Definition & Overview

Smoking cessation refers to the process of quitting the habit of smoking. Cigarette or tobacco smoking has several harmful effects on the body, primarily due to the nicotine content that makes them highly addictive. This is what makes discontinuing the use of cigarettes quite a challenge that may entail a prolonged and difficult process.

Known as the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide, smoking places people at risk of several tobacco-related diseases including lung cancer and heart disease. Unfortunately, while many people wish to stop smoking, they do not find it easy to do so. In fact, according to studies, up to 70% of smokers wish to stop smoking, and up to 50% have reported attempting to quit within the past year but failing to do so. This challenge is due to the addictive nature of smoking. Thus, smokers often need to follow a specific treatment plan for smoking cessation. The deeper and longer a person’s attachment to cigarettes is, the harder the process of smoking cessation will be.

Key Symptoms

Another reason why smokers who want to quit should use a specific, specially designed plan for smoking cessation is that, without the due process, a person will be at risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are normal consequences of addiction, as the body tries to adjust to the loss of the substance to which it has become dependent. Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Craving to smoke
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Insomnia
  • Increased hunger
  • Increased interest in sweets

These symptoms typically occur during the first few weeks after the sudden discontinuation of nicotine intake.

Who to See & Types of Treatments Available

Smokers who wish to undergo a smoking cessation plan can seek help from a general physician or family doctor, who will make the arrangements if they need special care. Patients are also referred to cardiologists for the heart problems caused by smoking, and oncologists, who specialize in lung cancer.

A person can also choose from several different methods to quit smoking; some of these methods are unassisted while some require the assistance and supervision of a medical professional. Professional smoking cessation methods are used to provide support for the patient as he undergoes the whole process and also to manage the possible withdrawal symptoms that he will experience.

The different treatment methods include:

  • Unassisted – Many smokers choose to try unassisted smoking cessation, which means they do not seek help. Unfortunately, although this is possible, it has a very low success rate of just 4 to 7 percent.

  • Cold turkey – This technique refers to the sudden or abrupt cessation and withdrawal from cigarettes. Despite varying opinions as to the difficulty of this technique, it is the method of choice of up to 88% of successful quitters.

  • Medication-based – Some medications are also used to help a person in the process. Studies show that up to 33 percent of smokers who use medicines are able to successfully stay smoke-free for more than six months.

  • Community method – Studies show that it is very important for a smoker to have a community or a support system during the entire process. Aside from that, authorities may also use this technique to encourage several people in the community to stop smoking. The community method can occur in different settings, such as workplaces, homes, and schools.

  • Gradual reduction or “cutting down” – This technique refers to gradually reducing the patient’s daily intake of nicotine.

  • Financial incentive method – This smoking cessation method uses the lure of financial incentives to motivate and encourage a smoker to quit smoking.

Some alternative methods are also available; these include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Hypnosis

For medication-based smoking cessation, there are two main types of drugs that are effective; these are:

  • Nicotine replacement therapy, or NRT, involves the use of any of the five medications approved by the U.S. FDA for smoking cessation. These therapeutic drugs are designed for use for only a limited period, and should also be taken at a gradually decreasing level. NRT medications include transdermal nicotine patches, nicotine gums and lozenges, as well as medicines delivered through sprays.

  • Antidepressants – People suffering from the challenges of smoking cessation can also use antidepressants such as bupropion or varenicline. Other antidepressants that may be used include nortriptyline and SSRIs. Unfortunately, antidepressants may have side effects such as unusual mood changes and increased risk of seizures.

Health Benefits of Smoking Cessation

Quitting from smoking offers several benefits to the patient, some sudden and some more gradual. It is believed that 20 minutes after officially quitting smoking, the smoker will have his blood pressure and heart rate decrease to normal levels, and that during the first 12 hours, the blood’s carbon monoxide levels will decrease and return to normal. By the second to third day, a person’s nerve endings and senses of smell and taste will both improve. Within three months, the person’s circulation and lung function will improve, and by the 9th month, the smoker’s recurrent or chronic coughing, as well as his shortness of breath, will also subside.

A smoker who has a record of an entire year without a cigarette also has his risk for coronary heart disease to go down, whereas after 5 years, a smoker’s risk of getting a stroke is almost exactly as low as those who do not smoke. By the 15th year, the smoker’s risk for coronary heart disease will be as low as non-smoker’s; the same is true for their risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. Thus, the longer a person stays off cigarettes, the more the body will recover from the harmful effects of nicotine addiction and cigarette smoking.

References:

  • Muezzinler A, Gellert C, Schottker B, Abnet C. et al. (2015). “Impact of smoking and smoking cessation on cardiovascular events and mortality among older adults: meta-analysis of individual participant data from prospective cohort studies of the Chances consortium.” British Medical Journal. *Tappin D, Bauld L, Purves D, et al. (2015). “Financial incentives for smoking cessation in pregnancy.” British Medical Journal.
  • Halpern S, French B, Small D. et al. (2015). “Randomized trial of four financial-incentive programs for smoking cessation.” The New England Journal of Medicine.
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