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Caring For Your Lungs: Tips to Quit Smoking

  • 31 May 2024
  • 3 mins

There are more than a billion smokers worldwide, with nearly six million losing their lives to smoking related complications each year. It is worth noting that 600,000 of these deaths are non-smokers who were exposed to second-hand smoke.

We often hear the phrase ‘smoking is bad for you’, and for good reason. Smoking tobacco has been linked to various cancers such as lung, oral and nasopharynx cancer. It has also been linked to an increased risk of heart diseases, stroke, diabetes and kidney failure.

Quitting smoking is an important step you can take to improve your health, regardless of how old you are or how long you have smoked. We hear from respiratory specialist Dr. Alvin Ng on what makes cigarettes so addictive and what are some tips you can follow to quit smoking.

What is in a cigarette?

A cigarette looks deceptively simple but it actually contains many different chemicals. Some of these chemicals occur naturally in tobacco while others are formed when tobacco is processed into cigarettes. When a cigarette is burnt, thousands more chemicals are released as smoke.

These chemicals are both harmful to the people smoking as well as those around them who breathe in the smoke as second-hand smoke. Some of the chemicals have also been known to be carcinogenic.

Some ingredients found in a cigarette include:

  • Tar: A sticky-brown substance that collects in the lungs when smoked. Tar is a carcinogenic substance that increases the smoker’s chance of developing lung diseases such as emphysema.
  • Carbon Monoxide: A tasteless, odourless and colourless gas, carbon monoxide stops the blood in your body from carrying oxygen. This will result in your heart having to pump harder to supply your body with oxygen, increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Nicotine: According to Dr. Ng, “Smoking is addictive because of nicotine in cigarettes,” It is an addictive chemical that is responsible for your addiction to cigarettes, making it difficult to stop smoking. Nicotine is, by itself, not carcinogenic but nicotine addiction cause smokers to smoke more cigarettes and expose themselves to the many cancer-causing chemicals in it. Research have suggests that nicotine may be as addictive as heroin, cocaine, or alcohol.

Benefits of quitting smoking

It is never too late to stop smoking, regardless of your age or how long you have been smoking. Even people who have smoked for many years or have smoked heavily will benefit from quitting. When you quit smoking, you will also be protecting your family, friends, colleagues and others around you from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.

Quitting smoking will help to improve your health and increase your life expectancy, as well as help to lower your risk of developing the following diseases:

  • Certain types of cancers like lung, oral and nasopharyngeal cancers
  • Coronary heart diseases such as atrial fibrillation, sudden cardiac arrest, venous thromboembolism and peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
  • Respiratory diseases like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), bronchitis, and pneumonia

Tips to quit smoking

Tobacco cravings and smoking urges can be challenging to kick but there are tips you can follow to make the process easier, such as:

1. Surround yourself with supportive family and friends

Quitting can be a real challenge and after you have made the determination, Dr. Ng suggests letting your friends and family know so they can do their best to encourage and cheer you on. That way, you will not feel alone in your battle against smoking.

2. Use nicotine replacements

Smokers with nicotine addiction may experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop smoking, which is the main reason why smokers find it difficult to stop smoking. Withdrawal symptoms include feeling irritated and grumpy, having a hard time concentrating, and feeling hungry more often.

Dr. Ng recommends the use of nicotine replacements when you show signs of nicotine addiction. Some examples of nicotine replacements include nicotine gums or nicotine patches to combat the nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

“These nicotine replacements work by getting you gradually less reliant and addicted to nicotine, it provides a smaller dose of nicotine when you have a craving to smoke, but without the harmful, toxic chemicals found in cigarettes,” Dr. Ng adds. “If you don’t want people to see you chewing gum or using a nicotine spray, nicotine patches are a more discreet option.”

3. Identify what triggers your cravings

Cigarette cravings can be pretty powerful, understanding your cravings is essential to overcoming them and quitting smoking. Try to limit or skip triggers you commonly associate with smoking and find substitutes for them. For example, if you often have a smoke when drinking alcohol or drinking coffee, consider switching to tea or juices instead.

4. Change your activities and settings

It is understandably difficult to break a habit immediately, after all habits do not form overnight. However, when you do feel the urge to pick up a cigarette, find a new activity to do instead. If a part of your daily routine is to have a smoke after dinner, get up and go for a stroll around your neighbourhood instead.

Dr. Ng adds that aside from the activities itself, who you surround yourself with is also important. For example, if you have friends who are in the habit of offering you a stick of cigarette after dinner or when you are out for a drink, explain to them that you are trying to quit.

5. Reward Yourself

Give yourself something to look forward to when you are trying to quit. Create milestones for you to hit and reward yourself with something you have been eyeing. As an added bonus, you can use the money you save from not buying packs of cigarettes to reward yourself.

Contributed by

Dr. Alvin Ng
Respiratory Specialist
The Respiratory Practice