It is never too late to quit smoking
You might not succeed at your first attempt but you can still sidestep an illness that might kill you
It is estimated that 5,200 people die every year in Ireland from smoking-related illnesses. This is quite a sobering thought and while seven out of 10 smokers want to cut their smoking habit, some find the mere thought of quitting just too difficult to comprehend.
Four out of 10 smokers do attempt to stop, but only a small minority will be successful the first time around.
World No Tobacco Day is on Wednesday, May 31st and aims to remind people all over the globe of the danger of smoking and of the supports which are available for those who want to quit.
Amanda White from Tipperary had been smoking for almost two decades when she made the decision to stop. Knowing her habit was very deep rooted, she didn’t think she would be able to do it alone so contacted the QUIT helpline in an attempt to stick to her resolution.
“I started smoking when I was 16 years old because I thought it was cool and it was what every other young person was doing,” says the 37-year-old. “I smoked around 10 cigarettes per day but that would double when I was socialising.
“I didn’t have a health scare of my own, but at 34 when my father passed away (from a non-smoking-related illness), it made me look at life differently and when I turned 35 I set myself a five-year plan. I didn’t want to be a smoker at 40 because, like losing weight, things get harder when you get older.
“On January 3rd, 2016, I decided I was ready and I rang the HSE Quit Support Team, they asked me what date I wanted my cessation date to be and said that they would ring me back on that date (February 14th, 2016) and that would be the last day to smoke. She then explained about the 4 Ds – Delay, Distract, Deeply Breathe and Drink Water.”
These diversionary tactics would help White, who works as an adult education trainer, to focus on something else each time she got a craving for a cigarette. And by using this simple method, combined with regular support from the QUIT team, she finally kicked the habit. “After the initial phone call I decided to write the 4 Ds down and make copies of them, sticking one at my desk at work, one on the dashboard of the car and another at home – basically in all the places I would smoke,” she says. “I live on my own so this technique was going to be valuable to me as I didn’t have anyone there to push me along.
“On the January 6th, 2016, I decided to try and use this technique and it actually worked right up February 14th when the QUIT team rang me back. From then on they were a huge support to me. They rang me every single week for the first four weeks and every morning I woke up to a text, which was brilliant because it was really motivational – I knew they were there for me. I knew at any point I could pick up the phone and ring them if I felt like I was going to relapse and that they would not judge me. The QUIT team gave me the encouragement I needed to finally stop smoking.”
Martina Blake heads the Tobacco Free Ireland Programme for the HSE. She says there are many reasons why people become addicted to smoking. “Tobacco use is a complex behaviour influenced by a range of physiological, behavioural and cognitive factors which is why people continue to smoke, despite widely publicised evidence of the health, social and financial burden it causes,” she says.
“People find it difficult to quit because of a number of reasons – nicotine (the addictive substance in tobacco) is a highly addictive substance physiologically as well as the psychological and emotional dependence. Tobacco dependence exhibits classic characteristics of drug dependence. Nicotine is psychoactive, tolerance producing, and causes physical and psychological dependence characterised by withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
“Depending on where you live smoking can also be a cultural and social norm, so if all your family smokes and its common practice within the home, this can make quitting more difficult.”
Smoking is often associated with and reinforced by routine activities, people and situations. Having a cigarette is also a coping mechanism for some people who reach for the tobacco when they feel stressed or emotional – or the habit may simply be something which helps to alleviate boredom or loneliness. But, ahead of World No Tobacco Day, Blake has some advice for people who want this year to be the one where they quit smoking for good.
“In order to make the first step we would encourage smokers to begin to notice their smoking habit, what their triggers are, what times they smoke throughout the day and where,” she advises.
“Keeping a diary noting this for a few days can be helpful. It can also be helpful to write down the reasons why you smoke and the reasons why you want to quit. All smokers are encouraged to call our QUIT services for a quit pack. They will get plenty of support to help them prepare for quitting.”
Positives outweigh negatives
White agrees and says while giving up can be very difficult, the positives far outweigh the negatives. “My advice to anyone trying to give up is to take things one day at a time and make sure to contact a support team,” she says. “Just keep at it and it will work, your cravings only last for three minutes so if you can distract yourself for those three minutes you’ll get through it.
“It is a challenge and I had ups and downs – including losing sleep and weight increase. But once you write down at the beginning of your journey the challenges you will face then when they arise, you will know how to address them and can get up and start again.
“Perseverance pays off. I can firmly say that I’m never going to smoke again and if I can give one piece of advice to anybody – just take one day at a time, because that’s all you can do. I feel fantastic, I have so much more energy and I just feel positive in general. It’s all good. My daily water intake has increased to three litres and my exercise has improved. It ended up taking me a year and a half when I thought it would take me five years. And it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Smoking is often associated with and reinforced by routine activities, people and situations