There are still around ten million smokers in the United Kingdom alone, despite smoking being the single largest cause of preventable disease and premature death in the country. Smoking kills more than a hundred thousand people every year in the UK and is acknowledged to be a risk factor in a variety of different health problems, including:
- Cancers of the oesophagus, kidney, pancreas, upper respiratory tract, bladder and stomach, as well as myeloid leukaemia
- Aortic aneurysm, heart failure resulting from coronary heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease
- Angina, macular degeneration, infertility, osteoporosis, peripheral arterial disease, impotency and skin wrinkling
- Miscarriage, low birth weight, stillbirth and premature birth
- Peptic ulceration (duodenal and gastric)
- Children exposed to passive smoking are at risk of asthma, chest infections, otitis media and SIDS.
Quitting smoking is an excellent method of improving your health, with benefits both immediate and long term provided to quitters of all ages. Immediate benefits of quitting smoking include:
- Brighter, clearer and more hydrated skin after just one month
- Improved breathing after three to nine months, with an end to coughing and wheezing
- Risk of heart disease and heart failure cut by fifty percent after a year compared to other smokers.
There are a number of options available to those looking for help with quitting smoking.
NHS Stop Smoking service
GPs can offer advice and help with regard to quitting smoking, and can give you a referral to the NHS Stop Smoking service, which offers excellent support to people trying to kick the habit. The service can also be reached directly by calling the helpline, without the need to see your doctor first. People trying to quit have a 25 percent better chance of success if they do so via the NHS.
Treatment to help smokers quit can still be offered by GPs to those who do not want to use the NHS Stop Smoking service. You will be given an assessment to calculate the level of your smoking addiction, and demonstrate the benefits associated with quitting.
You can make your own assessment by using an online doctor service. There will also be the chance to determine potential triggers, including stressful situations and living with smokers. GPs can prescribe a number of different treatments to help you stop smoking, known as Nicotine Replacement Therapy.
Nicotine Replacement Therapy
The bodies of regular smokers have become used to receiving regular doses of nicotine via cigarettes, and having that quickly removed when you quit smoking can cause you to suffer withdrawal symptoms such as bad moods and irritation, cravings for a cigarette, and finding it difficult to concentrate. NRT works by having nicotine steadily released into your bloodstream, but at much smaller levels and minus the carbon monoxide, tar and other chemicals contained in tobacco smoke. This can help you to control your cravings and put you in a better mood. NRT can be obtained in a variety of forms including:
- Chewing gum
- Lozenges, strips and tablets that are placed under the tongue
- Mouth spray
- Skin patches
- Inhalators that resemble plastic cigarettes
- Nasal spray
No NRT type has been shown to be more effective than any other, making it purely a matter of personal preference, and they can be prescribed by a GP or purchased from pharmacists. Some smokers may wish to combine products to aid them at different times and for different reasons. NRT can cause side effects including irritation of the skin, nose, eyes or throat, dizziness, upset stomach, headaches and disturbed sleep.
Quit smoking medication
The NHS has two prescriptions available to help people quit smoking, Zyban (bupropion) and Champix (varenicline). Bupropion affects the brain areas related to addiction, and needs to be taken twice daily in tablet form for up to a fortnight before attempting quitting, with treatment lasting up to nine weeks. Varenicline needs to be taken for twelve weeks, and cuts down on the reinforcing and rewarding effect of smoking, while stimulating nicotine receptors and reducing irritation and bad moods. Both drugs have side-effects and are unsuitable for certain groups such as young people, pregnant and breastfeeding women and epilepsy sufferers.