Last month the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unveiled a comprehensive plan to begin regulating the amount of nicotine in cigarettes. The intent is to bring nicotine down to “non-addictive” levels. While there is not a consensus on the amount of nicotine considered “non-additive” there is broad consensus that cigarettes need to be less toxic, addictive, and appealing.
More than 35 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, and tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. The hope is that by decreasing the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, it will decrease the number of future addicts and related deaths.
If there was ever a good time to quit, I think this is it.
If your efforts to quit smoking have been unsuccessful in the past please know most smokers who quit have tried–and failed–multiple times before they were successful. Failures in most facets of life are part of the journey and should be looked upon as learning experiences. We tend to learn more from our failures than from our successes. Thomas Edison, asked about mounting failures in his quest to create a working electric light, denied failure, pointing out that he had simply “found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
We all need help to solve problems. Many smokers, though, try to go this journey alone. Of the smokers who try to quit, eight out of ten smokers who try to quit, do so without reaching out for help and about five percent of them fail within a year. Chalk this up to one of those 10,000 ways.
Nicotine is a powerfully addictive foe. The recidivism rate for relapse with nicotine is not that different from heroin, because the two affect your body in similar ways. However you ingest it, nicotine travels through the body in the bloodstream, arriving in the brain in seven to 15 seconds. There, it begins to stimulate neurotransmitters, which boost the brain’s reward centers associated with pleasure, releasing chemicals that give you that temporary pleasant feeling.
Adrenaline, which is also released, increases heart rate and blood pressure, and makes breathing rapid and shallow. Over time, nicotine affects your heart, arteries, and lungs and increases your risk for heart attacks, stroke, and chronic lung diseases. Ending addiction with nicotine will likely involve withdrawal. If you’ve tried to quit before, you’re familiar with most of those symptoms:
- Sadness or depressed mood
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Irritability, frustration or anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decreased heart rate
- Increased appetite or weight gain
It’s not just the physical symptoms, but the emotional ones as well. The obsession, or habit must be changed and that takes time. You might be looking at four to six weeks for your brain and body to begin readjusting to life without nicotine.
This may require some assistance from professionals and those who have experienced your trials. Like the successful 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, Nicotine Anonymous members say the first step of admitting you smoke because of nicotine addiction may be a key in your quest to become a non-smoker. Industry marketing promoting smoking as a personal choice has helped keep many smokers in denial. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends some strategies that might help:
- Make a list of all the reasons you want to quit. Refer to this list during urges and temptations. These reasons become rewards.
- Be prepared to deal with nicotine withdrawal. Talk with your doctor and pharmacist about medicines and over-the-counter products that can help you quit smoking. These medicines and products are helpful for many people. Use them correctly.
- Consider learning some new skills and behaviors to help keep your focus away from smoking.
- Exercise can help avoid weight gain, which is typically around ten pounds on average.
- Make a plan and work the plan. Most resources suggest you set a quit date and make that known to your loved ones. Be accountable to another person also making the change.
- If you slip, accept that you slipped, learn from the slip, and recommit to quit smoking. Remember, if nothing changes, nothing changes.
So, don’t give up. It isn’t easy but it’s worth it!
Kristen Duckworth is the Respiratory Therapist Manager with St. Mary’s Medical Center and can be reached at 816-228-5900.