The Office of National Statistics estimates that in the UK around 7.4 million people smoke – that’s nearly the population of London. Of those that currently smoke, over 60% say they want to quit. Today (13 March) is No Smoking Day which aims to spread awareness about the health effects of tobacco. For those trying to, or planning to, give up smoking, Arun Thiyagarajan, Medical Director, Bupa Health Clinics, answers some of the common question about the benefits, effects and offers some tips.
What happens to your body when you smoke?
On average, smoking reduces your life expectancy by 10 years, and after you hit 40 years old, each additional year you smoke reduces your life expectancy by another three months.
The harmful effects of smoking affect different parts of your body and increase your chances of various health conditions, including heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and types of cancer such as throat, mouth and lung. It can also affect your fertility and your appearance – bad breath and stained teeth and gums are common effects of smoking.
What are the benefits of stopping smoking?
When you stop smoking the risks to your health can drop dramatically. For example, within just 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure drop; within one to 9 months, you should cough less and feel less shortness of breath; after one year, your risk of heart attack is half that of a smoker’s and lowers more with time; and if you stay a non-smoker for 10 years, your risk of lung cancer will be half that of someone who smokes.
How does passive smoking affect health?
If you smoke near other people some of the immediate effects to them could be coughing, a sore throat, feeling dizzy or sick or irritation of the eyes. However, more worrying are the long-term effects. Passive smoking can increase a person’s risk of diseases typically associated with smokers, such as heart disease and lung cancer.
Is vaping a healthier alternative to cigarettes?
All experts agree that not smoking is the healthiest option. But switching to vaping, or using vaping to help you quit, may be less harmful than continuing to smoke tobacco cigarettes.
Tobacco cigarettes produce smoke that contains thousands of chemicals, while e-cigarettes produce vapour – and not smoke – through the heating of liquids that contain nicotine. Studies have suggested that much lower levels of these chemicals exist in e-cigarettes compared to tobacco cigarettes.
What are your tips for giving up smoking?
If you’re trying to give something up, research suggests you’re more likely to be successful if you fill the void with a new, healthy habit. Building resilience and having self-compassion can also help avoid slipping back into bad habits - or completely giving up. Here are some tips:
Replace the habit - cravings are to be expected when you initially give up smoking, so the key is to replace the urge with something healthy or more positive. This could include going for a walk, calling a friend or treating yourself to a healthy snack. Distracting yourself from the craving will help fight the urge, as will focusing on the reasons you want to quit.
Break the routine - smokers will typically look forward to the breaks in their day to have a cigarette, so a way of combating this is to mix things up and change your routine. Instead of using a break at work to have a quick cigarette, go for a walk or run some errands. It’s common for smokers to light a cigarette during trigger points such as after they’ve had a meal, so be wary of this and do something else straight away to keep yourself busy.
Get support and make it public - for many people smoking is a way of tackling stress. If you find yourself using smoking as a way of coping, seek help from your GP who can advise on healthier ways to tackle stress and support you through the quitting process. Telling your friends and family will also help to encourage you as you will feel more pressure to succeed, and in turn they will also be able to support you if needed. There are also a number of stop smoking apps available on smartphones which can be really effective.
Think outside the box - smoking isn’t just detrimental to your own health, it can also be damaging to those around you. Also, think of how much you would save if you put aside the money you would normally spend on cigarettes. And then reward yourself with the savings by buying something you like or need.
Start exercising regularly - exercising regularly will help you to manage stress and improve your mood, as well as helping you to focus on something else aside from smoking. Many smokers are worried they might gain weight when giving up, so exercising more frequently is also a way of helping to combat this if you are concerned.