Benefits of early smoking cessation

Smoking cessation has major and immediate health benefits for men and women of all ages. The earlier one quits, the greater the benefits. People who quit smoking before age 50 reduce their risk of dying over the next 15 years by one-half, as compared to those who continue to smoke. Smoking cessation is also important to those who do not smoke since being exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke is responsible for a number of serious health conditions.

Cigarette smoking doubles the risk of developing coronary heart disease (major cause of heart attacks and sudden deaths), and smoking cessation can rapidly reduce this risk. One year after stopping smoking, the risk of dying from coronary heart disease is reduced by about one-half and continues to decline over time. In some studies, the risk of heart attack was reduced to the rate of nonsmokers within two years of quitting smoking.

Smoking increases the risk of long-term lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (commonly presents as a chronic productive cough with wheezing in adults with a long history of cigarette smoking). While much of the lung damage caused by smoking is not reversible, stopping smoking can reduce further damage to the lungs, and many smokers with a chronic cough note an improvement in these symptoms during the first year after stopping smoking.

Cigarette smoking is responsible for almost 90 percent of cases of lung cancer. Smoking cessation reduces the risk of lung cancer within five years of stopping, although former smokers still have a higher risk of lung cancer than people who have never smoked, and the individual risk of developing the lung cancer from smoking will depend on a number of factors such as the duration of smoking and the amount of cigarettes smoked.

Stopping smoking may also reduce the risk of other cancers, such as cancers of the head and neck, esophagus, pancreas, and bladder. Stopping smoking is beneficial even after one of these cancers is diagnosed, since it reduces the risk of getting a second cancer and may improve the chance of survival from the first cancer.

Cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing peptic ulcer disease. Smoking cessation decreases that risk and increases the rate of ulcer healing, if ulcers have developed

Smoking can increase bone loss and increases the risk of bone fractures in individuals. Stopping smoking begins to reverse this risk after about 10 years.

Smoking also causes or worsens many other conditions. As an example, pregnant women who smoke have an increased risk of birth defects and of having an underweight baby. Smoking causes premature skin wrinkling and increases the risk of sexual problems (e.g., impotence). Stopping smoking can reduce the risk of these conditions.

How to overcome smoking

Smoking is recognized as a chronic addictive disease with about 85% of the smokers addicted. Symptoms of withdrawal are common while attempting to stop smoking and one should prepare thoroughly for these discomforts before quitting. Symptoms generally peak in the first three days and decrease over the next three to four weeks.

Withdrawal symptoms can include; trouble sleeping, being irritable, anxious or restless, getting frustrated or angry, having trouble thinking clearly.

Some people who stop smoking become temporarily depressed. Some of them need treatment for depression, such as counseling or antidepressant medicines. If you get depressed when you quit smoking, medical advice should be sought.

After deciding to quit smoking, the first step is usually to set a quit date. This is the day when you will completely quit smoking. Ideally, this date should be in the next two weeks, although choosing a special date (e.g., birthday, anniversary, or holiday) is another option. Tell family, friends, and the people around you that you plan to quit. Remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home, car, and work. Review other quit attempts (What worked? What did not work? What contributed to relapse?), Prepare to deal with things that trigger smoking (e.g. having smokers in the household or workplace, stressful situations, and drinking alcohol). A vacation from work may be an easier time to quit, especially if one smokes during work breaks.

There are several medications that may help one in stopping smoking, mainly by reducing the nicotine withdrawal symptoms and cigarette cravings. These can be in many forms such as a gum or pill, skin patch, nasal spray, or inhaler.

Talk with a healthcare provider about ways to quit smoking. Changing behaviors and taking a medication are the two main methods of quitting smoking. You are more likely to quit if you use both methods together.

Dr. Ian Shyaka is a
General Practitioner at Rwanda Military Hospital