By Dr. Cynthia Paulis
The great thing about a new year is starting with a clean slate and looking at the next 12 months with a new set of goals. If you are a smoker, now is a great time to stop. Let's face it: Being a smoker in New York isn't as easy as it used to be. Along with the difficulty of finding a place to smoke, huddling outside in an alley in the rain, snow and freezing temperatures, there is also the cost factor. Cigarettes can now cost more than $10 a pack. Smoking a pack a day costs $3,650 a year-a nice vacation you are blowing away in smoke.
The most obvious reason to quit smoking is for your health. Smoking affects every organ in your body and is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States, leading to 393,000 deaths annually. Tobacco smoke is harmful to smokers and nonsmokers. Cigarette smoking causes many types of cancer, including in the lungs, esophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach and cervix. It also causes heart disease, stroke, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, cataracts, macular degeneration and hip fractures.
A pregnant smoker is at higher risk of premature delivery and abnormally low birth weight. In addition, a woman who smokes during or after pregnancy increases her infant's risk of death from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Secondhand smoke is especially harmful to young children and even pets, who can develop cancer and lymphomas from inhaling smoke. Cats can develop oral cancer from licking the cancer-causing carcinogens that accumulate on their fur and have a higher risk of developing malignant lymphoma. Dogs have an increased incidence of cancer in the nose and sinus area.
If someone gave you a cocktail at a New Years Eve party and said, "Here's a great drink; it's addictive and is made from arsenic, benzene, cadmium, vinyl chloride, formaldehyde and toluene," would you drink it? Hopefully, you would have the good sense to refuse it. Those chemicals are just a few of those packed into every cigarette.
So why is it so hard to quit smoking? Two reasons. The first is nicotine, a drug found naturally in tobacco that accounts for the physiological problems of smokers. Nicotine is absorbed into your bloodstream and is carried throughout your body, where it can stay three to four days after stopping.
The second component is the psychological aspect of smoking, or the excuses you make for smoking. "I'm bored," "It helps me relax," "I'm stressed and "I only smoke when I go to a bar with my friend" are all excuses I have heard from smokers.
Several ex-smokers who were two- and three-pack-a-day smokers who were able to quit cold turkey without any help seemed to have something in common; they had an illness that scared them.
"I quit when my doctor refused to operate on me for triple bypass surgery unless I quit smoking," said Mike, a cab driver and former three-pack-a-day smoker. "It was tough, but I did it and I feel so much better. I chewed gum, ate carrots and drank coffee. That was 20 years ago."
Jim P. a 58-year-old stockbroker, used to smoke two packs a day. He quit when he got pleurisy and thought he was having a heart attack. He shared this thought: "If you believe enough in yourself, you can do anything and you will beat any addiction. You have to believe you have the power to change and that it will be real and permanent."
For those who can't do cold turkey, there is help. First, write down the day that you plan to quit and do it. Tell your family and friends, so they can help you keep your commitment. Nicotine replacement therapy in the form of gum and patches are now available over the counter and will provide the nicotine without the harmful chemicals in cigarettes. Prescription medication from your doctor, like Zyban and Chantix, may help you-but remember, there are always side effects to these medications.
Give your mouth something to fight the tobacco craving, like sugarless gum, nuts, sunflower seeds or green tea, which is great for weight loss. Go online and join a stop smoking program. Get more exercise and stay away from places where you used to smoke or people who smoke so you won't be tempted. Some people have had good success with acupuncture, in which a staple is placed in the ear. Others have had success with hypnosis.
Whatever works for you to accomplish you goal, now is the time to do it. Remember, no one dies from cigarette cravings, and the benefits you reap from stopping smoking will add years to your life.