Smoking is one the biggest causes of preventable death in the UK today, with statistics showing that one in two smokers will die from a smoking related disease. Cigarettes contain over 4,000 toxic chemicals and it is estimated that around 50 of these can cause cancer, so regular smoking can lead to a range of chronic and life threatening health problems that negatively affect your quality of life in both the short term and the long term.
Why is smoking bad for you?
When you smoke, the toxins from the cigarette enter the blood, causing damage to your circulation and heart. The blood becomes thicker, which forces the heart to work harder, raising blood pressure, heart rate and increases the chance of developing a clot. This is also in part due to the carbon monoxide from the smoke and the nicotine in cigarettes. This combination can lead to arterial disease, heart attack or stroke.
Smoking also severely affects your lungs, with persistent, coughs, colds and asthma just being the start. According NHS statistics, smoking is the cause of 84% of deaths from lung cancer and 83% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is the name for a collection of lung diseases including chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Smoking also increases your risk of having a stroke by more than 50% which can lead to brain damage and death. One reason for this is that you are at increased risk of developing a brain aneurysm, which is a bulge in a blood vessel caused by weaknesses in the blood vessel walls.
Smokers also are at an increased risk of developing stomach cancer or ulcers, as the muscle that controls the lower end of the oesophagus is weakened, allowing acid from the stomach to travel in the wrong direction, a process known as reflux.
The amount of oxygen that gets to a smoker’s skin is also significantly reduced. This means the skin looks grey, dull and significantly aged, and makes it three times more likely for you to develop early wrinkles, especially around the eyes and mouth.
Smoking also can affect the fertility in both men and women. In males, it damages the blood vessels that supply blood to the penis which can lead to a much lower sperm count or even impotence. In women, smoking may make it difficult to conceive, and smoking while pregnant significantly increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, still birth, illness and even cot death. Smoking also increases the risk of developing both cervical and testicular cancer.
Ways to cut smoking
Research for the year 2005/6 showed that smoking related health problems cost the NHS £5.17 billion. Giving up or even just cutting down on smoking can therefore not only significantly improve your health, but also save the tax payer and the NHS money.
If you want to give up smoking the NHS recommends first speaking to your GP for helpful advice. It is likely they will direct you to your local stop smoking service which offers support groups and one-to-one guidance. To find your nearest NHs Stop Smoking service visit the NHS Smokefree website or call the Smokefree National Helpline to speak to a trained advisor.
As cigarettes do have mild addictive properties, it may help to use a nicotine replacement product to wean yourself off gradually. Many of these products are available on prescription from your GP or local pharmacist and include patches, gum and inhalers. You may also consider using an e-cigarette, although these are not yet available on prescription. While they are not risk free they are still much safer than smoking and may help you quit altogether.
Changing up your routine is also a strategy that can help you to quit. If having a cigarette at certain times of the day, such as after dinner, is part of your routine, it may help to break this by eating different foods or giving yourself something to do directly after meal times. This also goes for drinks. Fizzy drinks, alcohol, tea, coffee and cola all make cigarettes taste better according to a US study, so drinking more water and juice may lessen any cravings that you have.
Alongside professional support, it is also important to rely on the support of family and friends. Quitting can be extremely difficult and the encouragement of loved ones can make all the difference when it gets tough. Similarly, it may help to make some non-smoking friends; this reduces temptation and will keep your mind off cravings.
The NHS also advise trying to eat a healthy balanced diet and getting regular exercise to help beat cravings as even a 5-minute walk to stretch can help your brain produce anti-craving chemicals
Tim Allardyce, Lead Physiotherapist at Surrey Physio says the reality is simple: “quitting smoking requires mental discipline – just tell yourself to stop smoking and then don’t light up another cigarette”. Research suggests that smoking is far more correlated with being a habit rather than an addiction, hence why some people can just “give-up”. Tim says, “ask yourself, do you enjoy smoking?”