Smoking as a stress reliever is a misconception | Sunday Observer

Smoking as a stress reliever is a misconception

30 May, 2021

There are misconceptions about health risks of smoking. Many smokers, especially those in developing countries, do not completely understand the dangers of tobacco smoking due to tobacco industry’s misleading data that distort the true things about smoking.

Here are some common misconceptions.

Low tar cigarettes are safe to smoke –

There is no such thing as a safe cigarette. A low-tar cigarette is just as harmful as other cigarettes. Although low-tar cigarettes can be slightly less damaging to your lungs over a long period of time, people who smoke these have been shown to take deeper puffs, puff more frequently and smoke the cigarettes to a shorter butt length.

Cutting down the number of cigarettes can reduce health risks –

Some people try to make their smoking habit safer by smoking fewer cigarettes, but it is hard to do so and quickly return to their old pattern. Quitting is the only way to long-term health benefits. Just three cigarettes a day can trigger potentially fatal heart disease, with women particularly at risk.

Only old people get ill from smoking –

All age groups suffer short-term consequences of smoking that include decreased lung function, shortness of breath, cough, and rapid tiring during exercise. Smoking also diminishes the ability to smell and tastes and causes premature aging of the skin. Smoking related diseases often develop over a number of years before diagnosis is made.

The longer you smoke, the greater your risk of developing cancer, heart, lung, and other preventable diseases. Because these diseases do develop over the course of a life time, it gives the appearance of only effecting elderly people. However, people in their 20s and 30s have died from strokes caused by smoking.

It is important to remember that the tobacco industry publishes and promotes these misconceptions to confuse and ruin you, but they are false.

Secondhand smoke exposure puts members of your household and those who around a direct smoker at an increased risk for diseases from head to bottom.

Tobacco smoking takes away not just your health, but also wealth. It is estimated that 5-15% of a smoker’s disposable income is spent on tobacco, which could be an enormous economic burden on you and your family.

Tobacco use causes innumerable amount of suffering for families and individuals associating with smokers. This suffering manifests itself in the form of diminished quality of life, death, and financial burden. Tobacco products are not only harmful, but they are expensive as well.

In most cultures, people see smokers negatively. There is a stigma attached to smoking for the reasons such as ‘a smoker is smelly, disgusting/dirty, unhealthy, your personal relationship may be affected because many people don’t consider being in a relationship with a smoker. As a smoker, your children are more likely to smoke and to be heavier smokers at young ages.

The good news is that there are great benefits from quitting smoking, with both immediate and long term gains.

Quitting will definitely help you minimise negative effects, both health and non-health related. Quitting now, or making efforts to quit, will greatly decrease your chances of these long term health risks. Quitting adds years to life.

Quitting has very clear and tangible financial benefits. It would prove you how much money you can save if you quit.

Quitting means you can go anywhere, not where you can isolate and can smoke. You will be more productive, and your social interactions would expand with productive people. Many smokers are afraid to quit. They might have tried in the past, but were unsuccessful and found it too hard.

Initially try to quit smoking and being smoke free for 1 day, then 2 days and so on.

Follow role models

Observe those around you that have recently quit and practice their behaviour and what actions and reactions of theirs can you adopt.

Look at each quit attempt as a learning process. Each time, you learn what doesn’t work for you and how you can be more successful next time.

Be aware, that it’s common for smokers trying to quit to make multiple attempts before they are successful. But they do achieve success. In the US alone, almost 50 million smokers have quit smoking successfully, on their own.

Many smokers associate fear, stress, and anxiety with trying to quit. But if you surround yourself with the proper support, such as friends and family and maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep you will find that any stress, fear, or anxiety that you are anticipating can be properly managed. Start to begin any of these things - yoga, meditation and other relaxation methods. They are great coping mechanisms. Values, priorities, and goals such as living longer, living better and healthy and being a good role model for your children cannot be achieved if you do not make a decision to quit.

When making a quit plan, always remember that you can be successful.

Setting a quit date as early as possible and sharing your goal to quit with those you interact frequently is important. They can support you by reminding you of your goal to quit and encouraging you to not give in temptations like cravings. It’s good that you ask them to refrain from lighting up when you’re around. Quitting smoking is not easy, but it is not impossible either.

The first few days and weeks will be the hardest due to potential nicotine withdrawal symptoms and obstacles presented by breaking habits.

Remove tobacco products from your environment. It is important to minimise exposure to smoking cues - if the product is still around, you will be more tempted to pick them up and smoke.

Avoid smokers and smoking areas

A firm quit plan includes of overcoming three types of challenges, physical addiction, behavioural and social connections, and psychological or emotional connections.

Physical addiction is nicotine, a harmful chemical and addictive substance in tobacco products. Similar to heroin and cocaine, it affects the dopamine systems in your brain. Nicotine increases the number of nicotinic receptors in the brain. A smoker’s brain and body become used to functioning on certain level of nicotine.

Nicotine level drops dramatically one or two hours after your last cigarette, then you will crave nicotine. Therefore, when you quit it is important to remember that the absence of nicotine in your brain will make you feel uncomfortable and cause withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, coughing, cravings, increased appetite or weight gain, mood changes, etc.

However, be relaxed as these symptoms are normally temporary, will subside as your body learns again, how to function without the high levels of nicotine. Just because you quit smoking does not mean you will experience these withdrawal symptoms. But to prepare you for the possibility is important.

There are two ways to deal with nicotine withdrawal symptoms: cognitive-behavioral therapies and pharmacological/medical therapies.

Cognitive behavioural therapies can effectively help smokers alleviate withdrawal symptoms - if you are experiencing frequent headaches, get enough sleep, eat regularly and partake in physical activities. Lifestyle changes will keep headaches at bay. A spoonful of honey, warm tea, juices etc would help manage coughing.

Apply the 4Ds Strategy to deal with smoking cravings - 1) Delay: set a time limit before you give in to smoking a cigarette. Delay as long as you can. If you feel that you must give in to your urge, move on to step 2.

2) Deep breathing: Take 10 deep breaths to relax yourself. Try to meditate with deep breathing relaxing yourself until the urge passes. If the urge does not subside, move on to next step.

3) Drink water: Drinking water is a healthy alternative to sticking a cigarette in your mouth. Water also helps flush out toxins to refresh your body. If you still crave for cigarettes, move on to next step.

4) Do something else to distract yourself: Read, go for a walk, listen to music, watch TV - engage in any hobby other than smoking.

Increased appetite or weight gain is one of the most common roadblocks and side effects responsible for obstructing smokers trying to quit. Avoid weight gain by making healthy eating choices, fruits, vegetables, healthy snacks, drinking lots of water. Remind yourself of all the benefits of quitting smoking, think of how much better you will physically feel, and all the extra energy you will have.

The best way to deal with restlessness is to get up and move around.

A smoker, links cigarettes and smoking with certain emotions, thoughts, and beliefs. Part of quitting involves breaking those subconscious connections. Smokers link certain beliefs such as ‘smoking helps me relax’, ‘smoking isn’t really harmful’, ‘its cool to smoke’, ‘it keeps my weight down’ with smoking. These are misguided feelings. It does not help solve the source of your problems.

To avoid being obstructed by such emotional or psychological roadblocks, it is important to remember and remind yourself of smoking related risks and the benefits of quitting. To help you break the connections between quitting and negative beliefs, you can create positive self-talks based on the benefits of quitting such as ‘quitting smoking can save my life’ and ‘quitting smoking can save me money’.

Your addictive habit by now is so intimately tied to your everyday activities. Your smoking may be associated with other habits or behaviour such as watching television, talking on the phone, eating, and hanging out with friends. Always keeping your end goal at the forefront of your mind, whenever you find yourself craving a cigarette, get up and remove yourself from the situation, whatever it may be.

Do what you must to distract yourself until the tied habits are no longer a trigger for smoking cravings. Typically cravings/urges are brief, lasting only one to two minutes. Success in dealing with symptoms of one category can help you deal with symptoms from the other categories as well. Every quit attempt is unique to the smoker trying to quit and you may experience challenges and barriers not listed here, you make experience all of them, or you may experience none of them.

Every quit attempt is a positive step in the right direction towards quitting permanently. It might take multiple quit attempts, but each time you resume your attempt to quit, you move farther and farther in the right direction and will make it easier for you to stop next time. Relapsing and making mistakes are only natural.

Do not let a relapse hinder your confidence - a relapse does not mean failure. Use any relapse as a learning experience in how to develop better coping skills, and to adjust them for future attempts to ensure even greater success.

The best way to prevent relapses is to use effective treatments. Effective and approved treatments include self-help materials; advice from healthcare providers; individual behavioural counseling; group behavior counseling; telephone counseling; “Quit and Win” contests and medications. To prevent relapse, you will also need to avoid using unapproved therapies.

Distract yourself from the temptations and urges by engaging in exercises, reading, or do other household chores. You do not have to cease ties with your friends all together, just avoid going to dinner, or out, with them until you are strong in your commitment to abstain.

Smoking as a stress reliever is a common misconception believed by many smokers. Smoking has absolutely no connection to stress relief. However, there are many other ways to deal with stress - keep your hands busy, practice deep breathing or exercise to relieve stress. Distract yourself from the urge to smoke.

Governments should make greater political and financial commitments to promote tobacco cessation as it can significantly reduce the prevalence of tobacco use and save lives. If the tobacco related global NCD and SDG targets are to be achieved, governments need to rank tobacco cessation as an important public health priority and invest in it accordingly.