Holy Name Medical Center Blog

Saying No to Tobacco? There Is Help

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated May 31 as annual World No Tobacco Day.

Posted by Harris Tesher, MD on May 16, 2018

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And although smoking has declined in recent years, at least 15 out of every 100 adults currently still smoke.

In an effort to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence from all forms of tobacco consumption, The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated May 31 as annual World No Tobacco Day.

This year's World No Tobacco Day is focusing on cardiovascular health. Tobacco use is a key risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, including coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. And although as much as 12 percent of all heart disease deaths are caused by active and passive smoking, few people make this connection, according to WHO.

So, how can you reduce heart health risks imposed by tobacco? Dr. Harris Tesher, a board-certified pulmonologist with Holy Name Medical Center, answers questions about going cold turkey and other methods of quitting smoking, what you need to know about second-hand smoke, and lung cancer screenings.

Inspiration Health:

Dr. Tesher, why is it so hard to quit smoking?

Dr. Tesher:

Quitting smoking is not always easy, even when you really want to. This is because nicotine is so highly addictive. It alters the balance of two chemicals, called dopamine and noradrenaline, in the brain, which can change your mood and concentration levels. When nicotine is inhaled, it immediately rushes to the brain, where it produces feelings of pleasure and reduces stress and anxiety. The more you smoke, the more the brain becomes used to the nicotine and craves it. When you stop smoking, the lack of nicotine can cause feelings of withdrawal, including depression, anxiety, and tension, leading so many to start smoking again.

Inspiration Health:

How do you start the process of quitting?

Dr. Tesher:

There are many ways to go about quitting, but first and foremost you should always check with your doctor to see which method is best for you. It's not a one-size-fits-all process.

Inspiration Health:

We often hear about smokers going cold turkey, what does this mean?

Dr. Tesher:

Quitting cold turkey means giving up smoking all at once, without the aid of any nicotine replacement therapy products or stop-smoking drugs. Many ex-smokers have successfully quit this way. But it's not for everyone. Those who smoke fewer than 10 cigarettes a day are more likely to succeed with this method. Be prepared for symptoms of withdrawal, including mood swings and intense cravings, but know this, physical withdrawal is short.

Inspiration Health:

What are some of the more popular smoking cessation aids today, and do they work?

Dr. Tesher:

Nicotine replacement therapies provide a measured dose of nicotine to help ease the physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Unlike cigarettes, which consist of thousands of carcinogenic chemicals, NRTs as they're known, contain only nicotine. The most popular is the nicotine patch, but there are also nasal sprays, lozenges, and gums. They can work but there is a downside to these products. Because they contain nicotine, they, too, can become addictive.

Inspiration Health:

We see a lot of prescription medications advertised to help smokers quit. How do they work?

Dr. Tesher:

Smoking cessation prescription medications, including Zyban, Chantix, and Wellbutrin, can be helpful under the supervision of a physician. Many work by interfering with nicotine receptors in the brain. According to the American Cancer Society, smokers who are significantly dependent on nicotine should consider medication therapy. The organization says signs of severe nicotine dependence include:

  • Smoking more than one pack of cigarettes a day
  • Smoking within five minutes of waking up
  • Smoking even while sick
  • Waking up at night to smoke

Inspiration Health:

How do you know if you should get screened for lung cancer?

Dr. Tesher:

In the United States, cigarette smoking is linked to 80 percent to 90 percent of lung cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are very specific guidelines for lung cancer screening recommended by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force: In adults 55 to 80 years old, an annual low-dose CT scan of the chest is urged for those who have a 30-pack-a-year smoking history or who have quit only within the past 15 years

Inspiration Health:

Can people who have never smoked get lung cancer?

Dr. Tesher:

Approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths occur each year among adult nonsmokers in the United States as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke. The Surgeon General estimates that living with a smoker increases a non-smoker's chances of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent. Some non-tobacco-related causes of lung cancer include exposure to radon gas, asbestos, and other environmental exposures.

There is some good news to share, says Dr. Tesher. No matter what your age, your body starts to recover within 20 minutes of quitting smoking. After 48 hours, for example, your chance of having a heart attack goes down and within one year, your risk of a smoking-related heart attack is cut in half. Ten years after quitting, the lung cancer death rate is about half of a smoker's.

If you are thinking about making a change to your tobacco use, and for more information on smoking cessation, please reach out to The Center for Healthy Living at Holy Name Medical Center at 201-833-3336, or log onto our website holyname.org/LungDisease/smoking-cessation.aspx