National Non-Smoking Week Offers Support for Butting out for Good

By Ubelacker, Sheryl | The Canadian Press, January 20, 2014 | Go to article overview

National Non-Smoking Week Offers Support for Butting out for Good


Ubelacker, Sheryl, The Canadian Press


Never too late to quit smoking, experts say

--

TORONTO - For smokers who made a New Year's resolution to butt out for good but somehow saw that Jan. 1 deadline come and go, this week -- National Non-Smoking Week and its Weedless Wednesday -- offers an encouraging reminder that it's never too late to quit.

Addiction experts and non-smoking advocates are well aware that overcoming the dependency on tobacco is no easy task, especially for long-time smokers. But they say there are numerous aids that increase the odds of making that forever break from cigarettes a reality.

Understanding the enemy -- and its physical and psychological holds -- is the first step towards success, suggests Dr. Peter Selby, chief of the addictions program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.

Not only are smokers addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes, but also to the physical act of smoking.

"The action of taking the hand to the mouth has been repeated so many times that it becomes overlearned," says Selby. "The habit part is so difficult to stop, because that gets triggered at different times of the day, with different cues, like drinking alcohol or having a meal or taking a break.

"So the biology interacts with the psychology. And if you're put in environments where you're seeing people smoking, having access to cigarettes, that's why it becomes so hard for the person to stop and stay stopped."

An addiction to any drug, including nicotine, warps a person's thinking processes, he says. "They feel that they cannot function or survive without that drug."

Smokers will often personalize their relationship with cigarettes, considering them like a best friend that has been with them through good times and bad, Selby says.

"One of the things we have to help them think about is it's more like an abusive lover. In the short term, it does great things for them, but in the long term it's killing them and they have to break up with that relationship," he says.

Unlike using heroin or cocaine, whose downsides are more quickly evident, the adverse health effects from cigarettes are more akin to a slow burn, often lulling smokers into a false sense of security.

"This one's like guerilla warfare, it's embedding in your body. When you have a cigarette you're getting 4,000 chemicals, you're getting 60 cancer-causing chemicals, and those things accumulate and they're slowly working away and causing you harm."

Besides contributing to many health conditions, among them high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, 30 per cent of all cancer deaths in Canada directly result from tobacco use, says John Atkinson, director of tobacco control and cancer prevention at the Canadian Cancer Society's Ontario division.

Smoking is behind 80 per cent of lung cancer deaths.

"It still remains the No. 1 preventable cause of disease and death," says Atkinson. "We know the No. 1 thing an individual can do to lower their risk of cancer is quit smoking."

At a CAMH clinic that tries to help smokers butt out for good, participants are advised to come up with a comprehensive plan that includes a firm quit date, tips on getting through the physical and psychological aspects of dependency, and counselling on the pitfalls to avoid and what to do if one slips and lights up. …

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