The only positive thing that resulted from my wonderful mother’s addiction to cigarettes was that I grew up hating them.
To me, smoking was and is dirty, smelly, expensive, stupid and disgusting. A smoker’s mouth, hair, clothes, car, and house usually smell of stale smoke, and the idea that smoking makes young people look older and more mature is deeply laughable. But even with that being the case, I am embarrassed to say that each of my three adult children smokes “occasionally,” as does our current president.
I know that smoking is attractive to some people, and once begun, can be quite difficult to put aside. Tobacco is at least as addictive as cocaine. Mark Twain best set the stage for quitting when he said: “Giving up smoking is easy, I’ve done it lots of times.”
But in today’s world, we have large amounts of verified scientific information showing how smoking harms one’s health; it killed my mother. So there simply can be no good reason for all smokers, occasional or regular, not to do their best to give up smoking. And, although it can be a delicate subject, I think it is the duty of all of us to encourage our friends and family members who are smokers to quit. Just try not be too judgmental or heavy-handed when you do so.
How can this be done? Focus on the proven facts: Smoking causes lung cancer and, it also contributes to many other health problems, including breathlessness, heart disease, and other cancers. It also can cause poor skin quality, bad breath, and yellow teeth. So quitting smoking may be the most important thing you can do to improve both your health as well as your appearance.
Happily enough, the human body has remarkable powers of recovery. So no matter how many years you have smoked, or how many cigarettes you smoke each day, your health and appearance can benefit enormously from quitting. One of the most encouraging things about quitting is that you can literally see your health getting better each day, each month, and each year.
Here are some of the benefits smokers can look forward to by quitting: After only 20 minutes from your last smoke, your blood pressure and pulse will approach normal, and circulation will improve in your hands and feet. After 12 hours, the nicotine and poisonous carbon monoxide levels in your blood will be reduced by half, and your blood oxygen levels will return to normal.
After 24 hours, carbon monoxide will be eliminated from your body, which will allow your lungs to begin to clear out mucus and other smoking debris. Within 48 hours, there should be no nicotine left in your body. This will greatly improve your senses of taste and smell. Within 72 hours, your breathing will become easier because your airways will start to relax. This will result in increased energy levels.
Within two weeks, your heart will be pumping more oxygen-rich blood around your body, which means you will be putting less strain upon your heart. And the longer you go without smoking, the better your heart and blood vessels will become. In four weeks, the damage that occurs to your skin from smoking, which actually gives you more wrinkles, will have stopped.
Within six weeks, your heart, circulation, lungs, skin, teeth, and senses of taste and smell will have materially improved. Within eight weeks, your bones will be stronger, more dense, and less brittle. This will materially reduce the risk of fractures. Within 10 weeks, your skin will be getting smoother, your hair healthier, and your smile whiter.
In about four months, your coughing, wheezing, and breathing will be improved, as your lung functions will have increased by up to 10%. In about one year, your risk of heart attack will have nearly fallen to about half that of a smoker. In about 10 years, your risk of lung cancer will have fallen to about half that of a smoker. In about 15 years, your risk of heart attack will now be about the same as someone who has never smoked.
But quitting smoking can be difficult, and you must remember that you will experience some ups and downs along the way. Probably the best approach is to set a “quit date,” and announce it to your family and friends. This will allow you to plan ahead and be better prepared and supported. Then before the appointed day, throw out all your cigarettes, empty packs, and lighters – and remember to check all of your clothes, purses, drawers, cars, etc. for any of these. Then clean and put away all ashtrays and other reminders of smoking, and wash all of your clothes, towels, and other items that smell of smoke, clean your home and car thoroughly, and open all the windows to clear the air.
It also helps to keep a “Quit Smoking Calendar,” and circle the days you have not smoked in blue. If you slip and have a cigarette, don’t despair, feel like a failure, or stop trying, but simply circle that date in red. If you think positively throughout, eat a balanced diet, increase your physical exercise, and, of course, consult with medical professionals if you think they can help you, you will strongly increase your chances of permanent success.
But you will also have to learn to deal with cravings for a cigarette. Some ways of counteracting these are to include the “4D’s.” These are: delay at least three minutes before you smoke, and often the urge will pass; drink a glass of water or juice; distract yourself by moving away from the situation that is encouraging you to light up; and take deep breaths, because breathing fully and slowly will help you to relax.
Finally, for additional positive reinforcement, test yourself concerning your progress. For example, test your endurance by walking up stairs after the first week, and on each succeeding week for the first three months, and then keep a chart about the “difficulty level” from one to 10. Test your senses by smelling some flowers or eating something sweet, and keep a similar chart about how strong those senses were. You will be amazed by the results, and this will energize you to continue. Besides, think of the money you will save.
And for pregnant women, the benefits for your developing baby if you stop smoking are stark. Much of the tar and nicotine you breathe in when smoking goes directly from your system into your baby’s, and this cannot help but cause health problems for this developing little person. For example, babies born to women who smoke are twice as likely to develop asthma and other lung problems, such as wheezing and chest infections. They are also much more prone to ear infections, colic, and meningitis, among other things.
There are also new and exciting developments to help people eliminate nicotine cravings and to quit smoking, such as the ML830 Laser treatments, which stimulate oxygen flow in tissues. In only three treatments with this “cold” laser to your ear, hands, wrists, and feet, some physical therapists have had a 70% success rate in curing the craving for cigarettes. For more information, contact Sue Hale, who is an occupational therapist in Florida, at JHale2@cfl.rr.com.
So OK, quitting smoking can be difficult, but the benefits can be enormous. And it is never too late to quit. Your family, your friends, your unborn children, and, most of all, you, yourself, will always be grateful that you did.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at email@example.com or via his website at www.judgejimgray.com .