5 Things Every Smoker Should Know

1. It’s never too late to quit smoking.

Time After Quitting – Here’s What Can Happen

  • 1 Day – Your blood pressure and pulse rate may drop.
  • 2 Days – The carbon monoxide level in your blood may return to normal. (Carbon monoxide makes it hard for blood to carry oxygen.)
  • 3 to 5 Days – Your gums may start to recover.
  • 4 Weeks – You may cough and wheeze less and have less shortness of breath.
  • 2 To 12 Weeks – Your circulation may improve and your lungs may start to work better.
  • 1 Year – Your risk of coronary heart disease due to smoking may be half that of someone who is still smoking.
  • 4 Years – Your risk of bladder cancer may be reduced by about 50%
  • 5 Years – Your risk of oral cancer and cancer of the esophagus may be reduced by up to 50%.
  • 10 Years – Your risk of lung cancer may be about 50% to 70% less than the risk of someone who is still smoking.
  • 15 Years – Your risk of stroke and coronary heart disease may be the same as for someone who has never smoked.

More potential benefits from quitting smoking and staying quit:

  • Your sense of taste and smell may improve.
  • Your breath, hair, and clothes won’t smell like smoke.
  • When you quit smoking, the savings can add up. The cost of a pack of cigarettes varies from state to state. The national average cost of a pack of cigarettes is $4.26. If you smoke 1 pack a day, quitting will save you an average of more than $1,500 a year. Your actual savings may be more or less.

You can still benefit from quitting smoking even if you have smoked for years:

  • Smokers who quit at any age generally live longer than those who don’t.
  • Quitting may be beneficial even if you have a smoking-related disease. These diseases include heart or lung disease.
  • You may benefit even if you are a heavy smoker or have poor lung health.

2. Smoking is more than just a habit.

Why is it so hard to quit?

  • For many people, smoking is an addiction.
    Cigarettes contain nicotine. Nicotine is very addictive.
  • Smoking sends nicotine to your brain. 
    Then your brain releases certain chemicals. They have a pleasing effect. Some may make you feel calm and content. Others may make you feel alert and focused.
  • But the pleasure does not last long. 
    When it wears off, your body may crave more nicotine. As you smoke, your body adjusts to nicotine and feels less pleasure. You may need to smoke more to get the desired effect. That’s why you continue to crave cigarettes.

    Understanding withdrawal symptoms

    Quitting smoking may cause some discomfort. The lack of nicotine may lead to nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

    These symptoms may include:

    • Depression
    • Irritability, frustration, or anger
    • Trouble concentrating
    • Cravings
    • Sleep trouble
    • Anxiety
    • Restlessness
    • Increased hunger or weight gain

    Quitting smoking may also lead to worsening of mental health problems you may already have, such as depression. It is important to seek your doctor’s help when quitting. Your doctor can help you develop a quit plan and choose the best way for you to quit.

3. There are many ways to quit.

There are 3 common ways to attempt to quit smoking.

  1. Do it yourself (“cold turkey”)
    • Doing it yourself may be the simplest way to quit, but it may also be the hardest.
    • Only 3-5% of smokers who quit on their own are able to stay quit for up to 1 year. Most smokers return to smoking within a few days.
    • Cutting down on your smoking is a good start. But it may not be enough. You need to completely quit smoking. Nicotine’s effects are so powerful that just 1 cigarette can reignite your urge to smoke.
    • If you slip up, don’t give up. You can still quit smoking. Many people need more than 1 attempt to succeed. So try again – either on your own or with one of the other strategies for quitting.
  2. Get Counseling
    • Quitting smoking may be tough. But you don’t have to do it alone. Ask your doctor for help or join a support group. They can give you counseling and emotional support that may help you succeed.
    • Ask your employer or health plan if they provide individual or group counseling.
    • Telephone support may also help.
    • Try it for yourself. Call the National Smoking Cessation Hotline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). There may be other programs near you. Find out by calling your local chapter of the American Lung Association or American Cancer Society.
  3. Use quit smoking medicine (only for adults 18 and over)
    There are 7 medicines approved by the FDA to help you quit smoking.

    1. Nicotine Patch
      • 3 strengths available (21 mg, 14 mg, and 7 mg)
      • Prescription or over the counter (OTC)
    2. Nicotine Gum
      • 2 Strengths available (2mg and 4mg)
      • OTC
    3. Nicotine Lozenge
      • 2 Strengths available (2 mg and 4 mg)
      • OTC
    4. Nicotine Inhaler
      • 10 mg cartridge delivers 4 mg spray
      • Prescription only
    5. Nicotine Nasal Spray
      • Metered spray delivers 0.5 mg
      • Prescription only
    6. Bupropion hydrochloride sustained release (Zyban®)
      • 150 mg tablets
      • Prescription only
    7. Varenicline (Chantix®)
      • 2 Strengths available (0.5 mg and 1 mg pill)
      • Prescription only
      • Comes with the GETQUIT Support Program for Chantix® users
    8. Ask your doctor which medicine is right for you.

      *For important safety information, Medication Guide, and full Prescribing Information for Chantix®, please visit their website at http://www.chantix.com
      Zyban is a registered trademark of Glaxo Group Limited. Chantix is a registered trademark of Pfizer Inc.

    The combination of counseling and medicine is more effective than either alone.
    Counseling or medicine can help you quit smoking. But the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that you use both when trying to quit. That’s because combining them gives you a better chance of success than trying either alone. Talk to your doctor and ask if this plan is right for you.

    It’s important to have a plan.
    No matter how you choose to quit, you’ll need a plan and a healthy dose of motivation. Here are some tips for quitting and staying quit.

    • Make 2 lists: a list of reasons to quit and a list of people you know who have quit. The first list will remind you why quitting is important. The second will remind you that people like you have already succeeded. Keep your lists handy and refer to them whenever you begin to struggle.
    • Try to get your friends and family who smoke to quit with you.
    • Tell your friends and family that you are quitting. Ask them to support you and to help keep you on course.
    • Pick a quit date and stick to it.
    • As your quit date approaches, throw out your ashtrays, clean your house, car, and clothes, and clean your teeth.
    • Anticipate withdrawal symptoms, like restlessness or hunger. They usually peak within 2 weeks after you quit and then gradually lessen. To get through the rough patches, think of ways to keep yourself occupied. Stock up on healthy snacks and sugarless gum or candy. Plan fun activities to keep your mind off smoking. Keep your hands busy by doodling, knitting, using worry beads, etc.
    • Try to relax with meditation, deep breathing, or yoga.
    • Talk to your doctor about beginning an exercise program. It may relieve tension, promote good sleep, and help control weight gain. Walking for 30 minutes a day may help.
    • Eat a healthy diet to help control weight gain.
    • Stay away from secondhand smoke; skip parties where people will be smoking.
    • Don’t even think about smoking “just one.” Remember, even a single puff can get you smoking again.
    • Reward yourself. Put your tobacco money aside and then spend it on a special treat.
    • Look for changes in your health. The more you notice them, the more you may appreciate your decision to quit.
    • Count the money you’re saving by not buying cigarettes.
    • If you slip up and smoke, try again. Talk to your doctor about the best options for your next quit attempt.
    • Take it one day at a time. You CAN quit!

Quitting smoking may be the best thing you can ever do for yourself. If you’re ready to quit – or just thinking about quitting – talk to your doctor. You can get help, and you can do it. In fact, there are nearly as many former smokers in the U.S. today as current smokers.

© Copyright Harvard Medical School, Pri-Med Patient Education Center, MGMA (Medical Group Management Association, “5 Things Every Smoker Should Know”, ca. 2010, Harvard Medical School