You want to quit smoking; you know it’s damaging your health, and yet you can’t seem to stop the craving. You’re not alone, and you’re not a failure. Quitting an addiction is never easy, but it’s always worth it — so don’t give up, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s what Michelle Canfield, MS, FNP-BC, a nurse practitioner in respiratory care services and a tobacco treatment specialist at El Camino Health in California, would like to get across to anyone who needs to hear it.
Keep in mind that nicotine is highly addictive, Canfield says. “Within 20 seconds, it enters the brain and gets absorbed by blood vessels in your mouth and in the airways of your lungs. It’s also psychologically addictive. But with the right kind of help, you can quit for good and enjoy not only a healthier future, but plenty of immediate benefits.”
A Better Life Right Now
Canfield is leading a new smoking cessation program at the Mountain View Hospital and plans to focus on the positive effects of not smoking rather than dwelling on the well-known risks of smoking.
“Most people who smoke are aware that they are damaging their lungs and heart. It’s widely known that smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer and contributes to emphysema, heart disease and other serious health problems,” she says. “But people don’t always realize how much better their life could be right away without smoking.”
No more reeking of smoke, missing out on life while you’re smoking, or spending hard-earned money to support your habit — these are just a few of the benefits. You may also breathe easier and have a keener sense of smell. You may have clearer, younger-looking skin and a brighter smile. Quitting can even rewire your brain so that you’re no longer dependent on nicotine to feel relaxed and ready to take on the world. Within about a month, nicotine receptors in your brain will return to normal levels.
Chewing, dipping, and most recently, vaping have all been touted at one time or another as “smoke-free” alternatives to smoking. But chewing and dipping are major contributors to head and neck cancer, among other health problems, and can lead to severe illness, disfigurement and even death. Vaping, with its “fun” flavors and slick marketing, presents untold risks because of the lack of long-term research and regulation by the Food and Drug Administration.
“The evidence that’s already coming in shows that vaping has its own health risks,” Canfield says. “For instance, it may make germs harder to kill by forming a film around them that is difficult for antibiotics to penetrate.”
Vaping has also been linked to “popcorn lung syndrome,” so named because it was first diagnosed in workers who were exposed to aerosolized artificial butter flavoring commonly used in microwavable popcorn. The vapors from flavored vape oils can lead to inflammation in the lungs and cause coughing, shortness of breath and other symptoms.
A Better Way
There are better, proven ways to make quitting easier than in years past.
“Don’t rule out nicotine replacement or medication, even if you’ve tried them before. Maybe you used patches, for instance, but weren’t getting enough nicotine to stop withdrawal symptoms and cravings. I try to determine the person’s level of addiction, how much nicotine their body is used to, so I can prescribe the right strength to really help them. We know that nicotine replacement and certain medications, combined with counseling, can help people quit successfully.”
Canfield is happy to talk to people who aren’t quite sure they’re ready to quit. She helps them determine their level of addiction, triggers and what kinds of help they might need.
“You have to look inside yourself and try to understand why you’re still smoking,” she says. “One of messages that I try to tell people is, you’re worth making these positive health changes. You’re worth being around for your family and your kids. It’s not a blame game. You’re not a bad person because you’re still smoking. But you can make better choices to live a healthier and more enjoyable life.”
This article first appeared in the May 2019 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.