The benefits of quitting smoking

Smoking takes the lives of 45,000 Canadians each year. To put that in perspective, that's more deaths than drug abuse, suicide, murder, HIV, and motor vehicle accidents combined. So the simple answer to "Why is it beneficial to quit smoking?" is it can save, or at least prolong, your life.

In addition, smoking contributes to a multitude of health problems. By quitting, many of them can be avoided. Here's a list of the serious health conditions that smoking is closely linked with.

  • lung cancer and other respiratory conditions
  • heart attack and stroke
  • several forms of cancer, including mouth, throat, stomach, bladder, cervical, and kidney cancer
  • dental problems like gum disease
  • fertility issues

The new you
Once a smoker quits, improvements in their overall health take shape very quickly.

For instance, within 20 minutes of quitting, blood pressure returns to levels near those before your last cigarette.

After 8 hours, carbon monoxide levels in your body return to normal.

Within 48 hours, your chances of having a heart attack begin to decrease.

After as little as 72 hours, you start to breathe easier. You will also feel less tired and will not experience extreme shortness of breath, especially while exercising.

And a year later, your risk of heart disease will have dropped by 50%.

Other benefits of quitting include being able to taste and smell food better, having better breath, and eliminating the smell of stale smoke from your clothes, your car and your home.

Long-term effects of quitting smoking are even more beneficial. For example, within 10 years of quitting, your risk of dying from lung cancer will decrease by half. Also, your risk of dying from a heart attack will return to the level of a person who never smoked.

To learn more about the benefits of quitting smoking, talk to your doctor, dentist, or pharmacist.

The health costs of second-hand smoke

Just as smokers do harm to their own health when they smoke, the non-smokers around them are also affected by this habit.

Research shows that even second-hand smoke increases the risk of developing certain cancers, heart disease, and lung disease. About 800 non-smokers in Canada die from heart disease and cancer caused by second-hand smoke every year. In as little as 8 minutes, your body begins to react to second-hand smoke - it doesn't take much to harm you. If you're pregnant, there's also a risk to your child. Smoking while pregnant and exposure to second-hand smoke can cause low birth weight and increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirths, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Kids and second-hand smoke
There are approximately 50 cancer-causing toxic substances in second-hand smoke. It's no surprise then that when kids breathe in smoke-filled air, they face a number of health risks.

The following is a list of various diseases and conditions that children exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to develop:

  • asthma
  • ear infections
  • respiratory infections (e.g., croup and pneumonia)
  • leukemia
  • tonsillitis
  • impaired growth
  • abnormal cholesterol levels

Asthma, a chronic lung condition in which the airways become inflamed and swollen causing them to narrow, is becoming increasingly common among Canadian children - it has quadrupled in the last 20 years. For children with asthma, second-hand smoke can trigger an attack and a serious asthma attack may require hospitalization and, in some cases, may even be fatal.

All of this harm to smokers and their loved ones drives home one resounding point - butting out for good is in everyone's best interests. Read "Quitting smoking - methods that can help" to find out important information on how to quit.

Quitting smoking - methods that can help

Because every person is unique, the quitting strategy that worked for your friend or coworker may not be the one for you. In fact, experts believe a combined approach is most helpful.

In other words, the most effective strategies are those that help with the physical dependence, like nicotine replacement products and other medications, combined with approaches that address psychological dependence, like support groups or counselling.

Here are two strategies that many smokers have found to be successful.

Stop smoking aids
In Canada, products to help you quit smoking come in two varieties. The first are nicotine replacement products, such as chewing pieces (gum), inhalers, lozenges, and patches, which are all available without a prescription. These products contain nicotine, and are used to prevent the withdrawal symptoms that occur in the first few days or weeks of stopping smoking, so that you can focus on learning about life as a non-smoker. When used properly, they can be a very effective tool in a quit smoking plan. Your pharmacist can recommend the right form for you. The second type of product are prescription medications, called bupropion (which works on certain chemicals in the brain) or varenicline (which is thought to work on receptors in the body), to help you stop smoking. You will need a prescription from your doctor to use either of these medications and it may not be suitable for all people. If you're ready to quit, you should talk to your doctor to find out which product is right for you.

Counselling and support groups
Group support programs are one of the most successful methods of quitting smoking. They can be used alone, or in conjunction with other tools, such as medications. In a group support program, people trying to quit smoking discuss the successes and challenges they are experiencing as they try to quit smoking and get advice and support from group leaders and their peers. Contact your local public health department to find out what stop smoking groups are active in your community.

Individual counselling programs range from brief advice to intensive, one-on-one counselling, usually provided by specialty clinics. Talk to your doctor about whether individual counselling is an appropriate option for you.

These two strategies are often used together to increase the chances of success.

Quitting tips
No matter how old you are, quitting can be hard, but it is fully within your reach.

Here are some tips that will help make quitting easier:

  • Congratulate yourself. Whether this is your first time, or you've tried quitting before, you should be proud of yourself for recognizing the dangers of smoking and doing something about it.
  • Make an action plan. This plan can help you recognize what you need to do and how you will do it. Things to include on it are a list of the important benefits of quitting, a list of the situations in which you smoke and the reasons why you smoke - this will help you identify what "triggers" you to light up - and finally, a list of fun and healthy activities to replace smoking.
  • Set a quit date. Set a date that is good for you. Try not to choose a date that may already be stressful due to social commitments or work deadlines. Weekends are often a good time to choose as your quit date, since you can fill them up with other activities to help keep your mind off smoking. The importance of a quit date is to make sure that you stick to it. A quit date may signal the end of your smoking days, but it is also the beginning of enjoying all the benefits of your new, healthier life.
  • Stay clear of smoking triggers. Starting on the day you quit, try to remove or avoid your smoking triggers. For example, if you associate coffee with smoking, try drinking tea or water instead. If you usually smoke at parties, find other ways to socialize with friends.
  • Exercise. This is a great way to relax and feel good, instead of smoking. More importantly, as you get into shape, you can repair some of the damage tobacco has done to your body over time.
  • Reward yourself. Quitting is not easy. Reward yourself from time to time for a job well done. For example, you can use the money that you've saved to buy yourself something special.
  • Get support. It's always a good idea to get the support of a close friend or family member, or someone else you respect who wants to see you succeed at quitting. When you need a helping hand they can help you stick to your plan.

For more tips and information on quitting smoking, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Breathe easy - strategies for avoiding second-hand smoke

In recent years, several municipal governments in Canada have passed bylaws to ban smoking in public places.

The push to be smoke-free has significantly eliminated the amount of exposure people have to second-hand smoke, as people no longer have to breathe it in at the local restaurant or bar. This is particularly true for individuals who work in the hospitality industry.

These tips can help you find other ways to breathe better by avoiding second-hand smoke.

  • Smoke-free home. Whether it's a family member or a visitor, you have the option of telling whomever is in your home that they cannot smoke inside.
  • Ban it from the car. The small, enclosed environment of a car means smoke doesn't have anywhere to go. You breathe in more of it and the odour tends to linger. Ban smokers from lighting up in your car and you'll be breathing easier when on the road.
  • Smoke talk. Educating people about the dangers of second-hand smoke can be effective. What you say can influence others, so pointing out (without being judgmental) how dangerous smoking is for everyone around them may just be the push a smoker needs to butt out.