Carol Tabb, 61, smoked for more than 40 years but she’s looking forward to feeling better. She’s quit many times before throughout the years, but this time, she has some motivation — and a new tool.
“I made a promise to my grandchildren that I’d stick with this,” she said. “It was time. I don’t think anyone can make you quit until you’re ready to quit smoking.”
Today, Mrs. Tabb is weaning herself off with the help of an electronic cigarette that provides small doses of nicotine. The smoker gradually decreases the amount of nicotine. Mrs. Tabb has been without real cigarettes for 69 days. She’s on her way.
Jim Stocks, a pulmonologist at UT Health Northeast, said the addictive properties and the socially acceptable habit of smoking are challenges in the way of quitting for people such as Mrs. Tabb.
“It’s a drug that the brain interprets as calming,” he said. “We’ve come to associate cigarette smoking with certain experiences and times.”
Lung cancer is commonly associated with smoking, but the fact is it affects nearly every part of the body. Smoking increases a person’s risk for heart disease, stroke, circulation problems and other types of cancer, including bladder cancer.
Stocks said smoking changes the DNA within the cells so they forget how to grow appropriately.
Cancer occurs when the cells grow out of control.
The “cigarette is extraordinarily complex,” Stocks said. “The mixture of chemicals is well over a thousand different compounds, each of which can have effects of the body. Then when you add them all up, those effects can be compounded.”
He added, “Some of those effects tend to promote inflammation, not just in the lungs, but elsewhere in the body. The inflammation itself can cause damage to the lung tissue and other organs.”
Stocks said every cigarette smoker may develop some kind of lung disease, most commonly bronchitis. If they continue to smoke, they will develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) or emphysema. This can occur as young as in the 40s. Genetic risk factors determine when smokers will develop disease. Lung cancer is not as common as the other lung diseases, but it is the leading cause of cancer deaths among white, black and Asian women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
DON’T GIVE UP
To quit smoking is among the most proclaimed New Year’s resolution. A key component of smoking cessation is becoming knowledgeable about the consequences of smoking, Stocks said.
It’s also important to have a target date and to phase it out. Stocks said he speaks personally to his patients about the difficulties of quitting.
“You want to bring the message of risk to home,” he said. “I try to make it personal. I try to point out that if you quit now, you’re going to add years to your life. If you don’t quit now, you’re going to take years away from your life.”
People get off track or quit for only a while, but that’s OK, Stocks said. He said being successful is realizing failure isn’t permanent. Family members and health professionals should be supportive and understanding.
“None of the players in this should pretend that this is something easy to do,” Stocks said. “Guilt is not really an effective motivation tool. In fact, sometimes it’s counterproductive.”
Quitting smoking almost immediately yields benefits, from improved blood pressure to better circulation.
“Your risks may slowly go back down if you had never smoked, but it never goes back to the level as if you never smoked at all,” Stocks said. “Some of it is irreparable, but it’s still worth quitting.”
HOW IT AFFECTS YOUR BODY
Brain — Increased risk of stroke
Lungs — increased risk of emphysema, bronchitis, and lung cancer
Mouth/throat — increased risk of mouth and throat cancer
Stomach — increased risk of cancer
Bladder — increased risk of cancer
Arteries — increased risk of peripheral arterial disease. In legs, leads to pain, numbness and infection.
Skin — Causes dry, yellow skin and wrinkles
Heart — increased risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack
Bone health —Postmenopausal women who smoke have a lower bone density than women who never smoked.
Sources: National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CHANGES THAT HAPPEN AS SOON AS YOU QUIT
It’s never too late to make a better health choice and quit smoking. American Cancer Society lists immediate and long-term rewards of a smoke-free person:
20 minutes after quitting: Heart rate and blood pressure drop.
12 hours after quitting: The carbon monoxide level in blood drops to normal.
2 weeks to 3 months after quitting: Circulation improves and lung function increases.
1 to 9 months after quitting: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia (tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs) start to regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs and reduce the risk of infection.
1 year after quitting: The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a continuing smokers.
5 years after quitting: Risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder are cut in half. Cervical cancer risk falls to that of a non-smoker. Stroke risk can fall to that of a non-smoker after two to five years.
10 years after quitting: The risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking. The risk of cancer of the larynx and pancreas decreases.
15 years after quitting: The risk of coronary heart disease is that of a non-smoker’s.