Smoking

Most of us know about the major health risks associated with smoking, but giving up tobacco can be difficult because the sensations caused by nicotine are addictive. Luckily, if you want to kick the habit, there’s plenty of help on offer.

What is it that makes smoking so unhealthy?

Tobacco contains thousands of chemicals, some of which are carcinogens (chemicals causing cancer). Breathing in smoke also takes carbon monoxide into your body. This takes the place of oxygen in the blood stream, so your lungs work less efficiently. Build ups from the tar in tobacco clog tubes, and nicotine can also increase cholesterol levels.

What are the risks of smoking?

With large warnings on the packaging to remind us, most of us know that tobacco is bad for our health. These major diseases — and some less obvious problems — could affect all smokers, regardless of age:

Major diseases

  • Cardiovascular disease – furring of arteries, which can lead to complete blockages. These blockages of arteries cause angina and heart attacks; in the brain they can cause stroke.
  • Lung cancer – 90% of lung cancer is related to smoking.
  • Other cancers – bladder cancer, cancer of the oesophagus, kidneys, pancreas and cervical cancer are all more common in smokers.
  • Chronic bronchitis and emphysema – restriction of air flow through the respiratory system, which makes breathing difficult.

Less obvious problems

  • Erectile dysfunction – the risk increases by 50% in men aged from 30 to 50.
  • Fertility problems – couples who smoke are more likely to have problems having children.
  • Raised blood pressure – causes hypertension, which increases the risk of heart attack or strokes.
  • Asthma – is worse in smokers. Smoking can counteract asthma medication.
  • Gradual loss of eyesight – the chances of this increase in heavy smokers.
  • Skin ageing – as the supply of blood and Vitamin A to skin reduces, wrinkles increase.

How to kick the habit

Don’t worry if you’ve tried to kick the habit before and failed, it just means you’ve not found the right plan yet. On average, it takes four or five attempts. Making sure you’re prepared physically and mentally is a good idea, and pin-pointing a target date really helps. Your GP will be happy to explore different options to help kick the habit, but here are some ideas that could help:

  • Be objective. Addictions are difficult to give up, so take it one day at a time and don’t panic if you lapse.
  • Find the right motivation. Particularly if you have young children, setting a good example by kicking the habit could improve their health, too.
  • Cut down gradually. Try to work out what makes you want to smoke, and see if you can reduce your habit slowly.
  • Have a back-up plan. When you feel like smoking, keep something to hand as a replacement activity – like a carrot stick to snack on, or notebook to write in.
  • Make smoking harder. Remove your ashtrays and create smoke-free zones at home.
  • Find a no smoking buddy. Giving up together is easier – you can talk through the low times, and congratulate each other when you reach your goals.
  • Be aware of side-effects in advance, such as coughing more as you body gets rid of toxins, increased appetite and feeling irritable.
  • Take advantage of all the help that’s on offer. Give the NHS Smoking Helpline a call on 0800 022 4332.
  • Look into nicotine replacement therapy. This includes patches, gum or other aids that don’t contain carbon monoxide or tar.
  • Talk to your GP about treatment. ‘Stop-smoking medicines’ work by reducing cravings and altering the way your body reacts to nicotine.
  • Work out the cost – and work out what you could reward yourself with after, say, six months smoke-free.

Stress can play a major part in the reasons for smoking. Find out more about stress here.

Fast facts

  • By kicking the habit, your sense of smell and taste are likely to improve, your heart will be less strained and your general health will improve.
  • Try our Smoking calculator – work out how much you spend. What else you could spend the money on? It could be just the motivation you need.

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