It is estimated that the death toll from smoking is more than half a million people per year in the United States. But smoking is also the single most preventable cause of disease, disability and death.
“Smoking affects every system in your body,” says Donna Bond, D.N.P., R.N., a Carilion Clinic certified tobacco treatment specialist. “Every time you take a puff on a cigarette, you are constricting oxygen and blood flow to every system and every organ in your body, so over time the damage just adds up everywhere.”
Bond notes that one of the main problems is that many people do not see the damage caused by smoking until later in life.
“Many people that smoke think, ‘I am 50, so it is normal for me to be short of breath or to have to slow down,’ so they might ignore the signs and continue to smoke,” she says. “But, it is absolutely not normal to experience those kinds of symptoms.”
Long-term effects from smoking can first appear as smoker’s cough, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or lung cancer.
Benefits of Quitting
But it is never too late to quit smoking! Almost immediately after you quit, your lungs and other smoke-damaged organs start to repair themselves. You can start getting better the day you put down the cigarettes.
Blood pressure and heart rate decrease.
Carbon monoxide and oxygen levels in blood return to normal.
Chance of heart attack decreases.
Better sense of smell and taste as nerve endings start to regrow.
2 weeks–3 months
Lung function and blood circulation improves.
Coughing and shortness of breath improve.
Likelihood of a heart attack is cut in half of that of a smoker and you have saved approximately $2,000 from not buying cigarettes.
Stroke risk goes down to that of a non-smoker.
Risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a person who smokes, you have less risk of many other kinds of cancers caused by smoking, and you have saved approximately $22,000 from not buying cigarettes.
Your risk of coronary heart disease is now the same as a nonsmoker.
Quitting is physical, psychological, emotional and behavioral, so it helps to have a plan of action and to use some sort of program when quitting.
“Smoking becomes an ingrained part of a smoker’s day, so certain activities or times of day will become a trigger to smoke,” says Donna. “I tell my patients that they have to figure out what they are going to do instead of lighting up a cigarette when those triggers pop up.”
Try some of Donna’s top tips to get started:
- Set a quit date and stick to it.
- Select a quitting method, such as medications, cold turkey, switching to brands that have lower nicotine amounts or gradually reducing the amount of cigarettes per day.
- Tell your friends, family and coworkers you are quitting.
- Learn coping techniques. Be prepared for withdrawals and know what you can do in place of smoking. For example, take a walk, drink plenty of water, have healthy snacks on hand or take up a new hobby.
- Avoid triggers. For example, if you are used to having coffee and a cigarette in the morning, switch to tea instead. Or if you often smoke after eating, find other ways to end a meal, such as taking a walk.
- Get help. Talk to your health care provider about a cessation program, nicotine therapy, or individual or group counseling. Or try one of these helpful resources:
- 1-800-QuitNow, a free telephone service that will link callers to a trained quit coach in their area that will help them quit tobacco.
- Smokefree.gov, a free website that allows you to choose the help that best fits your needs. Includes information, LiveHelp, quit lines and other helpful material.
- BecomeAnEx.org, a free website people can use to create a personal quit smoking plan to re-learn life without cigarettes. You can also connect with other people who are trying to quit.
And most importantly, don’t give up. Smoking is a hard habit to break, but you have the power to quit and improve your health!