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JIS News

For a person who has been smoking for many years, sticking to a decision to quit is one of the most difficult undertakings he or she must endure.
But, for those who succeed, the rewards can be great, particularly in the area of health, where quitting can save their lives.
Before May 2008, Engineering Technician, 35 year-old David Reid* had tried on several occasions to kick his smoking habit. However, time and time again the habit reared its ugly head and destroyed all appearances of gain.
David spent his childhood and most of his adult years in Seaview Gardens, in St. Andrew. He notes that there were many heavy smokers around him and like many
10 year-old kids, it was customary for him to roll pieces of paper into the shape of a cigar, light and puff away.
However, this seemingly innocent practice later gave rise to an appetite for stronger substances, hence his transition to cigarettes. His switch to tobacco, he shares, started at approximately age 14, while he was a student at the Trench Town Comprehensive High School, in Kingston. He would, at times, sneak out with friends to get a “draw.”
He gradually moved from a draw to two and by the time he was 16 years old, David had become a full fledged smoker. He recounts graduating from a pack per week to a pack per day and eventually to about two packs per day, up to May 2008, when he decided to quit. By this time, smoking had become second nature.
“After a while, smoking became a part of everything I did. If I was angry or confused I used to grab a cigarette; after I had a meal, I grabbed a cigarette. I did not need to have a reason to smoke. It was just a part of my life,” he tells JIS News.
“It did not help that I was always surrounded by people who smoked. I had just gotten so accustomed to the smell of tobacco and marijuana as well, that smoking became to me a little hideaway, my own little comfort zone. I really had no urge to quit,” he adds.
But just how dangerous is this ‘hideaway’ or ‘comfort zone’ to which David refers? According to President of the Association of General Practitioners, Dr. Aldyth Buckland, smoking addiction has been linked to several cancers, including malignancies of the lung, throat, pancreas, mouth, and blood. In addition, some miscarriages that have occurred in pregnant women and some respiratory illnesses in children have been linked to second-hand smoking.
For avid smokers who are indifferent to the potentially harmful effects of tobacco, such as nicotine and other harmful substances found in cigarettes, Dr. Buckland warns: “You have some people who say I see so and so and they have been smoking for so many years and nothing has happened. That person may be suffering from heart disease, hypertension, disturbances in their vision, ulcers, obstructive airway disease, shortness of breath or when they want to run, they can’t keep up with other people.”
Other smoking related ailments include circulatory problems, heart problems, strokes and the formation of clots. It is also one of the major causes of lung cancer. “This is one cancer that can really be prevented, just by not smoking,” Dr. Buckland tells JIS News.
David says that by the time he was 24 years, he had already begun to feel the effects of smoking. “I would cough uncontrollably. It was really horrible. I didn’t like contact sports, but I used to play a little basketball with friends and was even at some point, a part of a club team. But after a while I stopped playing because I realised that I was experiencing shortness of breath. I couldn’t keep up anymore,” he explains.
It has been 18 months since he started on his smoke free journey and looking back at the challenges faced and the strides made, David says that smoking is no easy habit to quit.
“I can tell you this much, the road to quitting is not easy. I can’t even count the numerous times I have attempted to quit before, it’s been that many. I didn’t even know I could make it this far,” he tells JIS News.
“The most I had gone up to before was about three months. I tried already for one week, two weeks, two months and the last time three months, but I always tended to relapse,” he laments.
He recalls the turning point in his life after a conversation with his 11 year-old daughter, his only child, who resides overseas. He recounts how his daughter, after learning of her grand uncle’s death from a heart attack, pleaded with him to stop smoking, so that he can live to see her fulfill her dreams.
From that emotional experience he drew the courage to quit, on the realisation that someone dear was depending on him. “Even after telling my family of my intention to quit in January, I really did not make any concrete attempt to do so. It was only in May when I had this conversation with my daughter that I told myself that 20 years was a long time to spend smoking and it was full time I stop,” he says, adding that, “I was really being selfish with my life and so on that May day I just stopped smoking.”
Although not fully out of the woods, he attributes his 18 months of success to his determination to live drug free. “Sometimes when we talk about drugs, we don’t think tobacco or such, but it contains an addictive substance which has helped to take the lives of many. I have taken the decision to cut off from everything,” he tells JIS News.
He encourages smokers to quit, whether gradually or immediately. The journey, he quickly adds, is not an easy one. He says that one must have a strong inner will to win the “quitting” battle.
David says that quitting took hard work and determination. “Honestly, I can tell you that the urges were there. I was so accustomed to smoking for every little thing that, especially during the first two months, I had some serious battles with my thoughts. But in times like those you have to possess that inner will to fight and to win, or if you slip at some point, to get up and fight again,” he says.
For those smokers who are yearning to be smoke free in 2010, Dr. Buckland advises that they, like David, adopt an “I Can” attitude. The urge to smoke, she notes, only lasts for three minutes and if a smoker can find the strength to control the urge during those three minutes, then he or she might just be able to win the fight.
“Those three minutes can be isolated and used for activities other than smoking,” she informs. Dr. Buckland says that in addition to those critical three minutes, there is also the turmoil of surviving the first three days of being tobacco free, as in that time of the quitting process, the sugar level in the body drops dramatically. During this time, nicotine is flushed from the body. However, with the removal of nicotine from the body, come withdrawal symptoms.
“The nicotine pushes the sugar levels higher. That is why people who smoke tend not to eat a lot,” she explains, adding that when they quit smoking, they are irritable and therefore it is important to maintain sugar levels by drinking sweet drinks.
In addition to the overwhelming urge to smoke, other withdrawal symptoms include depression, constipation, neck aches, irritability and insomnia. It is the person’s response to these symptoms that determines whether one is truly a “quitter.” It is at this point, she notes, that many persons lose the urge to fight.
“It’s important to recognise that these things can happen, but you know what these withdrawal symptoms represent. They represent that the body is flushing itself of poisons,” she points out.
David relates to some of these withdrawal symptoms after ending his smoking addiction. He says that during the first year of quitting, he was quite irritable and had frequent sugar cravings. These cravings resulted in immense weight gain. Despite the weight gain, however, he is resolute in his stance to remain smoke free and he is now working to shed the extra pounds.
Although views may differ among some smokers, according to Dr. Buckland, the benefits to be gained from a smoke free status far outweighs the momentary pleasure that this habit offers. She is therefore encouraging those who are struggling to maintain their status, to remain steadfast in the fight.
In addition to improved health, sense of smell and taste that result from being smoke free, quitting means more money in the pockets of ex-smokers.
David notes that since quitting he is now able to play a bit of basketball and to engage for longer periods in other physical activities.
To maintain a smoke free status, Dr. Buckland advises: “Make sure that you do not hang around people who smoke. Avoid alcohol, because alcohol increases the tendency to want to smoke. It makes the urge worse.. and no coffee, because there is something with this coffee thing, it is a stimulant.”
She is also cautioning persons who have quit smoking over the years, to remain vigilant in their efforts and to avoid exposing themselves to other smokers, in order to avoid a relapse. “It is important, however, to remember that a relapse does not have to mean failure,” she adds.
Dr. Buckland acknowledges that smoking is a hard habit to kick and encourages persons to seek assistance from medical personnel and counsellors or find a good support network that will encourage them in such times. “You are going to need support from colleagues, family, friends, co-workers and people in the church,” she tells JIS News.
Director of Health Promotion and Protection in the Ministry of Health, Dr Eva Lewis Fuller, says focus is being placed on helping smokers to kick their addiction.
“There are some general practitioners, they have been getting training, that do offer smoking cessation programmes. The Ministry of Health staff has also been trained in smoking cessation, so there are lots of locations where persons can go to get help if they want to quit smoking,” she says.