoking.
There Are Mind Benefits, Too
Most smokers would like to give up their habit, but they are afraid that psychological problems will increase or that their social life will suffer. But a study by the Cochrane organization found that this is not the case. More than 100 studies with around 170,000 people revealed that If you stop smoking for at least six weeks, you are doing your body and mind good. As a result of quitting smoking, depression, anxiety and stress decreased, and positive feelings and well-being increased.
There Are Many Good Reasons to Quit
A lot of smokers have already considered quitting. One reason may be their own health or pregnancy. Some people want to save money, look younger or be a good role model for their children. Even the coronavirus can be a reason to quit: Some studies suggest that smokers are at increased risk for severe covid 19.
E-cigarette to Kick the Habit?
To quit smoking is anything but easy. Nicotine is strongly addictive. In addition, many quitters painfully miss the ritual of smoking. An increasing number of smokers are switching to electric cigarettes, or e-cigarettes for short. There are many variations of these.
All of them work in a similar way: a heating element vaporizes a liquid with or without nicotine. Smokers draw in the vapor through a mouthpiece. It has not been proven whether e-cigarettes are an effective long-term aid against nicotine addiction. They are not officially approved as smoking quit aids.
One Addiction Replaces the Other
Recent studies show that many smokers who switch to e-cigarettes do manage to kick the habit. But they fall into an addiction to e-cigarettes in return. The long-term harm of e-cigarettes is unclear. The reason is that no conclusive long-term studies have been conducted.
This is How You Can Quit Smoking
Those smokers who choose to quit have a difficult road ahead of them. Indeed, only about 5 percent quit at the first attempt and with no support. However, this should not discourage anyone from trying to quit smoking.
From Medicines to Quitting Courses
For those who are not motivated enough to quit smoking, a variety of options are available. We analyzed studies on medications and methods to make quitting easier. The conclusion is that medication can roughly double the chances of success. Smoking cessation courses have similar success rates. When combined, the measures are even more effective.
Studies on other methods, such as acupuncture and hypnosis, have shown that they are less effective. The benefits of switching from regular cigarettes to e-cigarettes or the Iqos tobacco heater cannot yet be clinched either. There are no studies on the long-term effects on health. But such products do seem to help some smokers get away from traditional tobacco use.
So why is it so difficult to quit smoking? The main reason is the nicotine contained in cigarettes. Nicotine produces relaxing and euphoric effects in the brain, leading to addiction. The withdrawal often manifests itself in symptoms such as irritability and dejection.
In addition, many addicts miss the ritual of smoking, partly because cigarettes are often linked with nice moments, such as coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in a social gathering. In the following, we will talk about some steps to quit smoking.
Step 1: Set Clear Goals
Remaining strong in such situations and getting through withdrawal symptoms is a challenge. In order to master them more easily, you should think about why you actually want to become smoke-free. There are different reasons. For some, the feeling of dependence is annoying. Others would like to have more beautiful skin or no longer be out of breath when climbing stairs.
Step 2: Keeping an Eye on Individual Challenges
If you know your own motivation, it’s easier to identify your individual hurdles. To do this, smokers note down for a few days when and why they reach for a cigarette, this helps them know which situations to be emotionally prepared for or which to avoid for now. Another important thing to do is to involve family and friends, they can be supportive and provide some social control. This helps with perseverance.
Step 3: Exercise as a Reward is Twice as Useful
If everything is in place, then the most important step comes: quitting smoking. From a psychological point of view, it’s best to set a date and then quit completely. From the beginning, you should be proud of yourself, celebrate “section days” without a cigarette, and treat yourself to rewards.
When a sudden desire for a cigarette arises, substitute actions help, such as taking a few deep breaths or sucking on a spicy candy. Getting plenty of exercise is also good. This is a distraction and gives you a direct sense of achievement, as you notice how quickly you get fit without cigarettes.
This new healthy feeling can be increased with a balanced diet. If you fight nicotine cravings with fruit and vegetables and do a lot of exercise, you also prevent extra pounds, a much-feared consequence of quitting smoking.
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Longtime Smokers Benefit, Too
More important than the risk of extra kilos are the positive effects of giving up smoking. In fact, even long-time smokers can recover surprisingly well when they are no longer exposed to the toxins in tobacco smoke. After three days of quitting, the function of the respiratory tract improves. After one week, blood pressure drops.
In just a few years, the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease is reduced, and in some cases to the level of lifelong non-smokers. For those who already suffer from a cigarette-related disease, stopping smoking increases the chances of successful treatment.
The key to reaching your goal is to persevere. In most cases, the worst withdrawal symptoms are gone after two weeks. Yet the urge to smoke can still occur after months. Keep strong, that’s the motto. Anyone who indulges in “just one” risks a relapse. When that happens, don’t get discouraged, but analyze what was wrong and learn for next time. At this point, at the latest, it’s also worth considering additional remedies.
How Remedies Can Help
Nicotine replacement medicines like patches and gum are available over the counter. They deliver nicotine to the body and thus reduce withdrawal symptoms. But health insurers do not pay for them, nor do they cover the prescription tablets Zyban and Champix.
One thing is true of all the drugs: they work most effectively when users seek mental support. Participants in the trials of the drugs also mostly received psychological help, such as personal counseling. That alone can roughly double the chance of quitting from 5 to 10 percent.
When an additional nicotine replacement product is added, the overall success rates are about 16 percent, and similar for Zyban. Champix does slightly better, with over 20 percent. Similarly, the effect is good when heavy smokers combine nicotine replacement products, for example, use patches and low-dose chewing gum at the same time.
It’s Easier with Fellow Smokers
Non-smoking courses are usually run in groups. This enables participants to share experiences and support each other during critical phases. Even online forums without specific therapeutic guidance can be effective. Fellow campaigners are always good. Support, encouragement and congratulations for weeks and months without cigarettes motivate people to continue.
Decided to Quit! How to Get Started
You can only remain smoke-free permanently if you are determined and combine several measures. Therefore, people who want to quit smoking should think carefully about how they want to proceed. In the following we will tell you how you can best prepare yourself and which measures can help you. It is important not to get discouraged if you fail with one method! Try again and again to get away from the cigarette.
Motivation. Write down all the reasons why you want to quit smoking.
Self-observation. Keep a log of your smoking behavior. Write down how many cigarettes you smoke and in what situations. Consider certain substitute actions that you can use to get around the temptation situations, at least for the first critical period. Go to the movies instead of the pub, for example, drink tea instead of coffee.
Books and courses. Since for most smokers, willpower alone is not enough, you may want to seek psychological support in courses or books, or even take medication to help you. With measures like these, you can significantly increase your chances of quitting.
Point-close method. From a psychological point of view, this method is generally considered the first choice and is appropriate for smokers who would like to stop smoking from one day to the next. Schedule a specific day from which you will stop smoking. Throw away or give away all cigarettes. Place ashtrays out of sight. Do not change your smoking behavior before this day.
Reduction Method. If you’ve failed with the point-close method, you may want to try the slow quit method. It is up to the individual to decide in which steps you give up cigarettes.
Diet. When you stop smoking and continue to eat as before, you will probably gain weight. This is because, first of all, your metabolism will run more slowly without nicotine. And secondly, you will probably be hungrier, as nicotine has an appetite-suppressing effect.
The weight will usually level off again after a few months. But it is better if you use the withdrawal to change your eating habits. You should eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and little fat. Be sure to drink plenty of water. Some people even use water or vegetable snacks as a way to fight spontaneous cravings for a cigarette.
How do pharmaceutical remedies work?
Drugs increase the chance of quitting smoking permanently. There are patches and chewing gum with nicotine, as well as tablets with other active ingredients.
Nicotine as a Patch
For smoother withdrawal. Over-the-counter patches steadily release nicotine into the blood and are primarily for heavy, regular smokers. There are patches in different strengths. The starting dose will depend on the number of cigarettes smoked. After a few weeks, users switch to the next lower dose. It costs about 100 dollars a month, and health insurance companies do not cover the cost. The therapy lasts about three months.
Nicotine in a Hurry
Over-the-counter chewing gum, lozenges, etc. quickly release nicotine into the body through the oral mucosa. As a result, they help to quell spontaneous cravings for a cigarette. These products are sometimes used as a supplement to nicotine patches. In this case, the dose must be as low as possible. Prospective non-smokers should gradually reduce their consumption of chewing gum and lozenges to zero. Cost: depending on the amount needed daily, often similar to patches. Therapy runs for about three months.
Tablets Prescribed by a Doctor
With prescription only. Champix, with varenicline as the active ingredient, and Zyban, with bupropion as the active ingredient, are available by prescription and suppress nicotine cravings. Users start taking them while they are still smoking, and then quit cigarettes one to two weeks later. Cost: Simplified for both medications: You need two tablets a day (follow the package insert). In the month around 130 dollars, which must be paid by the patient. The therapy takes about two months with Zyban, and three months with Champix.
What do Courses, Telephone Counseling, Hypnosis and Co. Bring?
A lot of people seek help to quit smoking – especially if they have already had one unsuccessful attempt. Generally, it is useful to support smoking cessation with several factors. There are other options besides medications. Some of these are free – or health insurance companies contribute to the cost.
Behavioral Training Can Help
Psychologically based courses have the best record of success. Smokers learn how to control their craving for a cigarette and how to successfully cope with withdrawal symptoms, which are generally most intense two to three days after quitting smoking. It also focuses on which personal smoking triggers they should stay away from in the future.
People who have already had quit attempts can find out what they failed at. This type of behavioral training comes in a variety of forms, such as face-to-face therapy sessions, group therapy, or via telehealth (telephone counseling, video consultation, text messaging, self-help materials).
Group Training Can Improve Chances of Success
Professionals manage the group and use psychological methods of behavioral therapy. Those taking part analyze their habits and learn to resist in typical situations and to avoid reaching for a cigarette. A group training course like this can approximately double the chances of quitting. The courses are available at adult education centers and clinics. Those interested should ask whether their health insurance company will cover the costs: Many health insurers provide subsidies for certified courses, often leaving only a small co-payment.
Effectiveness of Acupuncture and Hypnosis is Questionable
So far, there are no conclusive clinical studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of acupuncture and hypnosis. Nevertheless, some people report positive experiences. Such therapies are most likely to be considered when no other measure has helped. The costs vary widely. Usually, prospective non-smokers have to pay for them entirely out of their own pockets.
This is How Addiction Develops
Smokers are frequently not only physically but also psychologically addicted to smoking. This is what makes quitting so difficult all the time. Nicotine is to blame here.
The Plant Poison Nicotine
Nicotine is a natural component of the tobacco plant and is poisonous to humans in high doses. As little as the usual amount of up to 1 milligram per cigarette may cause mild symptoms of poisoning in novice smokers. With the first cigarette, most people feel nauseous and dizzy, while their head aches and their heart races.
Positive Effects of Nicotine
Nevertheless, the body quickly gets used to the poison. No more symptoms of poisoning occur. In fact, the opposite is true: nicotine subsequently has positive effects such as increased concentration, a better mood, relaxation in times of stress, and less hunger. What is fatal is that this effect starts immediately and is associated in the mind directly with smoking.
Furthermore, since smoking is generally linked to pleasant situations, like socializing, drinking coffee, and taking breaks, there is conditioning. When certain key stimuli occur, the smoker automatically reaches for the cigarette.
For heavy smokers, the positive effect of nicotine fades after only 20 to 30 minutes, and the craving for another cigarette arises. If a smoker does not give in to this urge, withdrawal symptoms occur. They can last from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the degree of dependence. The desire for a cigarette and the increased feeling of hunger can last for half a year or longer.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Irritability, depressed mood, anxiety, frustration,
- Fatigue, insomnia, difficulty concentrating,
- Strong craving for a cigarette (craving),
- Increased appetite, feeling hungry, weight gain, indigestion,
- Heart palpitations, low blood pressure.
Reasons for relapse
There can be many reasons for the failure of a cessation attempt: Physical withdrawal symptoms are only one of them. Nicotine medications can alleviate them. Breaking the habit, i.e. not reaching for a cigarette in key stimulus situations, is harder. This takes a firm will, supported by clear motivation and the help of others.