Cancer / 23 Dec, 2019

Seven smoking myths explained

Dr Goh Lit Ching

There are many myths that relate to smoking, but it is important to remember that they are just that – myths.

1. I can smoke occasionally and socially without becoming addicted

Nicotine is very addictive. It has a physiological, behavioural and psychological hold on you. Every cigarette you smoke is doing damage to your body; there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. Even relatively small amounts damage your blood vessels and make your blood more likely to clot. People who smoke one to four cigarettes per day have three times the risk of dying from a heart attack, and three to five times the risk of dying from lung cancer compared to non-smokers. Overall their risk of death from any cause is increased by 57% compared to non-smokers.

2. I have been smoking my whole life, it’s too late to stop smoking!

The benefits of quitting are greatest when you stop earlier. However, quitting at any age will still improve your health and quality of life. Your heart rate and blood pressure will go down, and your lungs will start to work better right away. Quitting gives your body the chance to heal the damage that has been done by smoking.

Statistics show that quitting before the age of 50 reduces your risk of dying in the next 15 years by half. The risk of having a heart attack falls by half after about three years. In the case of lung cancer, your risk drops to half in 10 years. After five to 15 years, your odds of having a stroke will match a non-smokers.

3. I feel fine, I don’t think smoking harms my body!

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease and premature death. Cigarettes cause disease in nearly every organ of the body. Smoking has been definitively linked to many type of cancers (lung, colon, cervical, kidney, pancreatic, bladder, esophageal, larynx, oral cavity and pharynx, stomach, etc.); leukemia; heart disease; lung disease; general diminished health status and increased morbidity; and among women, osteoporosis, pregnancy complications and reduced fertility.

4. I exercise regularly and eat well, smoking does not affect me since I’m healthy

There’s no research that shows exercise or diet can undo the impact of smoking. The best way to reduce the risk of smoking is to quit smoking altogether, rather than exercising more and eating better.

5. Smoking helps to relieve stress

Much of the apparent calming effect of a cigarette is due to the relief of symptoms (such as irritability, anxiety and restlessness) caused by nicotine withdrawal. Some of the relaxation from smoking can also come from taking a break and a few deep breaths, not the cigarette itself.

In fact, smoking causes increased stress due to frequent withdrawal periods during the day between cigarettes. Furthermore, nicotine is a stimulant and releases stress hormones such as adrenaline. Research studies have shown that ex-smokers report feeling less stressed than when they were smoking.

6. I don’t know where and who to seek help from

A few programs exist in the community that addresses various aspects of the smoking habit, which is necessary for a smoker to quit successfully. These include the SGH Smoking Cessation Service, HPB I-Quit Programme, and the Start to S.T.O.P. (Speak TO your Pharmacist) smoking cessation program by Guardian Pharmacy. You can also consult your GP to find out more information.

7. I tried smoking cessation medications and they do not work for me!

Smoking cessation medications, including nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) available in patch, gum, nasal spray, and lozenges, as well as bupropion, can double the likelihood that a person will successfully quit. For some smokers, combination therapies using multiple types of NRT, NRT with bupropion, NRT with counselling, and NRT with bupropion and counselling may be even more effective than using a single cessation method. Further treatment after an initial failed course of cessation treatment also increases the successfulness of quitting smoking, and combination therapies are especially useful among relapsed smokers.

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