Kick it in the butt . . . for good

Supports can double or triple your chances of quitting smoking

Woman breaking a cigarette in half
Read more

Interesting facts

The health effects of smoking

Health benefits of quitting

Withdrawal symptoms

Tobacco statistics

Just for health care professionals

Recuperating takes longer if you smoke

Avoid second hand smoke

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Tuesday, January 18, 2011

After 20 years as a smoker, Christine Smith started having persistent headaches.

When switching brands didn't work and the headaches continued, she decided it was time to quit. "Cigarettes kept giving me a headache. I couldn't breathe and I wheezed all the time."

But quitting did not come easy. A lot of people think that butting out is just a matter of not lighting up. But Smith says it's a bit more complicated than that.

"My kids looked at me and said smoking is bad for you. They were getting the message about not smoking. I couldn't tell them they shouldn't smoke with a cigarette in my hand but I could tell them how hard it was to quit," she says. "I watched my friends and family quit way before I quit. My sister used Champix. My mother quit cold turkey and that was particularly hard."

For Smith's first try at quitting smoking, she used Zyban, a smoking cessation medication. Cravings continued - every time she smelled someone smoking, she instantly wanted one. She rode out the cravings, which lasted about 20 minutes, and the cravings passed.

One day, about eight months after being smoke-free, Smith lit up.

The headaches came back. Smith was eager to get back to being smoke-free but it wasn't easy. She tried everything - chewing the gum and the patch (she was allergic to the adhesive). Eventually, she turned to laser therapy.

It was laser therapy, when combined with supports from her family and friends, that Smith feels helped achieve her goals to be smoke-free and healthier. The headaches stopped and Smith wheezed less. Family members who had already quit smoking were particularly helpful in talking Smith through a craving.

"I've been smoke-free for five years," she says. "Every now and then I get an urge to have a cigarette. That continues to happen, but now it's only once or twice a year. I smell it and the nausea and headache return. I know immediately how much I don't want it."

Smith's story illustrates the challenges many people face in quitting smoking. But it also underscores that anyone can quit if they have the right tools, a fact that is reinforced during National Non-Smoking Week.

"While quitting smoking is not easy, it is something an individual can achieve. Having the right tools and supports and coping mechanisms in place can help improve your chances of being smoke-free," says Margie Kvern, Program Specialist, Tobacco Reduction with the Winnipeg Health Region.

Smith shows that people can have success quitting smoking in a lot of ways. Although laser therapy has not demonstrated the same effectiveness as some other methods, some people feel that it helps in their quest to stop smoking.

The support Smith received from family and friends while she was quitting is part of what counselling provides. Counselling is one of the ways that is known to increase a smoker's success while quitting.

If a person uses cessation medication - such as nicotine replacement, Zyban or Champix - correctly, his or her chances of a long-term quit doubles or even triples, particularly when combined with counselling.

But why?

"Tobacco use is an addiction. That's why it can be hard to stop," says Kvern. "Like any addiction, our body wants the substance, in this case nicotine, that we have developed an addiction to. The goal is to withdraw from it and learn how to live without it."

For those who consider smoking a habit, a reframe might be necessary. A habit may be taking the same route to work every morning. An addiction is when you are dependent upon a substance. If you struggle to get through a few hours without smoking, you're addicted.

There are physical and behavioural components to consider when looking at quitting. If both of these components aren't addressed, a person's chance of success is compromised, explains Kvern.

Smoking cessation medications can help a person as they make a quit attempt. Nicotine replacement is one of these. In cigarettes, nicotine is the addictive substance. So nicotine replacement (patch, gum, lozenge or inhaler) is a choice to consider to support you through withdrawal and the quit process and stop smoking for good. "That's the value of using nicotine replacement," Kvern says.

Research shows that using nicotine replacement therapy for a three to four month period, and receiving ongoing and individualized counselling while gradually decreasing the amount of nicotine is one of the ways to quit smoking for good.

"Medication alone is no magic bullet. The medications are a big help, but they need to be used along with other supports that assist with developing a quit plan," says Kvern, noting that a person who is interested in nicotine replacement therapy or other cessation medications such as Zyban and Champix should consult their family physician, nurse practitioner and/or pharmacist who can best advise them in the context of their specific health situation, including medications they may already be taking.

Cold turkey doesn't work as well as any of the other methods, largely because of the lack of planning that goes into the quit attempt. That's why many impulsive smokers who have declared they've smoked their last cigarette at 11:58 on December 31st aren't as successful as others.

Having a plan in place can help increase your chances of quitting smoking and address your addiction to nicotine. When making a quit plan, the issues that should be considered include:

  • understanding what about quitting smoking is important to you
  • changing up the routines around smoking (delaying first cigarette of the day, eliminating some of the cigarettes that you feel you don't need that badly, smoking only half or three quarters of the cigarette rather than the whole thing)
  • planning how to handle stressful situations without cigarettes
  • identifying situations that trigger you to want a cigarette - then coming up with a plan for how to manage that trigger in a new way

"If you've planned for how you're going to deal with it before you face that circumstance - like your morning coffee and a cigarette - you'll have strategies about how to do things differently. Maybe you'll have tea instead of coffee or drink it in a different place. Changing routines to make it something new that isn't going to trigger you to want that cigarette is what's helpful in staying smoke-free," says Kvern.

Accountability doesn't hurt either, says Kvern. When someone knows you plan to quit smoking, you feel like you don't want to let that person down. Also, by letting people know your plan to quit, they can support you when you're feeling the urge to smoke.

Busting the cutting down myth

While it may make you feel a bit better psychologically, there are few health benefits to cutting down your daily smoking. This is because smokers are still inhaling harmful and toxic chemicals. In order to achieve improved health, quitting smoking completely is what health experts recommend.

Even if smokers are not quite ready to quit smoking, stopping smoking temporarily during an illness, injury or when having surgery is an important thing to do for the best recovery.

Medications like nicotine replacement can help ease the withdrawal symptoms while stopping smoking temporarily, just like they do when quitting for the long-term. Some people who only plan to stop for a while when they're ill may decide to continue a smoke-free life since the initial withdrawal is already behind them.

"Quitting for the long haul is always the best choice for health," says Kvern.

That being said, cutting down and smoking outside are steps in the right direction when it comes to quitting smoking. "If people are confident they can smoke less, these positive feelings make them more optimistic or willing to quit all together," says Kvern. "If people are successful with these steps, it may possibly lead to a person becoming successful and stopping for the long haul."

The most important thing to consider? "You have to be ready. I had a lot of reasons to quit smoking. I had the headaches. My kids were a motivator. I was also not ready to die, or live with the health restrictions and limited life, because of smoking," says Smith. "I feel so much better. I don't have the headaches. I can run. I don't wheeze. I can go hiking for a couple of hours in the woods. I couldn't do that when I smoked."

Related links

Interesting facts

  • Carbon monoxide is one toxin inhaled during smoking and through second hand smoke. This limits the body's ability to take oxygen into your blood.
  • Smoking affects your brain. Within 10 seconds of being inhaled, nicotine reaches your brain.
  • When a person quits smoking, their caffeine metabolism speeds up. That means that those two cups of coffee you enjoy each morning may have a greater impact once you put down the pack. Experts suggest substituting caffeinated beverages with de-caffeinated ones or reducing your caffeine intake by half. Keep in mind that being caffeine toxic doesn't look that different from nicotine withdrawal.
  • Smoking ages your skin faster. If your skin looks older and more wrinkly than your age might be, smoking has already done considerable internal damage to your body.
  • Smoking increases your body's chance of becoming diabetic because it changes the way your body uses sugar.
  • Your memory may be impacted by smoking.
  • If you smoke, you're at higher risk for influenza and the common cold.
  • Fertility problems, miscarriages, menstrual problems and erectile dysfunction could be the result of lighting up.
  • It's a myth that nicotine replacement causes cancer.

The health effects of smoking

We've all heard of some fairly common health risks associated with smoking. There's a reason cardiovascular disease and lung disease are mentioned right away when it comes to a chat about the affects of smoking - they're the most common.

Did you know? Smokers have 70% greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Oral health concerns like gum disease and tooth decay, high blood pressure, other types of cancers and high cholesterol are on the lengthy list of possible health concerns resulting from smoking.

Health benefits of quitting

20 minutes after quitting: Your blood pressure returns to what it was before your last cigarette. The temperature of your hands and feet increases to normal.

8 hours after quitting: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.

24 hours after quitting: Your chance of a heart attack decreases.

2 weeks to 3 months after quitting: Your circulation improves and your lung function increases up to 30%.

1 to 9 months after quitting: Coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue, and shortness of breath decrease. Risk of lung infection drops.

1 year after quitting: Your extra risk of coronary heart disease is half of what a smoker's is.

5 years after quitting: Your risk of a stroke is the same as someone who never smoked.

10 years after quitting: The risk of death from lung cancer is about half that of a continuing smoker. The risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreas decrease.

15 years after quitting: The risk of coronary heart disease is the same as someone who never smoked.

Withdrawal symptoms

Symptoms Duration Prevalence
Irritability / Aggression < 4 weeks 50%
Depression < 4 weeks 60%
Restlessness < 4 weeks 60%
Poor concentration < 2 weeks 60%
Increased appetite > 10 weeks 70%
Light-headedness < 48 hours 10%
Night-time awakenings < 1 week 25%
Constipation < 4 weeks 17%
Mouth ulcers < 4 weeks 40%
Urges to smoke < 2 weeks 70%


Tobacco Statistics

While older adults seem to be getting the message about butting out, it seems Manitoba youth are the largest group lighting up.

It's a disturbing national trend. The group who smokes most across all jurisdictions across Canada are 20- 24 year olds. In Manitoba, for 2009, 25.4 percent of 20 - 24 year olds were smokers. The national average is 23 per cent.

Recent statistics show that 18.9 per cent of Manitobans are current smokers; that rate is 17.5 per cent across Canada. And these rates have plateaued.

Of the people who do smoke, three quarters smoke daily and the remainder only smoke occasionally. Over the years, fewer smokers report smoking daily and more smokers report being occasional smokers.

Just for health care professionals

Smoking cessation best practice includes asking your patients about their tobacco at every encounter. Check their smoking status and ask if they are thinking about stopping smoking. The conversation will differ with every patient depending on their circumstances and the interaction.

"Evidence tells us that consistently raising the issue of tobacco use with our clients/patients will increase the likelihood of patients quitting," says Kvern. "It's an essential part of the care we deliver. Even if clients/patients are not ready to quit right away, helping change their perspectives about how smoking is affecting their health now and down the road helps bring people closer to the day they may be ready."

Health care professionals can refer their patients/clients to the additional supports of a Quit Specialist through the Canadian Cancer Society either by advising their patients to call, or by sending in a referral. Anyone can access this service by calling 1-877-513-5333 and health care providers can also fax a referral directly to the Smokers' Helpline, with their patient's consent, which means the Helpline will make the call to them.

Under the weather? Recuperating takes longer if you smoke

Health experts urge people to butt out during illness or injury

You'll take longer to heal. You will likely spend a longer time in the hospital post-surgery. You will also be more likely to experience complications such as poor mending of a fracture.

If you smoke during illness or injury, that is.

"It's like closing down the road when a fire truck is trying to get to a fire," says Dr. Sande Harlos, Medical Officer of Health for the Winnipeg Health Region, of smoking during illness or injury. "Don't smoke while you're ill or injured."

Every time a cigarette is smoked, the blood vessels all over the body contract. That means blood carrying oxygen, white blood cells and medication are not getting to where they are needed as well as they should. Smoking literally slows your body down from doing what it needs to while healing.

That's why a smoker's recovery process for the cold, influenza or surgery may often take longer than a non-smoker's recovery process.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist about nicotine replacement options. These can help ease withdrawal symptoms while you recuperate. If you're having surgery, factor in a quit date before your surgery so your recovery will be improved.

"Stopping for the short term will help your body recover as soon as possible and with less risk of complications," says Harlos. "Stopping for the long term is of course the best option for health."

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