Sarah Says

Dr. Sarah Jarvis' health & wellness blog on Patient.co.uk

Don't become an ex-smoker - become a non-smoker!

Seventy per cent of smokers want to quit but nicotine is highly addictive.

The men are doing something right. In 1974, just over half of adult men in the UK smoked, compared to 41% of women. Today, men and women are on level pegging, with one in five adults of both sexes still puffing. That means that more than 60% fewer men smoke than they did 40 years ago, while 'only' 50% fewer women do.

In my clinical experience, young women in particular are only too aware of the risks to their health but they're more terrified than men of putting on weight if they quit. It's by no means inevitable that you'll put on weight - among the top tips from my successful-quitter patients are industrial quantities of sugar-free gum and taking up knitting! - but even if you do, the risks to your health from an extra three or four pounds pale into insignificance by comparison to long-term smoking. Unfortunately, many smokers need a 'practice run' or two - on average people who quit successfully have tried three or four times before - and it's the couple of pounds every time that add up. All the more reason to get all the help you can to make this the time you succeed.

There's little doubt that the smoking ban, which has been UK-wide since 2007 (1), has helped - occasionally I hear hardened smokers boasting about how all the 'real' social life these days happens outside the pub in the outdoor smoking area. I suspect they're kidding themselves to justify their addiction. 70% of smokers want to quit (2) - hardly surprising given that half of them will die of a smoking-related illness (3) - but nicotine is highly addictive, and the average time to fail is just eight days (4).

To maximise your chances of making this the time you succeed, speak to your healthcare professional. Even a brief chat can increase your chance of quitting by a third (5) and they really do understand how difficult it is to quit. They might be able to help you to work out why you need to quit - the triggers are often very different for different people. In the last week, I've seen a 32-year- old who was completely unmoved by the risk of getting heart disease, but who suddenly sat up and took notice when I explained about the risks of passive smoking for his children, even if he 'only smoked outside'. I've seen a 52-year-old who knew all about the risks of lung cancer but had no idea how much smoking increased his risk of chronic obstructive lung disease, or COPD. His mother had died of the disease, but he still hadn't made the link.

Once you have a motivation that really means something to you, you need to recognise that you have a choice. You CAN CHOOSE to be a non-smoker. Even if you started the process for the sake of your husband or your kids, you're more likely to be a lifelong non-smoker if you have made an active choice. There aren't many choices more important than that.

References:

1) NHS (2009). Smokefree: A Healthier England from July 1st 2007. Accessed online at: http://www.smokefreeengland.co.uk/

2) Action on Smoking and Health UK (ASH). ASH Essential Information on Nicotine and Addiction. February 2009. Accessed online at http://newash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_114.pdf.

3) Action on Smoking and Health UK (ASH). ASH Facts at a Glance: Smoking Statistics. August 2009. Accessed online at http://www.ash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_93.pdf.

4) Hughes et al. Shape of the relapse curve and long term abstinence among untreated smokers. Addiction: 99;29-38. 2003.

5) World Health Organisation (WHO). "WHO urges health professionals to engage in tobacco control." 31 May 2005. Accessed online at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2005/pr22/en/index.html/

Posted by Dr Sarah Jarvis
Dr Sarah is unable to provide medical advice or respond directly to questions concerning your health. If you have health concerns we recommend contacting your GP.