According to Dr. Ehab Molokhia, professor of family medicine at the USA College of Medicine and a family practitioner with USA Physicians Group, the benefits of quitting smoking begin within hours of cessation. After 10 to 14 days, the addiction will usually end. Within one to three months, a patient’s lungs will start to improve. After a year, the risk of heart attacks and strokes will drop to half that of a current smoker and after five years, the risk of strokes will be similar to that of a non-smoker. After 10 years of smoking abstinence, the risk of coronary heart disease will be comparable to a non-smoker. The risk of heart attacks and cancers will continue to decrease the longer one remains tobacco free.
Although the withdrawal symptoms go away after about two weeks, the urge to smoke cigarettes may still occur. This has to do with smoking triggers, said Dr. Alana Schilthuis, assistant professor of internal medicine at the USA College of Medicine and an internist with USA Physicians Group. Smoking triggers are behaviors that have become linked to smoking. “The key is to replace tobacco with a new behavior,” Dr. Schilthuis said. Picking up a new hobby can be helpful to lessen the frequency of the triggers.
“The first step to beginning a tobacco-free life is picking a date to stop,” Dr. Molokhia said. It can help to pick a date that is already important such as a birthday or anniversary. Research shows that people who set a quitting date are more successful than those who attempt to gradually cut back usage. In addition, you should dispose of all tobacco products, ashtrays, lighters and anything else that might trigger the habit.
Making a list of reasons to quit and keeping it on hand can be beneficial during moments of weakness. If there are others in the household who smoke, Dr. Schilthuis suggests getting them to quit at the same time to avoid additional cravings.
Dr. Molokhia recommends keeping track of where, when and why you smoke or use tobacco. Taking notes provides insight as to when and why you crave a cigarette or tobacco. This can help to set alternative plans to lessen cravings. It also is helpful to share your plans to stop using tobacco with your family and friends. This allows you to ask for support from friends and colleagues who can serve as part of your support system.
Lastly, ask your primary care physician if any of the approved medications for smoking cessation are right for you. “The combination of counseling and medication is more effective than either alone,” Dr. Molokhia said. There are several medications that increase long-term smoking abstinence rates including Buproprion SR, Nicotine gum, Nicotine inhaler, Nicotine lozenge, Nicotine nasal spray, Nicotine patch and Varenicline.
For more information on quitting, visit http://www.southalabama.edu/departments/counseling/smokingcess.html. For help locating a primary care physician with USA Physicians Group call (251) 434-3711.
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