|If you’re a smoker, stopping smoking is the single most important step you can take to protect your health. Smoking affects nearly every organ of the human body / Photo by: Nopphon_1987 via Shutterstock|
If you’re a smoker, stopping smoking is the single most important step you can take to protect your health. Smoking affects nearly every organ of the human body. For instance, smoking can cause physical changes in the eyes that can threaten a person’s eyesight. Smokers also have oral health problems, dry skin, and high blood pressure as smoking puts more stress on the heart.
Despite knowing about these negative impacts, smokers keep smoking. Many tobacco companies spend millions to billions of dollars every year to create ads, showing smoking as glamorous, exciting, and safe. According to VeryWell Mind, a trusted and compassionate online resource for mental health, around 6.5 trillion cigarettes are sold across the world annually.
Reports show that there are an estimated one billion smokers in the world. Of this figure, 80% live in low and middle-income countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced is the tobacco epidemic, killing more than eight million people annually. Unfortunately, anyone can become addicted to smoking once they start doing it. Previous research shows that it is most likely to become a habit during one's teen years. The younger a person begins to smoke, the more they are likely to become addicted to nicotine.
The 2014 Surgeon General’s Report (SGR) showed that almost 9 out of 10 adult smokers started smoking before the age of 18. “Most of these young people never considered the long-term health consequences associated with tobacco use when they started smoking; and nicotine, a highly addictive drug, causes many to continue smoking well into adulthood, often with deadly consequences,” the report said.
Why Quitting is Hard
While it’s easy to tell someone to quit smoking, it’s extremely hard to do, especially among those who have been using tobacco for many years. Nicotine, the chemical present in all tobacco products, is the reason for the addiction. It temporarily makes you feel calm and satisfied. At the same time, you might feel more alert and focused. As you smoke more often, your body would ask for more nicotine to feel good. Eventually, you wouldn’t feel normal without it.
"From a scientific standpoint, nicotine is just as hard, or harder to quit than heroin … but people don't recognize that," Dr. Neil Benowitz, a nicotine researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, said.
Nicotine acts on the chemistry of the brain and the central nervous system. It also works like other addictive drugs. It gives you a little bit of an adrenaline rush enough to speed up the heart and raise blood pressure. According to Smokefree.gov, a part of the US Department of Health and Human Services’ efforts to reduce smoking rates in the country, smokers usually feel uncomfortable and crave cigarettes when their body doesn’t get nicotine. This is called withdrawal. Dr. Benowitz stated that nicotine releases dopamine, known as the feel-good neurotransmitter. When a person stops smoking, they have a deficiency of dopamine release, which causes a state of dysphoria – they feel anxious or depressed.
|While it’s easy to tell someone to quit smoking, it’s extremely hard to do, especially among those who have been using tobacco for many years / Photo by: Marc Bruxelle via Shutterstock|
Training the Brain to Quit Smoking
Reports show that 2 out of 3 smokers say they want to quit but only a few succeed without help. This is because smokers not only become physically dependent on nicotine but also form a strong emotional (psychological) dependence on it. It can affect their mood, behavior, and emotions. Thus, it’s important that a person is extremely committed when trying to stop smoking.
In an effort to help smokers quit tobacco use, Claire Spears, assistant professor of health policy and behavioral sciences, developed iQuit Mindfully, a program that delivers personalized text messages built around mindfulness training. "Many people smoke as a way to cope with stress, but it doesn't work in the long term. Mindfulness is a more effective, durable way to manage stress,” Spears said.
According to MedicalXpress, a web-based medical and health news service that features the most comprehensive coverage in the fields of neuroscience, cardiology, and more, mindfulness can address a smoker’s tendency to automatically reach for a cigarette when faced with triggers through focusing their attention on the present moment. These triggers include emotional triggers (like feeling stressed), social triggers (like being around friends who smoke), and habitual triggers (like after eating).
The program developed by Spears can be particularly effective for adults of low socioeconomic status. According to her, the participants feel cared for despite knowing that the messages from iQuit Mindfully are automated. "Mindfulness gives you a moment to slow down and consider your response rather than simply react. It's something that you can do for yourself anytime, anywhere,” she added.
Smokers can also use different ways to develop a mindset that would help them quit smoking. For instance, educating oneself about nicotine addiction, withdrawal, and the recovery process would equip one with the knowledge of how to quit. It’s equally important to pay attention to our health. Thinking about the harmful impacts of smoking can encourage one to turn away from the habit.