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

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Smoking - Ar­lene Har­ris

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.

Highly ad­dic­tive

“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

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