To quit smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart and health. Quitting smoking almost immediately provides benefits and if you persevere, over time your risk of heart disease and stroke can fall almost identical to that of a non-smoker.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation SA encourages all South Africans to avoid smoking or the use of other tobacco products, and to protect yourself and your family from exposure to second-hand smoke (or passive smoking). Both smoking and passive smoking pose very real dangers to your health as well as those around you!
- Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death globally and is currently responsible for killing one in 10 adults worldwide, or one person every six seconds.
- Smoking kills more than half of all people before the age of 60 if they smoke through their adult life.
- On average, smokers die 13 to 14 years earlier than non-smokers.
What’s in a cigarette?
Nicotine, which is an extremely addictive substance and has numerous harmful effects, is present in all tobacco products (however they are taken). Apart from this, cigarettes also contain more than 4000 dangerous chemical compounds which are known to be harmful to health:
Why quit smoking?
- Smoking almost triples the risk of heart disease and more than doubles the risk of having a stroke
- It narrows blood vessels, leading to raised blood pressure and expands blood clots, causing the cardiovascular equivalent of a traffic jam on the highway to your heart and brain. Reduce blood flow to the heart and you risk a heart attack. Reduce it to the brain and you risk a stroke.
- Smoking can lead to numerous forms of cancer, in addition to many other negative effects on health (impotence and fertility problems, oral health problems, increased risk for other infections, such as TB or pneumonia and chronic lung disease)
- Non-smokers who breathe second hand smoke suffer many of the diseases of active smoking. Second-hand smoke causes a wide variety of health problems in children including bronchitis and pneumonia, exacerbation of asthma, middle ear infections, and glue ear, the most common cause of deafness in children.
- Babies born to mothers who smoke (or are exposed to second hand smoke) while pregnant are more likely to be underweight, premature or stillborn. There is also an association with the risk of miscarriage and may even harm intellectual and behavioural development of the child. In addition, the child has a greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome, breathing problems and developing lung disease or diabetes later in his/her life.
Benefits to quitting
It is never too late to quit smoking. Some reasons to quit smoking may include health benefits, financial, social or environmental factors.
Quitting smoking almost immediately improves your health:
Heart rate slows down and blood pressure drops slightly
Blood pressure drops some more (it may take from 3 to 30 days for blood pressure to return to normal)
The amount of oxygen in the blood increases
Circulation (blood flow to your limbs) starts to improve
Your chance of a heart attack begins to go down
Carbon monoxide will be eliminated from the body
Lungs start to clear out mucus and other smoking debris
All the nicotine has gone out of the body
Sense of taste and smell greatly improves
Breath, hair and teeth are cleaner
Breathing becomes easier as tubes in the lungs begin to relax
Energy levels begin to increase
Two to twelve weeks
Blood circulation improves throughout your body
Lung function increases up to 30%.
Increased energy levels as circulation and lungs improve
Exercising becomes easier
The tiny hairs which clean the lungs begin to grow back and remove phlegm and tar that have collected there (this can lead to increased cough for a few weeks as the lungs clear themselves out)
Within 1 year
The risk of a heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker
Within 5 years
The risk of heart disease or stroke can fall almost identical to a non-smoker (takes between 5 to 15 years)
Within 10 years
The risk of lung cancer will have halved compared to someone who still smokes.
Other health benefits:
Improved immune function and ability to fight infections better
Improved fertility for men and women
Tips to help quit smoking
There are numerous stop-smoking strategies with varying success rates. Different strategies suit different people, but the success for any individual will depend on the strength of his/her desire and motivation to stop as well as understanding of the problem.
The following the steps outlined here will help with the first few days and weeks of quitting.
1. Make a firm decision to quit
2. Make a list of the reasons for your smoking and why you want to quit
3. Identify triggers that make you want to smoke and plan how to handle them
4. Decide whether you will stop gradually or suddenly – quitting altogether is best, but cutting down does reduce the harm
5. Motivation must be strong. Do anything you can to increase your motivation and decrease your temptation!
Set a date: to quit!
Support: Ask for the support of friends and family. People who have support with their effort to quit are much more likely to give up smoking successfully than those who don’t. If you live with a person who smokes encourage him/her to quit with you – it is much easier to do it with someone else.
Get Rid: Throw away all reminders of smoking – cigarette packets, ashtrays, lighters etc.
Plan: how you are going to deal with cravings (urges to smoke)
Occupy your mouth: Stock up on oral substitutes e.g. sugarless gum, nuts, fruit, carrot sticks, a water bottle to sip from. To read more about following a healthy, balanced diet, click here
Occupy your hands: Hold a pen, pencil, and rubber band or squeeze a stress ball. Doodle, sketch or draw.
Occupy your mind: Remind yourself why you decided to quit smoking. Tell yourself how well you have been doing so far for not smoking. Think about how proud you will feel to get through the day without a cigarette.
Keep active: Make exercise part of your new routine. Smoking speeds up the body’s metabolism and quitting causes the metabolism to return to its normal, slower speed. Physical activity helps to speed up your metabolism, prevent weight gain and occupies your mind and body to help handle cravings. Read more about physical activity and how much is enough here
Avoid: Situations where you will be tempted to smoke again – people and places – at least for the first few weeks. Ask smokers for their patience and understanding by not smoking in front of you.
Avoid alcohol: Alcohol is often strongly associated with smoking and decreases resolve
Treat yourself: Use the money that you are saving by not smoking to buy yourself something special or treat yourself to something you would not usually have
Get advice: Speak to a nurse, doctor, or counsellor who is trained to help people quit smoking. They can encourage you to keep going and give you advice about how to deal with problems
Consider: using Nicotine Replacement Therapy or other cessation aids
Keep trying! Most people attempt to quit 8-10 times before they are successful! With each time they learn something valuable, which can help for the next time.
For support to quit smoking
Heart and Stroke Health Line
0860 1 HEART (0860 1 4278)
National Quit Line / National Council Against Smoking
011 720 3145
A telephonic advice service is provided during office hours on quitting smoking. They can also post a personal guide to quitting.
021 788 9120 / 011 487 0231 / 061 190 8147
7 week quit smoking programme.
CANSA e-Kick Butt Programme
Online smoking cessation programme