Extinguish Your Smoking Habit: A User's Guide to Improving Vascular Health


"Each of us should think of the future. Every puff on a cigarette is another tick closer to a time bomb of terrible consequences."
                                          - Ray Comfort


Following the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout this past Thursday – a national event where thousands of Americans utilize the opportunity to quit smoking – we are often reminded of the various ways that smoking debilitates our existence, whether one is a user or not. Through medical, social and economic means, smoking cigarettes is a vice held by many that does irreparable damage to the health, relationships and finances of a user, creating an unfortunate cycle of addiction that takes hold of the body, refusing to let go.

With over 4,000 chemical compounds packed into every cylinder, 50 of which are carcinogenic, it is well-known that cigarettes carry serious health risks, many of which are related to vascular health. Smoking is a major risk factor for both heart and peripheral artery disease, which contributes to the hardening and narrowing of arteries through increased plaque production. This increase also puts users at a higher risk for blood clots, heart attack, stroke and limb loss.

Though 2016 statistics have shown that the percentage of current cigarette smokers has dropped in years (15%, compared to 20.9% in 2005), smoking still has a place in American society. As more and more Americans begin to kick the habit in record numbers, many still suffer with their addiction, wishing to find a way to quit smoking and lower their risk for disease. With that, there are many notable methods and tips for quitting smoking that have proven to be effective and helpful for many Americans that are worth attempting by anyone looking to kick their addiction.

1.   Build a quit plan.
Sometimes, the first step to quitting is as easy as mapping out how you’ll quit. For many, building a quit plan is one of the most effective ways to begin on the road to recovery. Begin by picking a date in which you’ll quit without backing down from your goal. Make a list of reasons why you’ve decided to quit smoking, and understand the motivations behind quitting, as well as rewards you wish to reap from your decision. Additionally, make notes about your most desired times of the day to smoke, places you like to smoke and the reasons why you’re smoking – all of these will help to control moods and temperaments that allow you to smoke. Throw out every reminder of tobacco use – ridding former smoking locations, such as your home, car and office will reinforce your commitment to an addiction-free lifestyle. Finally, tell people you care about that you’re quitting and utilize them to hold you accountable for your goals. Ask them for help, explain your rationale, and they’ll do everything they can to help you kick your dependence.

2.   Understand the difficulty of quitting
For many, quitting smoking is a difficult task that can be debilitating and emotionally taxing, depending on how often someone smokes per day, the number of people in one’s house that smoke, and personal factors, such as weight, health and social surroundings. However, many who have found success with quitting smoking before state that the period after immediately quitting is the most difficult. These periods of time vary with the person; For some, it’s the first 24 hours, while for others, it’s the first three days. Withdrawal symptoms can even peak 1-3 weeks after quitting. During this time, you may feel sluggish, lethargic, or disheartened about your recovery, and feel the need to relapse. The time it takes to start losing a craving it isn’t what should be focused on, however, but the personal motivations behind quitting that you set for yourself. Focusing on the benefits of quitting smoking, both short and long term, will help to overcome your doubts and continue on the path to recovery.

3.   Make friends with other recovering or non-smokers
Finding people that either share the understanding of how an addict feels, or those that understand and appreciate the value of an addiction free lifestyle is an excellent way to put the mind at ease. New friendships can form out of finding a path to addiction recovery, and these new relationships will push you toward meeting your goals. A great way to change your habits is to do just that: Pick up a new hobby that benefits your life, such as weightlifting or jogging, as opposed to smoking, which weakens it. Finally, don’t forget to reward yourself for doing well with combating your dependence – spend the money you would have spent on cigarettes that week and use to buy something for yourself.

4.   Know that there are ways to combat
Lifestyle changes, while important, are just the initial steps to quitting smoking. There are many ways one can be weaned off smoking that have proven effective with the right discipline and support behind them. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is among one the most successful alternatives to smoking, which are most commonly utilized in the forms of nicotine gum, patches, inhalers, sprays and lozenges – all done without the use of tobacco. With nicotine being the primary psychoactive chemical in cigarettes, using an alternative that incorporates this chemical without all of the other harmful chemicals can be a helpful method. However, it is shown that those couple behavioral therapy with NRT have found more success with this method. Through behavioral therapy, a user visits a counselor to find ways not to smoke, as well as help talk out triggers that allowed them to begin smoking in the first place. Medicines such as Zyban and Chantix, though must be prescribed by a physician first, are intended to help people quit smoking. Additionally, one should also consult their physician before combining any of these methods, specifically those found in NRT, as the FDA has not yet approved using two or more of these methods together.

5.   Take it one day at a time
Though the expression seems obvious enough, there’s a reason it exists: So people understand that quitting smoking takes time, and their addiction can’t be turned off like a light switch. Understand that many people have tried to quit smoking before – some have succeeded, some have failed, some have never looked back and some have relapsed. However, no matter what, all of these are perfectly normal and acceptable steps on the way to recovery, and not every success story is the same. For as long as smoking has existed, there have been people who have also wanted to quit smoking. Have faith, and know that everything will be alright if you continue to fight.