Smokers’ Health

Lifestyle image - adults

Smoking cessation

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in Ireland. There are estimated to be 864,000 current smokers in Ireland (24% of males and 21% females)1.

People who smoke on average lose at least 10 quality years of life.2

However, if people under 35 can be helped to quit successfully they will have a normal life expectancy3.

Nicotine addiction

Smoking cessation is difficult: Patients are fighting both physical and psychological addiction

Nicotine addiction causes an increase of nicotine receptors in the brain which may underlie nicotine tolerance and addiction in smokers.4 Nicotine delivered by cigarettes reaches the brain within 7 seconds, binding to nicotinic receptors, which leads to the satisfaction of urges and cravings to smoke.5,6 Quitting has both physical and psychological components.7 Physical withdrawal symptoms are the result of the body reacting to the absence of nicotine; psychological issues are the result of giving up the habit.7

    • 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 alleviate symptoms

    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 weeks7. Symptoms include9:

    • Anxiety
    • Hunger
    • Irritability
    • Depressed mood
    • Restlessness
    • Insomnia
    • 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.

  • Lifestyle image – male + female

    There are many health benefits to be gained from smoking cessation

    Physical health benefits11

    • 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 benefits12

    • 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
  • Table of advice

    A 30-second dialogue can have a positive impact on smoking13

    The UK based National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training developed the Very Brief Advice (VBA) on Smoking Model for clinicians14. A study of more than 1,000 people who smoke showed that 50% expected their healthcare professional to discuss smoking cessation.15

    You can help by informing patients about the options available to support their quit including NRT.

Willpower alone is considered to be the least effective method of smoking cessation13

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