Quitting is hard—especially if you’re trying to kick a smoking habit. Maybe you’ve raised children, juggled a difficult job or tackled life-changing events. You’ve done really hard things in your life yet saying goodbye to tobacco is one of the hardest things you can’t seem to do.
It can take smokers multiple attempts to quit smoking before they completely go smoke-free. Despite these struggles, however, we know quitting is worth it.
Why is smoking bad for me?
“Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemical components and at least 250 of these chemicals are known to be harmful to humans and cause cancer,” said Rena Szabo, PsyD, CAADC, TTS, MA, MEd, director of the psycho-oncology program at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center at Banner Gateway Medical Center.
Nicotine, one of the most well-known chemicals in cigarettes (and the addictive part), can damage the developing brain of young smokers, as well as affecting attention and mood. In addition, other gases and particles found in cigarettes, such as carbon monoxide, ammonia, formaldehyde, lead and cadmium, can damage not only your lungs but can also pass into your blood and spread through your body.
“Cadmium, for example, has been linked with bacterial infections in the lungs, cardiovascular disease, chronic bronchitis, decrease in bone density, pulmonary emphysema and lung, kidney and prostate cancers in tobacco smokers,” Dr. Szabo said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking increases your risk for cancer, heart disease and other major illnesses, and is especially dangerous during pregnancy for the mother and unborn child. It’s also recognized that secondhand smoking and thirdhand smoke can put others at risk as well.
Why is it so hard to stop smoking?
“Nicotine is the most addictive substance and breaking this habit is extremely difficult, both physically and mentally,” Dr. Szabo said. “The average person who learns to become a non-smoker through recovery has already attempted to stop smoking 11 to 15 times.”
Quitting smoking means breaking the cycle of addiction and essentially rewiring the brain to stop craving nicotine. For some, quitting can be as easy as deciding to stop, while for many others it isn’t that easy.
To be successful, smokers who want to quit need to have a plan in place to beat cravings and triggers. This is where a smoking cessation program, like Banner MD Anderson’s Tobacco and Nicotine Recovery Program, can help. These comprehensive, long-term programs often combine pharmacological therapy (FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapy and FDA-approved tobacco cessation pharmacotherapy) and behavioral therapy (treating the behavioral components of the addiction), which can increase the odds of becoming a non-tobacco user by 40%.
[Also read: Pros and Cons of Smoking Cessation Tools.]
Why should I stop smoking?
If you’ve smoked for years, you may have wondered if quitting will even make a difference. You may be surprised to learn that quitting today can have immediate benefits.
Whether you’re on the fence or ready to part ways with tobacco, here are 5 important truths about smoking cessation and why it’s never too late to break the habit.
1. Within minutes, your body will begin to recover
Smoking raises the risk of developing coronary heart disease by lowering good cholesterol, which makes heart-healthy exercise harder to do. Smoking also raises blood pressure and increases blood clots, increasing the risk of stroke.
Within minutes of smoking your last cigarette, your body begins to recover.
“In as little as one day after quitting, your blood pressure and heart rate will go down, decreasing your risk of heart disease from smoke-induced high blood pressure,” Dr. Szabo said. “In this short time, your oxygen levels will have risen, making physical activity and exercise easier to do, promoting heart-heathy habits.”
After a year, your chance of heart disease drops to about half and will continue to drop past the one-year mark.
“At around 10 years, your chance of developing lung cancer and dying from it are roughly cut in half compared with someone who continues to smoke. And your risk for larynx, kidney and pancreatic cancers also decrease,” Dr. Szabo said. “After 15 years, your risk for coronary heart diseases is also reduced to the same level as a non-smoker.”
2. Your sense of smell and taste return, and you have more money in the bank
Smoking damages the nerve-endings responsible for the senses of smell and taste.
One of the first changes you may notice when you quit is the simple pleasure of being able to taste your food. At the same time, you may find you begin to recognize the unpleasant smell of stale tobacco on your clothes or on other people. This can be a great motivator to keep yourself on track.
In addition, you’ll be able to pocket more money and put it toward more important things. Depending on where you live and how much you smoke, on average, you could save between $2,230 to $4,360 each year. Not to mention the money you’ll save on cleaning costs and higher insurance premiums.
3. Smoking cessation improves your family’s health
Quitting smoking not only improves your health, but it will also improve the health of those around you—namely, your children and family. Even if you didn’t smoke near them, they can still breathe in the smoke (and harmful chemicals) from your hair, skin and clothes.
“The children of parents who smoke have higher rates of lung or airway infections and asthma,” Dr. Szabo said. “Secondhand smoke also increases the risk for heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, diabetes and other conditions.”
The best way to protect your children and family is to quit smoking.
4. Quitting smoking is beneficial at any age
Even if you’ve smoked your whole life, stopping today is worth it. Quitting at any age will improve your health and quality of life within minutes.
Researchers found considerable benefits for those who quit at older ages. “It doesn’t matter how long you’ve smoked; if you stop smoking or using any tobacco products you are less likely to die from cancer-related causes,” Dr. Szabo said.
5. E-cigarettes or vapes aren’t a safer choice
Many people of all ages have the misconception that electronic nicotine delivery systems, e-cigarettes or vapes, are safer than traditional cigarettes. However, current research is shining a grim light through this smoky haze.
Unlike cigarettes, vapes and e-cigarettes aren’t regulated, so the actual amount of nicotine and whatever else it’s composed of might not be disclosed, consistent or accurate.
Most e-cigarettes contain freebase nicotine, nicotine salts and synthetic nicotine, and many produce a vapor containing a number of harmful chemicals, including formaldehyde, carcinogens, heavy metals, diacetyl and other toxicants. “Diacetyl, the chemical that gives flavoring to e-cigarettes and has been shown to cause popcorn lung, which constricts the airway passage in the lungs,” Dr. Szabo said.
[Also read: Vaping Vs. Smoking, Why One Isn’t Better Than the Other.]
Another challenge is that most people, roughly 80%, who try to quit smoking using e-cigarettes also smoke tobacco. In addition, there is no proof that e-cigarettes can help you quit smoking. The best way to quit smoking is through nicotine replacement therapy and counseling.
“When people switch to e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking, they often keep smoking, albeit maybe less, but then also use e-cigarettes, which increases their overall nicotine intake,” says Dr. Szabo. “Although we don’t yet have enough longevity research to know the true health outcomes of e-cigarette use, considering they have the same cancer-causing chemicals, plus additional harmful chemicals, we may be looking at more devastating data as time goes by.”
Overall, e-cigarettes (of all types) re-normalize smoking, increase the risk of dual use, increase the risk of never smokers using e-cigarettes and promote this behavior with adolescents and young adults.
Quitting tobacco use, whether smoking or chewing tobacco, is hard, but don’t let this discourage you. While difficult, it’s one of the most important and life-changing decisions you can make.
If you’re ready to quit, call a quitline coach at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or talk to your health care provider. They can help you decide what treatment is best for you and can connect you to quit smoking programs and resources.