By Heather Mullinix
As I write this, I’m about four days into my 100th quit smoking attempt. I’m optimistic this one’s going to take, but to provide a little extra incentive, I’m not publishing this column until I’ve been smoke free for at least three months.
I’ve quit before. And I’ve failed before. In fact, I’ve failed many, many times. Like Mark Twain said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.”
Research finds that many smokers take five years and seven attempts to finally kick the habit for good. Smokers quit using a variety of methods, including “cold turkey.” To those able to set the cancer sticks down and walk away, I salute you. I’m not that strong. I needed other help. Thankfully, that’s available through over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy or prescription drugs that help your brain not want that hit of nicotine. There’s also a free quit line sponsored by the Tennessee Department of Health that offers counseling for those trying to quit.
Recently, friends of mine discussed their quitting smoking. One was approached by his daughter with a deal. He quits smoking and she never starts. He asked for two weeks to quit and then they shook on the deal. A year later, he’s smoke free.
Another witnessed a friend’s asthma attack and became winded herself when she ran for help. She used the patches for a couple of days but then set her mind to it. Cigarettes would not control her. Now, also a year later, she apologizes to her children for ever having smoked.
She also is amazed at the savings she’s found from not smoking. It’s more than just the cost of cigarettes, which have more than doubled since I smoked my first cigarette 17 years ago. There’s the accompanying treats that are also purchased.
I admit, my desire to quit was sparked by the amount of money that was being wasted on something that was slowly killing me. But my material concerns weren’t enough to push me over the edge.
It was the wheezing, the shortness of breath and the inability to be as active as I wanted to be.
I’ve always been pretty active. I go into a bit of a hibernation during the winter months because it’s so awfully cold from November through March (and into May this year, but I digress). But with the mercury finally going in the right direction, I wanted to get out and do something, anything, but I found myself struggling to catch my breath after just a short one-mile walk!
Now, at four days post cigarettes, I made that walk without struggling to breathe and able to carry on a conversation. That’s just one of the quick benefits your body experiences when you quit smoking.
In as little as 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your blood pressure, pulse rate and the temperature of your hands and feet will return to normal. Within 12 hours, your blood oxygen level increases and carbon monoxide level decreases, both to normal levels. After three day, breathing gets easier and the lungs’ ability to function normally is starting to return and taste buds are returning.
The physical cravings for nicotine are usually gone within 10 days to two weeks. After that, it’s emotional and situational habits that can cause a relapse — that cigarette while hanging out with friends or joining coworkers on the smoker’s perch for a break. For me, the urge is greatest when I get in the car to drive. Over the years, lighting up as I start my car has become second nature. I always kept a lighter in the car door to be sure one was handy, and I’d try to get at least one cigarette in before I made it to work or wherever I was going — even if it was just down the road. There’s a little bit of retraining that has to be done to conquer the demon nicotine once and for all, and a lot of willpower.
The longer you stay quit, the greater the health benefits you’ll reap. Within three months, your risk for heart attack will start to drop. You’ll have fewer sinus infections and the cilia in your lungs will have regrown, protecting you during cold and flu season.
In one year, excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker. In five years, the lung cancer death rate for an average former smoker (that’s a pack-a-day smoker, like I used to be) has been cut almost in half, and risk of cancers of the mouth, throat and esophagus is also cut in half. Stroke risk returns to that of a non-smoker in five to 15 years.
Now, hold on to your hats for this little tidbit. In just 10 years, the death rate for lung cancer is similar to that of a non-smoker. I’m assuming even former smokers remain at elevated risk for lung cancer for the rest of our lives, but to know that the death rate is similar to those who didn’t smoke and who didn’t voluntarily inhale nicotine, tar and a host of carcinogenic materials 20 times a day, is just amazing to me.
If you’ve quit before and relapsed, I encourage you to give it another try. And another, if that’s what you need. The cost, both in dollars, health and quality of life, is too high to keep lighting up. It’s hard. Believe me, I know. But if you’ve ever wanted to quit, today is as good a day as any to give it a try.
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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.