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(Wednesday, 26th Nov, 2014)
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Quitting smoking

www.irishhealth.com]

Quitting smoking

What is smoking doing to me?

If you smoke, it is probably killing you. After all, smoking kills over seven thousand Irish people every year. These days the health risks are well-publicised, even on the cigarette packets themselves. But in case you had forgotten, here are a few reasons why giving up is the best idea you are ever likely to have:

  • Smokers will lose on average between ten and fifteen years of their potential life span.
  • Smoking is a principal cause of both lung cancer and heart disease, two of Ireland’s biggest killers, and two of the most difficult complaints to live with.
  • Smoking causes ulcers, which bleed in your stomach and can make eating painful, as well as being potentially life-threatening.
  • And bronchitis and emphysema, which can make breathing extremely difficult
  • And cancer of the throat, the mouth, the oesophagus or the urinary bladder.
  • And vascular disease, which can lead to having your legs amputated.
  • If you smoke while pregnant, your child smokes too. You are more likely to miscarry, or have a stillborn baby. The child, if it survives, will have a lower birth weight than if you had not smoked, and will be more likely to contract illnesses.
  • Smoking costs a fortune, and brings you no benefits in return for your money. Do the sums. If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, multiply the cost of a pack by 365. You’ll save nearly 1,400 at current prices over the next year alone. That could instead pay for a holiday in the sun. And you'll be healthier.
  • Smokers are affecting everyone else's health too. Everyone you live with is a third more likely to contract lung cancer or heart disease.
  • Your taste buds are deadened.
  • Your sense of smell is deadened. In one way, that might be for the best, because you probably wouldn't want to smell the stink emanating from your breath, clothes and hair.
  • There are over 4,000 chemicals in tobacco, many of them deliberately added by tobacco companies. At least 43 of them are known to cause cancer in humans. The rest aren’t good for you either.

The list of reasons to quit is virtually endless. There is no single thing that you can possibly do that will have such profound health benefits as giving up smoking. Just flick through any medical textbook and you'll find, right there at the top of every doctor's wish list, is that patients stop smoking. That one step alone would do more to improve the health of the nation than most anything else. It would also free up thousands of hospital beds, shorten waiting lists, and save the Irish taxpayer hundreds of millions a year — this would, in the longer term, easily offset the loss of tax revenue from cigarette sales.

If you give up, your life will be longer and you will have more energy to enjoy it. You will be much less likely to be ill. You will have more money in your pocket. Your family and friends will not have to suffer because of your habit. Even food will taste better. You won’t have to cough every morning, or spit out dirty phlegm and mucus.

Why is it so difficult to give up?

When you think of all the reasons not to smoke, it seems bizarre why anyone would continue with such an expensive, dirty, unhealthy habit. Only one reason, perhaps, could possibly override all the good reasons to quit, and that is addiction.

Quite simply, nicotine is one of the most addictive substances a human can take into their system. Nicotine works by stimulating the central nervous system, increasing the body’s heart rate, blood pressure and metabolism. When you take a drag of a cigarette, you will experience the effects of nicotine in under eight seconds.

When inhaled, it also briefly releases the body from craving, while reinforcing the need to smoke. Each cigarette smoked reinforces the craving for the next one. It’s a vicious circle, but it can be broken.

Nicotine is known to alter moods, especially when you try to give up. Nicotine withdrawal can cause everything from restlessness and irritability to anger, anxiety and depression. People giving up find that they cough more mucus and phlegm than they ever did before. This is the body trying to clear the lungs of the tarry deposits left there by cigarettes.

How can I give up smoking?

Some people simply make the decision not to smoke again and quit. The "cold turkey" approach is not for everyone, but strong willpower is essential to make sure that you don"t go back to the old habit.

Firstly you should think about your reasons for quitting. There are certainly plenty to choose from! However, you have to have your own reasons, and they have to be good enough to see you through cravings. Perhaps you want to be healthy so that you can enjoy playing with your kids. Maybe you'd like to take up a sport. You might be fed up with coughing all the time, or would like to keep the money you'll save on tobacco to spend on something else.

When you've made your decision to quit, set a date for stopping and prepare to quit. Think about where and when you usually have a cigarette. These are the times that you are likely to have cravings after you stop smoking. You may have to change your routine, and find things to do with your hands. The important thing is to break the habit — not just the smoking habit, but any habits that lead you to smoke. Decide how you will cope being around other smokers. Know how to refuse if you are offered a cigarette. Don’t be tempted to take even one drag of a cigarette. The poisonous nicotine will stimulate all the old craving.

Remember that everyone will help. Your GP can give you advice on how to alter your habitual behaviour, and can encourage you by monitoring the improvement in your health as you stay off the cigs. If you ask, your family and friends will help you maintain your willpower. After all, if you stop smoking, you stop polluting their atmosphere too. The vast majority of smokers would like to quit, and you may find that even smokers will be supportive of your giving up.

Take it one day at a time. Every day you do not smoke improves your health, just as every cigarette damages it. You may fail, and find yourself smoking again. Most smokers who quit have to try more than once before they are successful, so do not be downhearted. Give it another go.

Remember, it is never too late to stop smoking, and there are always benefits to be gained by quitting. Your risk of contracting heart disease starts falling immediately, and after a few years of not smoking your chances of getting lung cancer will have fallen to the levels of a person who never smoked.

Where can I get help with quitting?

Your GP is the best person to give you practical advice on how to give up smoking. They can advise you about commercial products that claim to control cravings, like nicotine patches and gum, and help you with strategies for staying away from cigarettes for good.

You might also like to contact ASH — Action on Smoking and Health, who campaign for a smoking-free Ireland. They have a website at www.ash.ie

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