The 1st of October 2015 coincides with the introduction of a new law, whereby drivers in England and Wales will no longer be permitted to smoke in their vehicle if a child is present. The law has been welcomed by the British Lung Foundation who highlighted how passive smoking, especially in vehicles, is linked to an increase in asthma and meningitis amongst children.
According to ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) there are around 10 million people smoking in the United Kingdom. Today, the health risks linked to smoking are common knowledge; but even though smokers are armed with a wealth of information on the topic, it can still be difficult to find the motivation to quit this highly addictive habit for good. Fortunately, there are various support networks and smoking cessation medications available to help aid the process.
With Stoptober just around the corner, we thought this week would be a great opportunity to shed some light on the often intimidating task of quitting smoking for good. So we got in touch with Dr Andy McEwen, the Executive Director at the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training (NCSCT) in order to gain an expert insight into quitting smoking and how to ensure you don’t pick up another cigarette again.
Getting Through the First Few Days
If you are thinking about joining in with the Stoptober campaign, or you’d just like to stop smoking in the near future, then there’s no doubt that the initial days of quitting smoking will seem the scariest.
As Dr McEwen explains:
‘People trying to quit may feel like the first few days are the most difficult, and that is because they are! The minds and bodies of smokers get used to regular doses of nicotine whenever they smoke a cigarette. Now, nicotine isn't particularly harmful (it is the tar and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke that kills) but it is addictive. So when smokers stop, it takes a while for their minds and bodies to learn to live without nicotine and this rebalancing is experienced as withdrawal symptoms.’
When you decide to quit it is highly likely that you will intermittently feel the urge to smoke. If you start to notice these feelings you should try to distract yourself. Call a friend, get on with a task, or pick up a book. You might even find having a glass of water helpful. Remind yourself of the reasons why you are quitting and know that each day you are taking a positive step towards achieving that goal.
It Gets Easier
According to the NHS, you are five times more likely to stop smoking for good once you’ve made it through the first 28 days. Even at this stage you may have already noticed significant physical improvements such as better circulation and easier breathing. These improvements will help spur you on to achieve your goal of successful cessation.
It’s important to remember that quitting will get easier.
‘Withdrawal symptoms, including cravings or urges to smoke, are at their most severe in the first few days and weeks of a quit attempt.’ Dr McEwen tells us ‘The longer people go without a cigarette after their quit date, the better their chances of becoming a permanent ex-smoker.’
‘Urges to smoke are more frequent and severe earlier on in the quit attempt, but become less severe and far less frequent the longer someone goes without having even a single puff on a cigarette. People also get used to recognising urges to smoke and dealing with them.’
And when, as Dr McEwen explains, these bouts of temptation begin to occur with ever-diminishing frequency, they become easier to suppress:
‘Although someone who hasn't smoked for a number of years may get a strong urge to smoke, it needn't lead to a relapse back to smoking because it is an isolated incident that they probably haven't experienced for months or even years; they know what it is and how to deal with it.’
Stop Smoking Techniques
Quitting smoking is not an easy task. However, there are practices you can adopt to give you the best chance possible at never picking up another packet of cigarettes again.
Going cold turkey can work for some, but isn’t the only option. So what are the most effective quit smoking techniques?
‘The evidence on this is unequivocal.’ Dr McEwen says. ‘A combination of behavioural support from a trained stop smoking practitioner and effective medication, both available from local stop smoking services, gives quitters four times the chances of success compared with quitting cold turkey. Smokers can find their local stop smoking service from the NHS Smokefree website.’
There are prescription and non-prescription smoking cessation aids available to buy from pharmacies. Dr McEwen highlights that: ‘The most effective medications include Champix (a prescription medication) and combination NRT (nicotine replacement therapy) which involves a nicotine patch plus one of the faster acting products such as the nicotine lozenge or nicotine mouth spray.’
Your doctor (and in some cases your pharmacist) can discuss the suitability of these with you.
‘Smokers might also use electronic cigarettes as part of their quit attempt, after discussion with their local stop smoking services.’
Some people may find it easier to quit smoking by combining their techniques with the support of a group. This provides you with the opportunity to share your experiences, including any difficulties you are facing, and any helpful approaches and tips to stay quit.
It is important to prepare yourself for the likely onset of withdrawal symptoms when you’re going through the initial stages of giving up smoking. Dr McEwen illustrates that smokers may experience some, all or none of the following:
- low mood
- poor concentration
- sleep disturbance
- increased appetite
- mouth ulcers
Dr McEwen explains that these withdrawal symptoms and the temptation to smoke are not the same thing:
‘As long as the person doesn't smoke a cigarette (even one puff) then these withdrawal symptoms will gradually reduce and disappear entirely three to four weeks after the quit date. Urges to smoke, or cravings, are something else that quitters need to contend with and these can be experienced for more than four weeks.’
As you progress through the various stages of smoking cessation you may experience days when you’re on top of your urges and feeling confident in your ability to stay quit. However, you may also experience difficult days where you feel pressure to pick up a cigarette. Keep in mind your reasons for quitting and seek advice or support if you need it.
Dealing with Stress
We all know that life likes to keep us on our toes by throwing us the odd unexpected curveball every now and then. You might be going through a particularly hard time at work or difficulties in your home life that can lead to unwanted pressure and stress. Your knee-jerk reaction to this feeling may be to light up a cigarette.
We asked Dr McEwen what those who are facing this situation should do:
‘Well obviously do not smoke! Using techniques such as reminding themselves of why they wanted to quit in the first place, what they had to go through to get to this place and how much better they feel as a non-smoker may be of use. But the temptation to smoke will be temporary and so distracting themselves by keeping busy will probably do the job as well as getting out of the situation that they are in.’
Once you’ve made it into the first few weeks of your new smoke-free life you may start to wonder what the future holds for you.
Dr McEwen has a useful analogy: ‘Every day that someone goes without smoking a cigarette can be thought of as painting a coat of varnish over their addiction to tobacco; the more days go by the thicker the coat of varnish becomes. In the early days of a quit attempt it doesn't take much for urges to smoke to break through this veneer and for people to lapse. But after a number of months and years the coat of varnish is thick and people are able to resist the occasional urges to smoke.’
So don’t fall off the wagon; there’s lots to look forward to as your health continues to improve. You will likely start to enjoy food more as your sense of taste and smell improve, be able to breathe easier with increased lung capacity and fresher breath, and appreciate your skin which might start to look more youthful as it replenishes its stores of essential nutrients. Men may also notice an improvement in their sexual performance, as their circulation gets better.
Overall, it’s never too late to quit smoking as no matter what your age is you can add years onto your life expectancy.
You can find out more about the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training and the work they do by visiting their website.
We'll also have more advice on smoking cessation here on the blog in two weeks, when we talk to stop smoking charity QUIT.