As far as your physical health goes, no habit on this planet does as much damage as smoking. Smoking is officially the number one cause of preventable deaths in the world. Here's how you can kick the habit and live a smoke-free life. 

What damage am I doing?

heart stub cigarette

Cigarettes directly cause 30 percent of deaths from heart disease, 30 percent of cancer deaths and a whopping 80 to 90 percent of all lung cancers. As few as eight cigarettes per month—that's just 100 per year—raises your risk of lung cancer, especially if it's a habit you've kept up for years. In fact, any smoking whatsoever increases your risk. 

In a study of British doctors, smoking 1 to 14 cigarettes a day raised the risk to eight times higher than normal. Smoking 15 to 25 cigarettes raised the risk 13 times and smoking more than 25 a day pushed the risk up 25 times. The 4000 chemicals in tobacco smoke are lethal for your cardiovascular system—raising your odds of heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure enormously. 

Chemicals in tobacco smoke increase cardiovascular risk by strangling the body's oxygen supply, making artery walls stiff, slashing levels of 'good' HDL cholesterol and making blood platelets stickier and more likely to form heart-threatening clots. Smoking also promotes premature skin ageing. 

Then, there's lung damage. Smoking can trigger and exacerbate short-term breathing problems such as bronchitis and asthma attacks. Smoking is also closely linked to chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder—or COPD—a cluster of incapacitating airway problems. These disorders are some of the fastest-growing and most debilitating lung issues among older people. 

In fact, COPD is the fifth leading cause of death in the UK—and 80 to 90 percent of cases are linked to smoking. 

Scientists don't yet understand why some smokers develop COPD and others don't, but an intriguing study by doctors at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital revealed that middle-aged smokers with heavily lined faces are five times more likely to develop COPD than smokers with fewer wrinkles, suggesting some sort of genetic susceptibility to both.  

 

Can I undo the damage?

cycling

No matter how long or how much you've smoked, you can reverse much of the damage—if you stop smoking once and for all.

According to a major study by British and Danish researchers that tracked more than 8,000 people aged 30 to 60 for 25 years, at least a quarter of long-term smokers will eventually develop COPD if they carry on smoking. The longer people smoked, the higher their risk. The good news though is that no one who gave up smoking early in the study developed severe COPD.

Your lungs and cardiovascular system begin repairing themselves within minutes of your last cigarette. Within 8 hours, your blood pressure begins falling to a healthier range and high levels of toxic carbon monoxide gas in your bloodstream drop.

In a day, your heart attack risk begins to fall. Within two days your sense of taste and smell sharpen. Within a month, your lungs will work better and you should be coughing less, feel more energetic and have less congestion and shortness of breath.

 

And the benefits don't stop there…

Quitting smoking has countless health benefits. Significantly reduced threat of cancer or heart disease, an improved sense of taste and smell, better endurance and fewer colds and infections are just a few examples.

You will also reap confidence-boosting rewards such as fresher breath, younger-looking skin and no more tobacco smell on your clothes.

 

Your repair plan

nicotine patch

  • Treat it like an addiction, not a habit. Non-smokers—and oddly, many smokers themselves—often fail to understand how thoroughly addictive smoking can be. Ending a long-running smoking habit cannot be done casually. You need to prepare yourself mentally and physically, and to have a strategy, a support team and a Plan B in case some methods fail.
  • Get help and support. You can get nicotine-replacement therapy—patches, gum, nasal spray, inhalators, lozenges or microtabs—over the counter or, for a certain period, on prescription from your GP or NHS stop-smoking facilities. Some prescription drugs can also help you to quit and counteract cravings. Using these treatments doubles your chance of success—with treatment and the support of stop-smoking services, you are up to four times more likely to succeed.
  • Take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep, exercise every day, drink plenty of water and stay busy; this will give rewards that help to replace whatever benefits smokers feel they get from the habit.
  • Time it right. Plan to start your life as a non-smoker during a calm period.
  • Eat lots of fruits and veggies. Studies show that smokers and former smokers who eat plenty of produce, in a variety of brilliant colours, have lower rates of lung cancer. The reason? Probably the protective antioxidants in fresh fruits and veggies.
  • Try 'nicotine fading'. If nicotine cravings have kept you from quitting in the past, this longer-term, slower-quitting technique could help. Use a nicotine patch or gum to help you to become accustomed to a life without cigarettes as you gradually step down your nicotine exposure. You can also try e-cigarettes in this way.  Keep using the patch or gum for as long as you need to, being sure to follow the package directions.

 

Remember, a lapse isn't a failure

Most successful quitters have lapsed many times. Use the lapse to discover your personal obstacles to quitting, and create a plan for dealing with your needs.

If you use cigarettes to relax, try a walk, a phone call or a piece of fruit instead. If it was part of your after-meal routine, replace it with a cup of tea.

 

If you smoke cigars…

cigars

Even if you don't inhale, smoking the occasional cigar raises your odds of heart disease and a wide variety of cancers.

While no one's figured out the precise risk, consider this: because cigars are bigger than cigarettes, take longer to smoke, use tobacco that's aged and fermented, and are rolled in slower-burning wrappers, a single large cigar emits up to 20 times more ammonia, 5 to 10 times more cadmium (a carcinogenic metal) and up to 80 to 90 times more highly carcinogenic nitrosamines.

'All smokers, whether or not they inhale, directly expose the lips, mouth, throat, larynx and tongue to smoke,' says a definitive US National Cancer Institute report on cigar smoking. 'In addition, smoke constituents in the saliva are swallowed into the oesophagus.'

If you smoke one or more cigars every day, you've raised your odds of heart disease, serious lung problems and a wide variety of cancers on virtually every part of your body that is exposed to tobacco smoke, from your lips, tongue, mouth and throat to your oesophagus, larynx and lungs.

The more you smoke, the higher the risk: while one or two cigars a day doubles your risk of cancers of the mouth, puffing three or four raises your risk to more than eight times above normal; smoking five or more cigars a day boosts it to 16 times higher than that of non-smokers.

If you've smoked an occasional cigar, quitting will probably wipe out most cigar-related risks within a few years. But for long-term heavy cigar smokers, the heart disease and lung cancer risks may not fall to that of a non-smoker's for decades.

Stop smoking cigars and you'll not only lower your risk of mouth and lung cancers but also save money, banish cigar breath, and leave your clothes, car and house smelling much better.

 

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