Is this your year to quit?

February 3, 2011 by  

So what if it’s already February. That doesn’t mean that I can’t start my New Year’s resolutions now. Or you for that matter. Especially when the resolution is for our health. Besides, the Lunar Year of the Rabbit is just starting.

If your NY’s resolution is to quit smoking, then you are looking at the right direction because quitting as soon as possible will drastically decrease your risk for cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Here are some tips from the MD Anderson Cancer Center:

Set a date

“Picking a quit date, particularly at a time when you know your motivation is high and there will be less stress or distraction, is generally a good idea ,” according to Paul M. Cinciripini, director of MD Anderson’s Tobacco Treatment Program and professor in the Department of Behavioral Science.

Get help and support

Get all the help you can get! Free counseling is available at these “Quit Lines”:

  • Centers for Disease Control Office of Smoking and Health: 1-800-QUIT NOW
  • National Cancer Institute: 1-877-44U-QUIT

Swap habits

Identify the stimuli that trigger smoking, then replacing the smoking habit for less harmful one once the urge arises. As an example, stress is a common smoking trigger. Chewing gum or exercising that help against the stress without the smoke. But remember, do not replace one bad habit for another. “This is one of the areas where a behavioral counselor can really help,” according to Vance Rabius, another expert at MD Anderson’s Department of Behavioral Science.

Find some distraction

Find some distractions to get your mind off from smoking- a book, a video game, a stroll in the park. A friend of mine took up pottery and each time she got the urge, she went to her potter’s wheel. At the end of the year, she was smoke-free and had enough vases for Christmas presents.

Take it one day at a time

Concentrate on the short-term and just get through each day. One successful “quitter” shared her experience:

I told myself every day that I could smoke tomorrow if I wanted to, but today I wasn’t smoking. The idea that I just had to last through the day was really helpful.”

Reward yourself

Now, this is great tip. Treat yourself to something nice for every milestone, a play, a massage, a piece of jewelry, a weekend trip or even little things like going out for dinner or a film. The important thing is – pick a reward/activity that will not trigger the smoking urge.

Check out other quitting resources:

Still smoking after a heart attack?

June 21, 2010 by  

Smoking is a risk factor for heart disease. That we know. But the how cigarette smoking actually affects survival and longevity of those who already have heart disease hasn’t been fully explored. This recent study by researchers at Tel Aviv University tells us some encouraging news:

Smoking cessation after a heart attack is just as effective as medications in preventing a second one.

Taking a first heart attack as a serious warning, quitting smoking brings significant health benefits to heart attack patients, benefits which may be comparable to those of statins or even more invasive procedures. The researchers looked at 1500 heart attack patients with the following smoking habits:

  • More than 50% are smokers.
  • 20% are former smokers.
  • 27% are lifetime non-smokers.

After the heart attack, 35% of smokers were able to quit, with very strong benefits: People who quit after their heart attack lowered that rate by 37% compared with those who continued to smoke. People who quit before the first heart attack had a 50% lower mortality rate.

According to Dr. Yariv Gerber of TAU’s Sackler School of Medicine:

“It’s really the most broad and eye-opening study of its kind. Smoking really decreases your life expectancy after a heart attack. Those who have never smoked have a 43% lower risk of succumbing after a heart attack, compared to the persistent smoker…We found that people who quit smoking after their first heart attack had a 37% lower risk of dying from another, compared to those who continued to smoke.”

Smoking reduction after heart attack can have significant benefits.

OK, so quitting smoking is not an easy thing to do for some people. Ask US President Barack Obama. So if cessation is not possible, one can try reduction of the number of cigarettes smoked per day. The TAU study showed that even a reduction is better than going on as before. By reducing smoking after heart attack, the likelihood of dying from another heart attack within the next 13 years is also reduced by 18%.

Dr. Gerber continues

“The novel aspect in our study is that it is the first to show the benefit of a reduction in smoking. This is information that some smokers could live with ― literally. We would like people to consider cutting down as an initial step before complete cessation, especially those who find it impossible to quit right away.”

However, smoking, no matter how little, can cause other diseases such as cancer. Thus, though smoking reduction translates to reduction in mortality risk due to a cardiac event, it may still have an effect on overall mortality.

Quitting for a good reason, quitting for family

March 11, 2010 by  
Filed under ADDICTION

There are those who managed to quit and there are those who can’t just leave it alone. The US President Obama is rumoured to still succumb to the nicotine urge every now and then. However, there are some success stories among celebrities. Let us take a look at what inspired them to quit and stay away from cigarettes, as least for the time being.

Gwyneth Paltrow

In an interview with Elle magazine last year, the actress Gwyneth Paltrow revealed her love for smoking, even though she hasn’t smoked in ages.

Man, I wish smoking didn’t kill you, I’d be smoking right now. I miss it. The last cigarette I smoked was the day I found out I was pregnant with Apple. I had to sit down and smoke one final cigarette. It’s such a beautiful thing. I’m so pissed off it gives you cancer.”

Apple is Paltrow’s eldest child, a daughter who will soon turn 6. She has a younger son Moses who is almost 4.

So why did she give up something she really enjoyed?

But then, once you have children, if you’ve witnessed a death like I did with my father, you just can’t. I’d never want to put them through what I went through. So I don’t do it. But I’ve decided that when I’m about 70 I’m going to start smoking again. Why not? I can’t wait!

Kate Hudson

The actress Kate Hudson reported gave up smoking late last year. Her reason – the smell.

“It was starting to drive me crazy! I didn’t like the way the car smelt, or my hair and clothes.”

In addition, there is a family side to her decision.

“It takes you away from the family and the things you’re doing. You don’t realize it at the time. Then when you’re done, you go, ‘Wow, I do so much more in a day – including eat.’”

Hudson has a 6-year old son Ryder, with ex-husband Chris Robinson.

The smell, by the way, is due to third-hand smoke that persists and causes damage for a long time.

Robbie Williams

British pop star Robbie Williams is said to be cutting down on cigarettes as an investment for the future generation. 36-year old Williams is engaged to actress Ayda Field who wants to start a family soon. However, there is mounting evidence that smoking can have some detrimental effects on sperm quality, which lower the chances of pregnancy and increases the chances of health problems for the child. Field has reported forbidden Williams to smoke inside their home. Williams is supposedly down from 60 to 10 sticks a day and is doing his best to kick the habit soon. This, from a star who was known in the past for his excessive consuming of, in addition to cigarettes, alcohol and drugs.

Do drug addiction treatment programs work?

October 8, 2009 by  
Filed under ADDICTION

syringeEuropean countries are the frontrunners when it comes to drug addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs. This is due to the fact that in Europe, drug addiction is considered an illness whereas in other parts of the world, including the US, it is viewed as a crime. But are the current addiction treatment programs really working?

Researchers from the National Addiction Centre in the UK looked at more than 14,600 addicts across England. These patients were addicted to either heroin, crack cocaine or both. The patients received the following therapies:

  • Heroin addicts were treated with oral methadone for at least 6 months and also underwent counselling.
  • Crack cocaine received only psychological counselling and therapy because there is currently no recommended drug substitute for crack cocaine.

After six months, 42% of heroin users had quit whereas 57% of crack addicts also stopped using the drug. Those addicted to both drugs, however, had lower rates of quitting after 6 months.

The study concluded:

The first 6 months of pharmacological or psychosocial treatment is associated with reduced heroin and crack cocaine use, but the effectiveness of pharmacological treatment is less pronounced for users of both drugs. New strategies are needed to treat individuals with combined heroin and crack cocaine addiction.

The study was funded by Britain’s National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse to evaluate whether UK’s addiction treatment programs are working. Health experts think the results are encouraging but are cautious about the long-term outcomes. Kicking a drug habit is difficult enough. Hanging on there without going into a relapse is even more difficult. This is why addicts need ongoing care long after they have quit.

Sceptics may not be ready to believe the high rates of reported quitting. After all, addicts are quite well-known to lie and deny their habits. Let’s face it: would you believe a crack addict if he tells you face to face that he has quit? The researchers were aware of this made sure that “quitting” is not just lip service but the real thing.

When it comes to his views about drug addiction, Dr. Thomas McLellan, deputy director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy has so much in common with his European peers. He likens treating heroin and crack cocaine addicts to managing patients with diabetes or high blood pressure.

“Addiction is best thought of as a chronic condition. There is no cure, but we can manage it.”

The British government spends millions of pounds every year for drug addiction treatment programs. On average, it costs up to >5,000 ($7,991) per person per year to provide addiction treatment. Is it worth all the money and the effort? Dr. McLellan is convinced it’s all worth it. An effective drug addiction treatment program will eventually lower the social and health care costs of addiction, including crime and lost productivity, leading to “cost savings [that] will be astronomical.”

Photo credit: Stock.xchng

Those who smoke together can quit together

September 30, 2009 by  
Filed under ADDICTION

Does an extensive social network help in quitting? Apparently yes, accohands togetherrding to a study partially supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Smokers are known to have flocking behavior and this behavior seems to help in quitting as well. In other words, it is easier to quit as a group.

When smoking was still socially acceptable and not considered a health threat, smokers and nonsmokers tended to mix socially a lot. After evidence of the bad effects of passive or secondhand smoking came to light, smokers and nonsmokers tended to form distinct clusters. And with the recently implemented strong anti-smoking laws, smokers have become marginalized. Now more than ever does one need a social network. It makes it easier to deal with the marginalization – and with quitting.

The current study by researchers at Harvard analyzed the social network and behavior of 12,067 people who are part of the Framingham Heart Study (FHS). The FHS is a long-term study that collects comprehensive measures of cardiovascular health and risk factors in a community connected as family, friends and co-workers spanning three generations.

Analysis showed that the closer the relationship to an individual, the greater is the influence on behavioral change including quitting smoking.

Here are some of the interesting findings of the study:

Other interesting aspects of the study showed that geography plays a much lesser role than the closeness of a relationship. Thus, emotional ties help more that physical distance when it comes to quitting.

According to Dr. Richard Suzman, director of the NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research

“This study has an essential public health message—that no one is an island—our health is partially determined by our social networks and those around us. The decision to quit smoking cascaded throughout the web, indicating that some form of collective decision-making was taking place. The results suggest new and probably more powerful approaches to changing health behaviors, such as smoking, by careful targeting of small peer groups as well as single individuals.”

In all types of addiction, a support group has always been important. In quitting to smoke, it doesn’t have to be a formally organized support group. It’s family and friends that count, wherever they are. In today’s technology driven world, keeping in contact is easier than ever. An SMS, a tweet or a Facebook poke can tell us that someone out there cares and is cheering on our efforts. And that is comforting and encouraging.

Quitting smoking benefits your blood vessels – fast

June 3, 2008 by  

This good news is according to researchers who studied 104,519 women as part of the Nurses’ Health Study for over 16 years (1980 to 2004).

Participants in the study were categorized based on their smoking habits as:

  • never smokers
  • past smokers
  • current smokers (1 to 14 cigarettes per day)
  • current smokers (15 to 24 cigarettes per day)
  • current smokers (25 to 34 cigarettes per day)
  • current smokers (35 or more cigarettes per day)

The researchers looked at the deaths and whether they were caused by coronary heart disease (CHD), cerebrovascular disease (CVD), respiratory disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancers, or other causes.

The researchers found encouraging results, at least when it comes to cardiovascular disorders. Past smokers are less likely to die from CHD and CVD than current smokers and this benefit was evident within 5 years of quitting.

“61% of the full benefit of quitting in regard to CHD mortality and 42% of the full benefit of quitting in regard to cerebrovascular deaths was realized within the first five years of stopping smoking.”

This reminds me of my trip to Venice in the spring of 2005. It was just weeks after the smoking ban in all public places, including restaurants and bars was implemented in Italy. I was very sceptical then whether they could really pull it off. Like many from Western Europe, I was always had this belief that southern Europeans tend to lack discipline. But I was surprised when I had an almost smoke-free Italian experience on that trip. France and Ireland followed suit shortly after.

In contrast, neighboring Western European countries known for their discipline and high health standards are laggards in this issue. Germany has just enforced the law in some of its federal states this year while politicians in Switzerland are still battling to pass the smoke-free law.

According to the 2008 Cardiovascular Disease Statistics of the European Heart Network, smoking kills 1.2 million people in Europe every year and 450,000 of these are due to cardiovascular disorders brought about by smoking.

Earlier this year, the European Society of Cardiology reported a significant decrease in cardiovascular events in France and Italy since the smoking ban was implemented in these countries. 

Look how much can change for the better in just 3 years!

According to Dr Stacey Kenfield, lead author of the study

“The harms of smoking are reversible, but for some causes of death, the reduction takes many years, so it’s never too early to quit smoking. On the other hand, for some diseases-eg, CHD-there is a rapid decline in risk, so it’s never too late to stop smoking, even if you’ve been smoking for many, many years”.


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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.