Smoking is unfortunately not an uncommon habit. Before it became known as a bad and unhealthy thing to do, it was given a rather sexy, glamourous and sophisticated appeal as portrayed by screen legends such as James Dean and Audrey Hepburn.
Sadly, smoking is one of the leading causes of lung cancer. The Health Ministry of Malaysia estimates smokers aged 18 and above in the country to be five million with Malaysia’s population currently at 28 million. According to a recent news report by Bernama, Health Deputy Director General Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said that more than 20,000 estimated smokers die annually as a result of tobacco-related complications.
What is in a cigarette?
We now know more of the downside of cigarette smoking as compared to back then. For starters, there are actually more than 600 ingredients in a cigarette, many of which are known to cause cancer. Some of the ingredients might sound familiar to us such as nicotine (highly addictive, giving smokers the sensation of pleasure as it stimulates the dopamine center in the brain), arsenic (found in rat poison), ammonia (found in household cleaning agents), tar (used for paving roads), lead, hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, cadmium and polonium-210 (a highly radioactive carcinogen). The list goes on and it`s scary.
What does cigarette smoking do to our body?
Harmful definitely. But just how extensive can the effects of this cigarette smoking be? Imagine inhaling hundreds of chemicals into our lungs every time we take a puff! Smoking does not only affect the smoker himself but also the people around him when they inhale the smoke – known as second-hand smoke. The cigarette smoke can also linger on sofas, carpets and clothes which is third-hand smoke.
The dangers of cigarette smoking are not only to the lungs - almost all organs in our body are affected by these nasty chemicals. On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than non-smokers.
Smoking increases the risk of developing cancers such as cancer of the lung, mouth, nose, tongue, and throat among others. It can also lead to chronic lung diseases and frequent lung infections. The risk of getting coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke will be two to four times higher for smokers. Smokers tend to have bad breath and yellow or brown teeth and nail stains. Smoking can also lead to premature wrinkling, gum and tooth loss, and sudden weight change. It can diminish your sense of smell and taste.
Pregnant women who smoke have a higher risk of early delivery, miscarriage, or stillbirth. Men who smoke may encounter erectile dysfunction, poor sperm quality, and sperm defects. Smoking can also cause osteoporois, cataracts and even blindness.
How to stop smoking?
Smoking cessation or quitting will be harder for some as compared to others. Fret not, as there are many options available to help and assist you in kicking the habit. The process of quitting requires determination and patience as it will affect you both physically and mentally but nonetheless, it will greatly benefit in many ways even just minutes after quitting.
Tips on how to quit:
Keep a journal
- Write down the main motivator for which you have decided to quit smoking - be it for the love of your family, to save money, regain control of your life or for health reasons. If there comes a day when you feel like giving up because the road is too tough, this journal will remind you of why you started in the first place. Choose a reason strong enough to outweigh the urge to light up.
- Keeping a journal can also help you track the situations that helped you up or pushed you down in your attempt to quit smoking so you can determine how you can deal with them without reaching for a smoke.
Have a support group
- The mQuit programme, a recent collaboration between Universiti Malaya, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Akademi Farmasi Malaysia and Syarikat Johnson and Johnson Sdn Bhd was introduced to give fellow smokers three levels of support - professional advice, materials to help quit smoking and enlisting the smoker's own willpower to quit smoking. This will be implemented at all health clinics throughout Malaysia. More information on mQuit is available at www.JomQuit.com.my.
- The decision to quit smoking requires determination and effort. Nearly all smokers will experience withdrawal symptoms and some will give in. Don't give up as this is temporary. Lean on your loved ones for you will need all the support you can get to help you get through.
- Remind yourself on the risks of smoking and the benefits of quitting.
Start a healthy lifestyle and diet plan
- If you attempt to quit smoking while you’re still following an unhealthy diet, you will likely be tempted to replace the cigarettes with some other “reward” and this often means junk food full of trans-fat and sugar leading to obesity and other complications.
- The second reason for getting healthy before you quit smoking is that your new healthy lifestyle will probably push you to naturally quit. There’s something about eating healthily and exercising that synergistically helps to resolve the underlying anxiety that many people choose to resolve with smoking.
- Try snacking on some healthy and crunchy snacks.
Nicotine Replacement Therapy
- Nicotine level drops drastically in our body within one to two hours after the last smoke and you will crave nicotine. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as mood changes, headaches, difficulty concentrating, sweating, tremors, uneasiness, restlessness and insomnia. The good news is that these are all temporary and will recede after about 2-4 weeks as the body learns again to function without the need for nicotine.
- There are various therapies now available to help curb the urge for nicotine. The various modalities of nicotine replacement therapy contain about 1/3 the amount of nicotine found in a cigarette minus all the nasty stuff and this helps the body to cope with any withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Nicotine replacement therapy can be found in the form of gums, lozenges, patches or inhalers.
- Professional advice is needed when you intend to start replacement therapy as your doctor may want to use a combination instead of just a single modality. There are certain medications that the doctor can also prescribe to help you with the symptoms.
There are currently more then 300 Ministry of Health dedicated Quit Smoking clinics around the country. If you need an assessment as well as help to quit smoking, just call to get an appointment. The full list of participating ‘Quit Smoking Clinic’ can be obtained from infosihat.gov.my (under Klinik Berhenti Merokok).