Did you know that smoking levels in the UK population were the highest ever towards the end of the 1940s? A whopping 82% of men and 42% of women used to regularly smoke cigarettes, pipes, or cigars. Much has changed since then! Currently, there are only about 7 million adults in the UK that smoke; this means about 16% of men and 12% of women. But why have so many of us stopped smoking? Well, a lot of it has got to do with people being more educated about how unhealthy smoking is and that it can play a significant part in the development of many diseases like cancer, heart disease, or respiratory disease. Most of which are entirely preventable! And it doesn’t stop at diseases either. In fact, smoking accounts for about 74,600 deaths per year in England alone. Worldwide, the annual death count of cigarettes & Co. is around 7 million; a trend that’s supposed to go up to 10 million a year by 2030.
Smoking and cancer
Did you know that smoking is actually the largest preventable cause of cancer in the UK causing 3 in 20 cancer cases? It can cause at least 15 different types of cancer including lung cancer, laryngeal cancer, oesophageal cancer, oral cavity cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, pharyngeal cancer, bladder cancer, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, bowel cancer, ovarian cancer, and leukaemia.
Which harmful chemicals are actually found in cigarettes?
Carbon monoxide: This is the poisonous stuff that you breathe in when you’re smoking cigarettes. It prevents your blood cells from carrying oxygen around your body as well as they usually would and, with that, puts you at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Tar: This is found in all cigarettes, including the ones that are labelled as light, mild, or low in tar, and it is the harmful chemical in cigarettes that actually causes cancer. In fact, when you breathe cigarette smoke in, around 70% of the tar actually stays in your lungs and damages them.
Nicotine: The nicotine is what got you addicted to cigarettes & Co in the first place and it’s also what keeps you coming back for more. At the same time, however, it’ll also increase your heart rate and blood pressure which can do significant damage to your arteries and heart in the long-term.
Some of you might have heard that passive smoking can be equally as dangerous active smoking. But what exactly is passive smoke? Well, there are two different kinds of passive smoke:
- Second-hand smoke: This is the one you exhale.
- Sidestream smoke: This is the one that’s created by the lit end of your cigarette, cigar, or pipe.
And yes, with its nearly 4,000 toxins, cancer-causing substances, and irritants, passive smoke can be equally as dangerous for the people around you as actively smoking a cigarette. This is especially true if they’re breathing it in on a regular basis. Studies have shown that people who breathe in second-hand smoke on a regular basis are more likely to develop diseases related to smoking like lung cancer and heart disease. During pregnancy, second-hand smoke can lead to prematurely born babies, babies with a lower birthweight, and it also leads to an increased risk of cot death.
But how does passive smoking work? Well, when you’re smoking, most of the smoke doesn’t actually stay in your lungs but in the air around you which means that everyone around you can breathe it in. And worse than normal smoke, passive smoke is often invisible and odourless so don’t be fooled into thinking that there isn’t any just because you can’t see or smell anything. People around you could still be breathing it in! Not even opening doors and windows or only smoking in one part of the house will protect others from your second-hand smoke as it can linger in the air for hours after you’ve finished your cigarette and, with the airflow, it will most likely move to other parts of the house as well. So, how can you protect your friends and loved ones form second-hand smoke? The best way would obviously be to quit smoking completely! However, if you’re not quite ready for this big step, make sure you put all the effort into keeping your smoke far away from other people. You can do this by ensuring that you and any visitors always smoke outside and don’t allow yourself or anybody else to smoke in the car.
For children, second-hand smoke is the worst as their lungs, airways, and immune systems aren’t as developed yet. This puts them at a much higher risk of developing asthma, chest infections like bronchitis and pneumonia, meningitis, ear infections, coughs, and colds. The worst place for children is in the family car as second-hand smoke can reach dangerous levels almost instantly, even with the windows open. That’s exactly why a ban has been introduced in 2015 that makes smoking in private vehicles with someone in the car that’s under 18 illegal. And always remember, if you’re wanting to quit smoking but you’re struggling, ask your GP for advice.
Let’s talk about quitting!
If you’re currently smoking, then quitting will be the best thing that you can do for your own health and wellbeing. There are so many benefits to quitting, many of which will start almost immediately after your last cigarette. And did you know that quitting the smoking train doesn’t just improve your physical health? It’s also really good for your mental health as it can improve your mood, and helps to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.
But how do you even go about quitting? How you go about quitting is completely up to you! Some people will manage to quit with willpower alone, others might feel comfortable using one or more of the available tools. There’s a lot of support out there that’ll help you with your decision to quit and you might have to try a few options to find the one that works best for you. For example, you can get a free personal quit plan, you can use different stop smoking treatments, or you can get in touch with your local stop smoking service. The NHS provides daily email support, you can join their dedicated Facebook group, or you can download the NHS Smokefree App if you have a smartphone. If you have an iPhone, download the app here, if you have an Android phone, follow this link to download the app. You can also get quit smoking support if you live in Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland.
Why should you quit smoking?
Even if you have been smoking for many years, quitting has many benefits that will kick in almost immediately. So, it’s literally NEVER too late to quit!
Here are some top tips on how to stop smoking
Approach it with a positive mindset
Yes, you might have tried to quit previously and no, you might’ve not managed it but that doesn’t mean that it won’t work out this time around. So, don’t approach it with a “It’s not going to work anyways” mindset. Sit down and think about what worked and what didn’t work for you last time you tried. Then take these things and create a battle plan for operation smoke-free.
Make sure your plan is watertight
Make a promise to yourself, tell the people around you that you’re quitting, set a quit date, and add it to your calendar. Also make sure you have rules and coping mechanisms ready prior to quitting. The “not a drag” rule might be a good place to start! Whenever you feel like you REALLY need a cigarette, repeat to yourself that you won’t even have a single drag. Keep telling yourself this until the craving passes. It’s also a great idea to have a plan ready for when you’re out and about at a party or similar as it can be very difficult to stay away from cigarettes in these situations. Especially if you just quit and are drinking alcohol.
Work out strategies to kick those cravings to the curb
On average, the craving for a cigarette lasts about 5 minutes so it’ll come in super handy if you have a plan how to keep yourself occupied or distracted while the craving lasts. This can be anything from drinking a glass of water to going for a short walk around the block; whatever works for you!
Remind yourself why you’re doing this
When you just said goodbye to cigarettes, it can be very easy to forget why exactly you’re doing this. That’s why it’s super helpful if you write a list of all the reasons for quitting prior to doing so. It might also be a good idea to list all your smoking triggers which so you can make an extra effort to avoid them.
Give your hands & mouth something to do
Often, one of the most difficult things when it comes to quitting smoking is the fact that your hands and mouth are looking for something to do. So, if you’re really struggling with not holding a cigarette, try an inhalator or even e-cigarettes. When the craving hits while you’re on a night out, try holding your drink with the hand that usually holds your cigarette, and drink from a straw to keep your mouth busy too.
Think about what you eat & drink
How good is the after-food cigarette, right? Yes, we know! But did you know that some foods are actually known to make cigarettes taste more appealing? Meat, for example. Foods like cheese, fruit or vegetables, on the other hand, tend to make cigarettes taste bad. So, if you’re suffering with a lot of cravings, try switching your steak and burger for a veggie pizza or a good old cheese platter. The same rule also goes for drinks. Certain drinks like alcohol, tea, coffee, or fizzy drinks make cigarettes taste more appealing. So, why not try drinking more water and juice instead?
Don’t be scared to use stop smoking aids
There are many different stop smoking aids like patches, tables, gums, and even nasal sprays that can help you with your attempt to say goodbye to cigarettes. This is also called nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and it can actually double your chances of quitting successfully!
If you’re interested in some further reading, here are some great resources for you!
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