Last month the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unveiled a comprehensive
plan to begin regulating the amount of nicotine in cigarettes. The intent
is to bring nicotine down to “non-addictive” levels. While
there is not a consensus on the amount of nicotine considered “non-additive”
there is broad consensus that cigarettes need to be less toxic, addictive,
More than 35 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, and tobacco use
remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature
death in the United States. The hope is that by decreasing the amount
of nicotine in cigarettes, it will decrease the number of future addicts
and related deaths.
If there was ever a good time to quit, I think this is it.
If your efforts to quit smoking have been unsuccessful in the past please
know most smokers who quit have tried--and failed--multiple times before
they were successful. Failures in most facets of life are part of the
journey and should be looked upon as learning experiences. We tend to
learn more from our failures than from our successes. Thomas Edison, asked
about mounting failures in his quest to create a working electric light,
denied failure, pointing out that he had simply "found 10,000 ways
that won't work."
We all need help to solve problems. Many smokers, though, try to go this
journey alone. Of the smokers who try to quit, eight out of ten smokers
who try to quit, do so without reaching out for help and about five percent
of them fail within a year. Chalk this up to one of those 10,000 ways.
Nicotine is a powerfully addictive foe. The recidivism rate for relapse
with nicotine is not that different from heroin, because the two affect
your body in similar ways. However you ingest it, nicotine travels through
the body in the bloodstream, arriving in the brain in seven to 15 seconds.
There, it begins to stimulate neurotransmitters, which boost the brain's
reward centers associated with pleasure, releasing chemicals that give
you that temporary pleasant feeling.
Adrenaline, which is also released, increases heart rate and blood pressure,
and makes breathing rapid and shallow. Over time, nicotine affects your
heart, arteries, and lungs and increases your risk for heart attacks,
stroke, and chronic lung diseases. Ending addiction with nicotine will
likely involve withdrawal. If you've tried to quit before, you're
familiar with most of those symptoms:
- Sadness or depressed mood
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Irritability, frustration or anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decreased heart rate
- Increased appetite or weight gain
It's not just the physical symptoms, but the emotional ones as well.
The obsession, or habit must be changed and that takes time. You might
be looking at four to six weeks for your brain and body to begin readjusting
to life without nicotine.
This may require some assistance from professionals and those who have
experienced your trials. Like the successful 12-step program of Alcoholics
Anonymous, Nicotine Anonymous members say the first step of admitting
you smoke because of nicotine addiction may be a key in your quest to
become a non-smoker. Industry marketing promoting smoking as a personal
choice has helped keep many smokers in denial. The National Institutes
of Health (NIH) recommends some strategies that might help:
- Make a list of all the reasons you want to quit. Refer to this list during
urges and temptations. These reasons become rewards.
- Be prepared to deal with nicotine withdrawal. Talk with your doctor and
pharmacist about medicines and over-the-counter products that can help
you quit smoking. These medicines and products are helpful for many people.
Use them correctly.
- Consider learning some new skills and behaviors to help keep your focus
away from smoking.
- Exercise can help avoid weight gain, which is typically around ten pounds
- Make a plan and work the plan. Most resources suggest you set a quit date
and make that known to your loved ones. Be accountable to another person
also making the change.
- If you slip, accept that you slipped, learn from the slip, and recommit
to quit smoking. Remember, if nothing changes, nothing changes.
So, don’t give up. It isn’t easy but it’s worth it!
Kristen Duckworth is the Respiratory Therapist Manager with St. Mary’s
Medical Center and can be reached at 816-228-5900.