An estimated 43.8 million people, 19% of all adults in the United States, smoke cigarettes. A frightening statistic, given the fact that cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States,accounting for more than 440,000 deaths – one of every five deaths – in the U.S. annually.
Whether for yourself or for those you love, it’s never too late to quit smoking. See our reasons for why, when, and how to quit smoking, so you can take that first step towards a healthier, more youthful-looking you.
Why You Should Quit Smoking
We all know that smoking is bad for our health. But, in case you need a reminder, here’s the reasons why you need to put out that cigarette now.
Quit for Your Health. Smoking diminishes health by affecting nearly all organs of the body. There are more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke; at least 250 are known to be harmful, and 69 are known carcinogens that can cause cancers of the lung, esophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach, or cervix, as well as some forms of leukemia.
Heart disease, stroke, aneurysms of the aorta, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, asthma, hip fractures from osteoporosis, and cataracts of the eyes are other major health conditions associated with smoking. In addition, smoking increases the risk of respiratory infections including pneumonia.
Quit For a More Youthful Appearance. The effects of smoking aren’t limited to the inside. In fact, one of the easiest ways to identify a smoker is by their outward appearance because smoking causes premature skin aging.
Sagging Skin. Those thousands of chemicals in tobacco smoke are toxic, and they can contribute to the breakdown of collagen and elastin, which leads to sagging skin and deeper wrinkles. This affects both smokers and nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke. The drooping doesn’t just stop at the skin, either. Research has shown that smoking is also a major factor for sagging breasts.
Wrinkles Around the Eyes. Those dreaded crow’s feet come earlier and develop deeper in smokers due to the heat from cigarettes and the constant squinting to keep smoke out of eyes.
Wrinkles Around the Mouth. Smokers repeatedly pucker, causing wrinkles around the mouth that nonsmokers do not usually develop. Coupled with the breakdown of elastin, they often have deep lines around the lips that contribute to an aged look.
Uneven Skin Tone. Smoking continually deprives the skin of oxygen and nutrients – not surprising, as one of the byproducts of tobacco smoke is carbon monoxide. This leads to an unhealthy pallor or uneven, splotchy skin. Age spots – dark spots often found on the face and hands – are also more prevalent in smokers.
A Less-Than-Perfect Smile. Cigarette smoke stains teeth an unattractive yellow, and it also proves detrimental to oral health. Gum disease, bad breath, and other oral hygiene issues plague smokers, and they are two times more likely to lose teeth when compared to nonsmokers. In fact, by age 75, smokers have, on average, nearly six fewer teeth than nonsmokers.
When to Quit Smoking
The answer to this is simple – as soon as possible. Preferably right now, because the sooner you quit, the sooner you will start seeing benefits. Benefits grow exponentially over time, and the longer you stay away from smoking, the greater the improvements in health. The following timeline shows the benefits of quitting smoking, from the moment you stop and over the long term:
20 minutes. Heart rate, blood pressure, and the temperature of hands and feet, all of which are elevated when smoking, return to normal.
12 Hours. Nicotine levels in the bloodstream fall nearly 94% to only 6.25% of normal peak levels. Blood oxygen levels increase to normal and carbon monoxide levels drop to normal.
24 Hours. The heart attack rate – 70% higher for smokers than nonsmokers – begins to drop.
48 Hours. Nerve endings that have been damaged from to a lack of nutrients due to blood vessel constriction, experience regrowth. Nerve endings in hands, arms, legs, and feet are repaired, and the ability to smell and taste is enhanced.
72 Hours. The body becomes free of nicotine, with over 90% of nicotine metabolites removed via urine. Lung function begins to improve as bronchial tubes start to relax.
2 Weeks. Regeneration continues; blood circulation, particularly in the gums and teeth, improve, along with lung function. Engaging in physical activities becomes easier. Withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, irritability, and anxiety also begin to subside.
1 Month. The lungs begin to repair themselves, and cilia, tiny, hair-like structures that push out mucus, regain functionality. The risk of respiratory infection decreases, and coughing, phlegm production, and difficulty breathing diminishes considerably.
1 Year. This point is a major milestone. The risk of heart attack and stroke is cut by half, and your skin sees a reduction in aging equal to 13 years!
5 Years. The risk of stroke begins to decline near the level of a non-smoker, and the risk of brain hemorrhage resulting from an aneurysm is reduced by 41%. Also, in women, the risk of developing diabetes is reduced to that of a non-smoker. The risk of
10 Years. A decade may seem long, but the risk of dying from lung cancer drops to half that of a smoker’s over this period of time. The risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer also drops to between 30-50% compared to the risk a smoker faces. The risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreas also decreases. Both men and women also see a decline in the risk of developing diabetes – to nearly the same levels as lifelong non-smokers.
15 Years. The risk of developing heart disease and pancreatic cancer drops to the same level as a non-smoker. You also find a reason to smile, since the risk of tooth loss caused by smoking declines to that of someone who has never smoked.
20 Years. In women, the risk of death from smoking-related causes is reduced to that of someone who has never smoked.
Over time, you can reverse much of the damage done to your body by smoking and improve your wellness dramatically. Given a second chance, why wouldn’t you take it?
3 Ways to Quit Smoking
While there seem to be as many ways to quit smoking as there are brands of cigarettes, here are the three most popular and effective methods for kicking the habit for good.
See Your Doctor
Prescription smoking cessation medications have a much greater success rate than quitting cold turkey, which has a success rate of less than five percent. Because smoking is a disease, a combination of medication, nicotine replacement therapy, and counseling under the care of a doctor is considered safer and more effective.
There are seven FDA-tested and endorsed medications available: the nicotine patch, gum, lozenge, nasal spray, inhaler, and two non-nicotine prescription pills – Varenicline, also known as Chantix, and Buproprion, marketed under the name Zyban. Nicotine replacement medications should not be used while smoking or while using other tobacco products, as the danger for nicotine poisoning is very real.
Nicotine Patch. These patches are available without a doctor’s prescription and come in different strengths that vary depending on the amount you smoke. The key is to gradually reduce the strength of the patches according to a recommended schedule until you no longer crave nicotine. However, side effects may include skin irritation under the patch, and those with sensitive skin may find that the patch does not work for them.
Nicotine Gum and Lozenges. Both nicotine gum and lozenges can be purchased without a prescription, but instructions must be followed carefully. They come in different strengths and care must be taken to avoid using too many over the course of a day. They are generally used every few hours, and the number of pieces is decreased over time. Coffee, orange juice, cola, or alcohol may affect the efficacy of these products, and side effects may include mouth and throat irritation. Treatment can last for a long time – up to three months.
Nicotine Spray. A prescription product that is used in the nose once or twice an hour. Side effects may include coughing, runny nose, or watery eyes, and treatment may last up to six months, though the frequency of use is gradually reduced from about three months.
Nicotine Inhaler. Inhalers are also available by prescription. They come in a cartridge that releases a vapor that is breathed into the mouth and upper chest. Side effects may include throat or mouth irritation, and treatment can last up to six months, though usage is gradually reduced from about the three-month mark.
Non-Nicotine Prescription Medicine. Varenicline, also known as Chantix, is the most recent FDA-approved smoking cessation medication. It works by blocking nicotine receptors in the brain and has a 33% success rate. Treatment generally lasts about 12 weeks, and some continue for an additional 12-week maintenance period.
Chantix should not be used in conjunction with nicotine replacement therapies without the approval of a doctor. Reported side effects include nausea, vomiting, abnormal dreams, constipation, and flatulence. In addition, the FDA required Chantix to add depression, suicidal thoughts, agitation, and hostility to its warning label. Users may also be at higher risk for heart attacks and strokes, according to the FDA.
Buproprion, also known as Zyban, is an antidepressant that acts on brain chemistry to aleviate nicotine withdrawal symptoms, making it easier for smokers to quit. It has a 24% success rate, and treatment lasts about seven to 12 weeks. Treatment usually begins one or two weeks before quitting cigarette smokings to reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Zyban is particularly effective for those with intense nicotine withdrawal symptoms. It can be used alone or with nicotine replacement therapies such as patches, gum, or lozenges. Like Chantix, the FDA has required a warning label on this medication that lists depression, suicidal thoughts, suicidal behavior, agitation, and hostility as some potentially serious side effects, in addition to more minor side effects such as dry mouth and nausea. Those with seizure disorders, eating disorders, or patients abruptly stopping use of alcohol or sedatives, along with who use a monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor should not take Zyban.
Like all drugs, both Chantix and Zyban should be taken under the guidance of a physician, with careful monitoring of any changes in behavior or mood.
A more natural approach to quitting, research has shown that people who are physically active are 55% more likely to quit smoking compared to inactive individuals. Exercising just 30 minutes each day reduces nicotine cravings and makes it easier to quit without the aid of other smoking cessation aids. In addition, exercisers are 43% less likely to relapse once they quit and gain 5.6 extra years in life expectancy.
So begin an exercise regime, and when you feel the urge to smoke, go for a brisk walk, a jog, or a bike ride to help curb those cravings, or consider combining exercise with other strategies to raise the likelihood of quitting even more. Also, increase consumption of fruits and vegetables to increase the likelihood of quitting.
Consider the E-Cig
While still very new technology, the electronic cigarette is quickly becoming one of the most popular tools for quitting smoking. This battery-powered device simulates the experience of smoking by converting liquid nicotine into an inhalable vapor. There are both disposable and reusable varieties costing anywhere from $20 – $150 depending on the make, model, and style.
It’s important to note that e-cigarettes are not yet regulated by the FDA, and while manufacturers claim that the health risks are minimal, there is not enough research that proves their safety and effectiveness, especially in the long-term.
Still, using an e-cigarette eliminates many of the thousands of byproducts of burning a cigarette, including carbon monoxide and tar, and with more studies being conducted on safety, it may be a good transition point for quitting and one to keep your eyes on.
Concerns About Quitting Smoking
Despite the obvious benefits of stopping, there are three major concerns smokers cite when considering quitting. Here are some tips on how to manage these issues.
Weight Gain. Most people gain an average of four to ten pounds after quitting smoking, as many people trying to quit often turn to food for comfort or to replace the habit of bringing something to the mouth. Thankfully, research shows that most weight gain is limited to the first three months after quitting and tapers off.
To counter this effect, increase consumption of fruits and vegetables and exercise for 30 minutes or more five days per week. Not only will it help reduce nicotine cravings, it will burn calories and make you feel and look better overall. The good news? This same study finds that about 20% of ex-smokers lose weight a year after they quit.
Stress. Stress is one of the main reasons people start smoking, so it seems counterintuitive to increase stress by quitting. However, taking this opportunity to learn how to manage stress is a much healthier alternative in many ways and promotes health and wellness beyond just the physical.
Try to identify the sources of stress in your life so that you can find constructive ways to deal with them. Or try quitting during a time when you know that you will be under less stress. Get outdoors or to the gym if you’re feeling stressed. A good workout can release a lot of pent-up tension while cutting the nicotine cravings. And make sure you get enough sleep and rest. A little down-time goes a long way.
Withdrawal. Quitting smoking is breaking the cycle of addiction, so there will be some withdrawal symptoms directly in proportion to how much and how long one has smoked. These symptoms can range from dizziness, irritability, headaches, anxiety, restlessness, and even depression.
However, the key is knowing that this will all pass! This is one instance where mind over matter can work for you, and understanding that symptoms generally peak at two or three days and gradually subside can be helpful. And for those who find this period unbearable, nicotine replacement therapy is an option that can help take the edge off.
Consider the benefits of quitting smoking, and take control of your health and beauty today. It will be difficult and you may fall off the wagon, but clearly, the benefits of quitting far outweigh the risks!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.