If you smoke, you’re almost bound to know how bad it is for your health – a whacking 90% of people over 45 say that they would not start smoking if they had their time again. It increases the risks of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and chronic bronchitis. These conditions, sadly, aren’t rare among smokers – about half of all smokers die early from a smoking-related cause.
Fortunately, doctors and the government have all realised how hard it can be to quit, and how much difference having support in your efforts makes. That’s why there has never been a better time to quit – even if you’ve tried before, make this time the time you succeed.
It’s never too late to stop smoking – about half the health benefits you get from quitting happen in the very first year after you take your last puff. Even if you already have a smoking-related disease, stopping smoking can prevent your condition from getting worse. It will also save you a fortune!
Taking the first step
Congratulations – reading about how you can quit is the very first step, and you’re already taking it. Next you need to find someone who can help you. These days, there are thousands of stop smoking services up and down the country. Many pharmacists offer a smoking cessation service, and can often give you medication as well as advice. They can do an assessment of your smoking habits, and use this to work out which treatment will work best for you. Your practice nurse or GP may be able to provide this service, too, or to direct you to a smoking cessation clinic. Otherwise, ring NHS Direct (0845 4647) for advice about your nearest service.
Why do I need a counsellor?
There’s more to stopping smoking than stopping smoking – it’s about staying quit as well. Smoking cessation counsellors are trained to look at your individual circumstances – they can work out with you what your triggers for smoking are, and how you can avoid giving in to them. They will also help you with coping mechanisms to resist giving in to the temptation to restart in the long term.
Do I really need help?
Yes – you’re twice as likely to stop if you have support. Family and friends can help, too – but a healthcare professional can also offer medication to help with withdrawal effects.
Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)
Nicotine Replacement Therapy comes in a bewildering array of forms: patches, chewing gum, nasal spray, inhalation cartridges, lozenges or tablets dissolved under the tongue. Which form, and which strength, will suit you best will depend on how much you smoke and your pattern of smoking. Don’t worry – your healthcare professional can advise you. Almost anyone can take NRT – the only exceptions are if you’ve have severe heart diseae or have just had a stroke. Even if you’re pregnant, it’s now accepted that the risks of using NRT in pregnancy are lower than the risk of continuing to smoke
Bupropion is a tablet which you take in a course. It helps up to 40% of smokers quit, although it can cause dry mouth, problems sleeping or allergic reactions. Very rarely it can cause fits.
This tablet may be even more effective than bupropion, but you’re more likely to put on weight when you quit than you are with bupropion. On the plus side, almost half of smokers in trials managed to quit with varenicline – four times the number who succeeded with willpower alone. This may be because it acts to reduce craving for cigarettes, which is often as important as the physical addiction to cigarettes. Varenicline often causes nausea, and can cause depression and irritability when you stop taking it.
Your pharmacist – the friend around the corner
These days, pharmacists are much more than dispensers of medicines prescribed by someone more qualified. They provide a wide array of services, some of which can stop you needing an appointment with your GP. These include:
- collecting repeat prescriptions from the GP
- delivering medicines
- checking your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar
- advising on immunisations
- giving flu vaccines
- selling many medicines which previously had to be given on prescription
- doing reviews of your medicines
- giving prescriptions of some simple medicines (paracetamol, thrush treatments, cough medicines etc)
- advice on side effects of medicines and how to avoid them
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where parts of this article was originally published.