Tobacco is a major cause of cardiovascular disease, and more smokers die of cardiovascular disease than any other cause. Smoking is linked to atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries); it decreases the “good” cholesterol in our blood, and increases our risk of high blood pressure. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Around 5000 New Zealanders a year die as a direct result of their cigarette habit.
The encouraging news is that once you finally kick the habit, your elevated risk of dying from heart disease begins to decline and three to five years later your risk of dying of heart disease or a stroke is equal to that of people who have never smoked. Lung cancer risk is slower to decline, taking 10–15 years to equate to that of those who have never smoked.
Giving up your tobacco addiction will be challenging… don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! But the reward for you, your family and anyone else exposed to your cigarette smoke, is easily worth it. The struggle to quit results from the physical addiction to nicotine combined with a psychological need to smoke and the habitual behaviours formed around smoking.
Top tips for beating your cigarette addiction
1. Make a firm decision and choose a firm day
Don’t just talk about stopping… do it! This means choosing a firm day to begin your life as a non-smoker. Tell your friends and family about the day and enlist them as support to ensure that you don’t chicken out on the day! Throw out any remaining cigarettes and ashtrays on your quit day. Plan a busy distracting day with some pleasurable outings, but stay away from situations and places associated with smoking. Sometimes quitting is triggered by an illness that acts as a prompt – such as the flu. No bad thing in the end!
2. Quitline for quitting
The New Zealand government has a programme to help New Zealanders stop smoking. Quitline gives you information and resources to help support you through your withdrawal. For $5 you can get an 8-week supply of nicotine patches or gum to help reduce physical symptoms of withdrawal. Quitline also offers telephone counselling and support. Phone 0800 778 778, text 4006 or go to www.quit.org.nz
3. Nicotine Patches and gum
Nicotine Patches and gum can help reduce withdrawal symptoms such as craving, irritability and poor concentration. Patches gradually release nicotine through the skin and into your bloodstream. Over time, patches can be swapped for weaker patches, gradually reducing nicotine dependence. Nicotine gum can be used when you feel the urge to smoke. The gum is chewed and then held against the inside of the cheek where nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream. There are several other quit smoking products, such as nicotine inhalers, tablets and nasal sprays, which might be suitable for some people. Many pharmacies offer smoking cessation services and can provide advice on NRT and the right choice for you.
4. Make your mind work for you
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT is a type of psychotherapy which works by teaching you new ways of thinking. Allen Carr’s Easy Way To Stop Smoking is a very successful and popular programme which involves changing your psychological state and shifting focus and emphasis on to the rewards you will get from being smoke-free, instead of dwelling on what is being given up. Changing your subconscious desire to smoke through hypnotherapy can also help some smokers reduce their cravings. Acupuncture may also help relieve some of the common withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability and insomnia.
5. Some useful self-help tips
Once you have picked your quit date, swap to low tar/low nicotine cigarettes for a couple of weeks before quit day. Leading up to quit day try to gradually postpone your first cigarette of the day, making it later and later in the day. When you have stopped smoking, focus on one day at a time rather than worrying about how you will cope with the days and weeks to come. If you have a friend who wants to quit, try to do it together and work as support and encouragement for each other. Focus on all the positive benefits you will get from being a non-smoker. If you were smoking one pack of cigarettes a day, you will save $13,800 in your first year. Find something that you really want to do or buy with some of the money as a reward for your hard work.
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