A breath of fresh air: stop smoking for a longer life

The health battle against smoking has raged for decades. It cannot be refuted that smoking accelerates aging, disease and death. This week we celebrate 'World No Tobacco Day' and with that, we discuss why people smoke, its hazards and ways to give up. Reading this article was a first step. Let's put out the smoke and see more clearly.

Tobacco was historically linked with celebrity and success, and early media campaigns hoped to establish smoking as the new 'cool'. This image became incorporated in culture and synonymous with rebellion. Live fast; die young. Smoking became a method of stress control and social bonding, winding its way into all echelons of society. Addiction to the nicotine seemed harmless. Smoking was endemic among culture, cool, chic and cheap. For a while at least.

Mounting evidence from nationwide studies began to find sinister connections between tobacco and cancers. Follow-up studies began to connect the once harmless habit with severe and debilitating disease. Today we know the truth, and public health interventions around smoking cessation are commonplace. It is always better to stop smoking than treat its effects.

Today around 20% of UK adults smoke, with 6% of schoolchildren following suit. Around 50% of these smokers will die of smoking-related disease. That's one in ten if you do the maths. Smoking is irrefutably linked with lung, stomach, mouth, bowel and bladder cancers. It also increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, pregnancy problems and chronic lung disease. Regardless, the nicotine and behavioural addiction make quitting difficult. So much for a cheap and harmless habit.

Smokers are at risk of dying younger, with a much reduced quality of life. Chronic lung disease is like slowly drowning, with recurrent infections, hospital stays and eventual dependence on oxygen tanks. The development of smoking-related cancers is often insidious and discovered late, with terrible survival rates. The truth is simple: smoking ruins health and kills early. Live fast, die young indeed.

With better public health knowledge, the tide is turning. Smoking is being replaced by tobacco-free products, retaining the addictive nicotine without cancer-causing tobacco. Vaping, e-cigarettes, gums and patches can ease and wean that addiction, but may not address root cause. Social acceptance of anti-smoking movements has prospered as awareness has grown, and now success is linked to better control. Public perception must continue to change, and with it will health. The two processes together herald a significant change.

There has never been a better time to stop. With well-supported alternatives, fantastic group and personal services available through the NHS, and the evidence of ill effect growing, it's a no-brainer. As you stop, your risk of disease begins to drop toward normal levels, and you will feel better, healthier and in better control. You will live longer and wonder why you ever started.

The first step in quitting is simply thinking about it. Consider why you started, and if that reason is still important. Consider how alternatives may replace cigarettes; develop a strategy for stopping and set a date. And get help - professional or from friends - it doesn't matter. Studies show that using a stop smoking service is met with much greater success. Medications and therapy may help. Ask your doctor or review the services below.

Take a breath and get started.

NHS Smokefree: 0800 022 4332 or http://smokefree.nhs.uk

Quit: 0800 00 22 00 or www.quit.org.uk

Ben is a young NHS doctor in the Southwest. His interests include neurology, health communication, and medical ethics. He is also an avid advocate of compassionate care and quality improvement, running a project in the Southwest around medical humanities.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's alone. Where facts are presented, these are evidence-based. The author is happy to receive questions. There are no conflicts of interest.

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