The Road to Smoke-Free: Tips for Quitting Smoking

Quitting cigarettes is good for your health. Simple. But how do you do it? Take up vaping? Counselling? Medication? Here are some of the best methods.

Anyone who has tried to quit smoking will tell you how difficult it is. There’s always the temptation to share a cigarette with a friend over a beer or to escape work for a quick “smoko,” as they say in Australia. A recent study suggests that 60-75% of people relapse in the first six months after trying to quit smoking. As with other forms of addiction, quitting cigarettes is a difficult psychological battle. Social events, depression or simple daily habits can have you craving for one.

But the health benefits of long-term abstinence are huge. Risks of stroke, coronary heart disease, cancers and overall health improve substantially in a matter of weeks or months after quitting smoking.
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Smoking is one of the biggest killers, with around 14% of deaths worldwide attributed to smoking-related illnesses, according to World Health Organization data in 2019. Many of those deaths are attributed to rising smoking rates in lower and middle-income countries. And more recent studies show that to be an ongoing trend.

Smoking is a massive global health burden. There will be a billion deaths globally in this century from smoking-related illnesses if we don’t bring smoking rates down, said Hazel Cheeseman, deputy chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a UK-based public heath charity. (Also Read | Aspartame may increase your cancer risk; list of foods that have aspartame from diet coke to sugar-free puddings.

Why are cigarettes addictive?

When you smoke a cigarette the burning tobacco releases nicotine, which enters the blood via the lungs.

The nicotine gets pumped to the brain, where it activates receptors on the surface of neurons called nicotinic acetylcholine receptors.

Activating these receptors triggers the release of chemicals in the brain — neurotransmitters — such as dopamine.

The release of dopamine doesn’t necessarily cause addiction. But when it acts in a specific part of the brain — where our so-called reward system lies — it can cause addiction. That part of the brain is called the mesocorticolimbic circuit.

And this is how the addiction works: When nicotine triggers dopamine release in the reward system, it induces a rewarding feeling, like a mini rush. Each cigarette you smoke reinforces this feeling, causing you to crave cigarettes and ultimately becoming addicted to them.

So, when we want to stop smoking, we have to break this link between cigarettes and the feeling of reward. It’s tough. You’ll need all the help you can get to make it work over the long term. But it is possible.

Interventions to stop smoking

There are two main methods to break the psychological attachment to cigarettes: willpower and self-discipline.

You can also use therapies to fulfil the nicotine cravings, but without the health problems associated with active smoking.

For therapies, there are three types. First, there are nicotine replacement therapies, such as patches, gums or inhalators (also known as inhalers) that slowly release nicotine, stopping the urge to smoke. Nicotine itself isn’t harmful, but the smoke you inhale from cigarettes is.

Then, there are medications, such as varenicline and bupropion.

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