Why is smoking addictive? How to quit it? On World No Tobacco Day, let’s know answers to some frequently asked questions about smoking.

Whether you smoke or chew tobacco, these are bound to have negative effects on your body and overall health. In extreme cases, people may end up with diabetes, heart disease or even lung cancer. While cigarette is a popular tobacco product, people also resort to cigars, roll-your-own tobacco, pipe tobacco, and beedis. You may wonder if one is less harmful than the other, or what makes smoking so addictive. On World No Tobacco Day, observed annually on May 31, we got an expert to answer some of the frequently asked questions about smoking!.

The tobacco epidemic is a major public health threat, as more than eight million people around the world are killed in a year, according to the World Health Organization.

World No Tobacco Day: Frequently asked questions about smoking
Cigarette smoking a common form of tobacco use. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Since cigarette smoking is the most common form of tobacco use across the globe, we have put together top 10 facts about smoking, and their answers!

Q. Why is smoking addictive?

Smoking is addictive primarily because of nicotine, a chemical found in tobacco. Nicotine stimulates the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain, which creates pleasurable sensations and reinforces the behaviour. Over time, the brain becomes dependent on nicotine to release dopamine, leading to cravings and withdrawal symptoms when nicotine levels drop. This cycle of pleasure and withdrawal makes quitting difficult, explains pulmonologist Dr Rohan Aurangabadwalla.

Q. I smoke just a few cigarettes. Will the health risks be lower compared to those who smoke more?

While smoking fewer cigarettes is less harmful than smoking many, there is no safe level of smoking. Even a few cigarettes a day significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, respiratory issues, and other health problems. The risks are dose-dependent, meaning they increase with the number of cigarettes smoked, but even light smoking carries serious health risks.

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Q. How to quit smoking?

Quitting smoking involves a combination of strategies

  • Counselling and support groups can provide strategies and support to help manage cravings and avoid triggers.
  • Products like patches, gums, and inhalers can help reduce withdrawal symptoms by providing a controlled dose of nicotine without the harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke.
  • Varenicline and bupropion may be prescribed by a doctor to help reduce cravings.
  • Regular exercise, healthy eating, and stress management techniques can help improve overall well-being and reduce the urge to smoke.Also read: 5 foods to help quit smoking and what to avoid

Q. Can I use e-cigarettes to stop smoking?

E-cigarettes are sometimes used as a smoking cessation aid, but their safety and effectiveness are still debated and not recommended. While they can deliver nicotine without some of the harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke, e-cigarettes are not risk-free and their long-term health effects are not fully known.

Q. What medications can help to quit smoking?

Several medications can aid in smoking cessation:

  • Varenicline (Chantix) reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms by blocking nicotine receptors in the brain.
  • Bupropion (Zyban), an antidepressant, also helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

But be wary of using them without a doctor’s recommendation or prescription.

Q. How soon will I start seeing improvements in health after quitting smoking?

When you quit smoking, your body starts to recover almost immediately. Here’s a detailed timeline of the health improvements you can expect:

  • Within 20 minutes: Your heart rate and blood pressure begin to drop to normal levels.
  • Within 8 to 12 hours: The level of carbon monoxide in your blood decreases, allowing oxygen levels to increase to normal.
  • Within 24 hours: The risk of heart attack begins to decrease as your body starts to cleanse itself of carbon monoxide and other toxins from cigarettes.
  • Within 48 hours: Nerve endings start to regenerate, and your sense of smell and taste begin to improve.
  • Within 72 hours: Your bronchial tubes start to relax and open up, making breathing easier. Your lung capacity begins to increase.
  • Within 1 to 3 weeks: Blood circulation improves significantly, making physical activity easier and reducing the risk of blood clotting. Lung function can increase by up to 30 percent, says the expert.
  • Within 1 to 9 months: Coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue, and shortness of breath decrease as the cilia in your lungs (tiny hair-like structures that help clean the lungs) start to recover. The overall function of your lungs improves, reducing the frequency and severity of respiratory infections.
  • Within 5 years: The risk of stroke, and mouth, and throat cancers reduces.
  • Within 10 years: The risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of someone who continues to smoke, says the expert. The risk of cancer of the larynx (voice box) and pancreas decreases significantly.
  • Within 15 years: The overall health risks related to smoking-related diseases continue to decrease.
  • Additional long-term benefits: The skin becomes clearer and more hydrated, reducing wrinkles and premature aging. Improved oral health with a lower risk of gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss. Increased energy levels and improved overall stamina. A stronger immune system, leading to a reduced risk of infections and quicker recovery from illnesses.

Quitting smoking brings rapid improvements to your health, some of which start within minutes of your last cigarette. The long-term benefits significantly enhance the quality of life and reduce the risk of serious health conditions.

Q. I have been smoking for long. Is it too late to stop?

Regardless of age or smoking history, quitting can significantly improve your health, so it is never too late. Former smokers experience reduced risks of heart disease, stroke, lung disease, and various cancers compared to those who continue to smoke, says Dr Aurangabadwalla. The sooner you quit, the greater the benefits, but even quitting later in life can extend and improve the quality of your life.

Questions about smoking
It is never late to stop smoking. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Q. Will I gain weight if I stop smoking?

Some people do gain weight after quitting smoking. It may vary between 5 to 10 pounds or 2-5 kgs. This happens because nicotine suppresses appetite and increases metabolism. After quitting, your appetite may increase, and your metabolism may slow down. However, not everyone gains weight, and the health benefits of quitting far outweigh the risks associated with a modest weight gain. Eating healthy and exercising every day can help manage weight gain.

Q. What are the health benefits of quitting smoking?

Quitting smoking offers numerous health benefits:

  • Heart rate and blood pressure drop to normal levels.
  • Risk of heart attack begins to decrease.
  • Nerve endings start to regrow, enhancing taste and smell.
  • Improved circulation and lung function; walking becomes easier.
  • Reduced coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
  • Risk of coronary heart disease gets reduced.
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