Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the world1. Around 6.9 million people in the UK smoke (15.9% of men and 12.5% of women).2
Around half of all life-long smokers will die prematurely and smokers will die 10 years younger than non-smokers on average1.
However, if people under 35 can be helped to quit successfully they will have a normal life expectancy2.
Smoking cessation is difficult: Patients are fighting both physical and psychological addiction
Nicotine addiction is a biochemical process that changes the structure and function of the brain through an increase in nicotine receptors.3 Quitting has both physical and psychological components4. Physical withdrawal symptoms are the result of the body reacting to the absence of nicotine; psychological issues are the result of giving up the habit4.
- Nicotine activates receptors in the brain that cause the release of chemicals which cause the smoker to perceive pleasure and/or less anxiety and tension
- The brain gets used to these chemicals and wants the release to occur throughout the day to reproduce these positive sensations all the time
Physical nicotine withdrawal symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms can start within a few hours of quitting, peak at about 2 to 3 days after quitting and may last up to several weeks4. Symptoms include6:
- Depressed mood
- Difficulty concentrating
- Smokers learn to associate smoking with certain behaviours involving people, places, activities and moods
- These situational triggers can derail a quit attempt if quitters are not prepared
Understanding psychological withdrawal
Psychological withdrawal symptoms may be more difficult to overcome than physical symptoms. Triggers such as stress, being around other smokers or alcohol may result in intense cravings. As triggers may be unavoidable it is important to help quitters to understand how to handle them using distraction techniques such as changing drinks or chewing sugar free gum or avoiding places associated with triggers.
There are many health benefits to be gained from smoking cessation
Physical health benefits8
- In 9 months, lung capacity increases by up to 10%, which can make breathing easier
- In 2-12 weeks, blood circulation improves which can make physical activity easier
- Immune system improves making it easier to fight off infections
- Improved fertility
- Oral health benefits including reduced risk of developing gum disease
- Reduced risk of heart disease, lung cancer and chronic bronchitis
- Increased life expectancy
Mental health benefits9
- Lower stress levels
- Reduced anxiety
- Reduced feelings of depression
- Increased quality of life
- Improvement in feelings of positivity
- Benefits akin to taking antidepressants for mental health sufferers
A 30-second dialogue can have a positive impact on smoking10
The UK based National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training developed the Very Brief Advice (VBA) on Smoking Model for clinicians10.
You can help by informing patients about the options available to support their quit including NRT.