Dr. Thomas Leytham, a family physician who recently joined the University of South Alabama Knollwood Physicians Group and former medical director of an Air Force smoking cessation program, said it is now clearer than ever that anyone who uses nicotine-containing products on a daily basis should consider stopping for the sake of their health - no matter how good or bad their health is at the present.
In fact, Dr. Leytham said that the better your health is now, then the higher your chances are of keeping that good health if you give up smoking now.
The first step to breaking the habit, he said, is to cut back as much possible. “This also happens to be a good plan for putting some money in your wallet, and most of my patients love that idea,” Dr. Leytham said.
“When it comes to nicotine usage, the less you use the better,” he added. “This is always true. In terms of virtually all health problems, 12 cigarettes a day is better than 20, and three cigarettes a day is better than six.”
Dr. Leytham said that if your plan is to eventually quit smoking for good – as opposed to simply cutting back – then it may be very helpful to focus on giving up most or all of your morning cigarettes first. This will usually make it easier to give up the other cigarettes later in the day when you decide it is time to give up the smoking for good.
The second step is to begin working on a plan to completely quit.
According to Dr. Leytham, once a person has been using nicotine on a daily basis for a prolonged period of time, they no longer have the option to switch over to being a casual user.
“Many who have a daily tobacco habit think they can continue to use nicotine on an irregular or casual basis even after they were once a daily user,” he said. “The possibility of this is extremely remote.”
Dr. Leytham said that if you have used nicotine on a daily basis for a year or more in your life, then you have permanently altered the nicotine receptors in your brain in terms of affinity and quantity.
“This means that after you have not used nicotine for a while – even a week – then nicotine will bind even more tightly to those receptors the next time you use it again, and this will heighten the effect and increase the craving for another,” he said. “Your body will also have retained the ability to create more receptors rapidly should you ever start using again, which will also make it more difficult to smoke only on a casual basis.”
He said the psychological cravings usually last for months and may even last for years after quitting, so giving in to the desire for even one cigarette once you have quit smoking daily is extremely risky if you are committed to quitting.
“When a daily nicotine user successfully gives up nicotine, they should never look back,” he said. “Even if they had a funeral, a wedding and a high school reunion all in the same day, they should say no to even one cigarette or they will risk having to start all over again.”
With all of this being stated, Dr. Leytham emphasized that it is usually much easier to replace a habit rather than to simply quit one.
“Do whatever you have to do – buy chewing gum or take stretching breaks or music breaks or walking breaks instead of smoking breaks,” he said. “Do word puzzles or sing out loud with your car windows rolled up. Whatever you must do to replace your cigarette habit will be worth the effort.”
In addition, Dr. Leytham said some people find nicotine patches, an electronic cigarette or prescription medications helpful in their transition from daily smoker to non-smoker status.
“It depends on the individual,” he said. “Just make sure you use these things properly and do not use any nicotine-containing product after you have already quit using for a full 72 hours.”
To learn more about smoking cessation, visit http://health.nih.gov/topic/SmokingCessation.
Dr. Leytham is now accepting new patients. To make an appointment, call (251) 660-5787.