Author: Catherine O. Egbe, PhD
Welcome to the year 2022! As we look onto the new year with hope and promise, there is a good reason to consider quitting if you still use tobacco or nicotine products. If you don’t, you could use this information to encourage someone who does to quit.
Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable deaths globally. Nicotine is an addictive drug which also causes several health hazards including increasing the risk of cardiovascular and gastrointestinal disorders and DNA mutation leading to cancers. In this new year, I hope that more tobacco and nicotine product users would be motivated to give up using these deadly products. To do this, I know they need all the help they can get, and I hope this article would provide some help.
Tobacco versus nicotine
All tobacco products contain nicotine but not all nicotine products contain tobacco. Nicotine is a common product in all tobacco and nicotine products, meaning both cigarettes and electronic cigarettes contain nicotine. As mentioned earlier, nicotine is also an addictive drug, and people who continue to use tobacco do so because they become addicted to nicotine.
What are the benefits of quitting?
There are both health and economic benefits for quitting. The World Health Organization (WHO) has compiled more than 100 reasons to quit tobacco.
Quitting is beneficial to all age groups, genders, and no matter how long a person may have used tobacco or nicotine products. The health effects of quitting begin as quickly as a few minutes after the last use of these products where the heart rate drops to normal, and within a few days the amount of carbon monoxide in the blood reduces to the level of a non-smoker (in the case of a cigarette smoker). Check out this video from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the benefits of quitting.
When planning to quit nicotine addiction as a result of using tobacco or nicotine products, understand that the process of quitting is similar to quitting any other hard drug. Withdrawal symptoms like crankiness, headaches, sweating etc are common. The CDC presents 7 common withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit smoking and how to deal with them. You can check them out here. Withdrawal symptoms as a result of nicotine addiction usually peak between 1 to 3 days of quitting but decrease between 3 to 4 weeks.
Mayo Clinic has published 10 ways to resist tobacco cravings. You should check them out. In addition to making plans to quit, it is important to make plans to stay quit. Making plans to stay quit involves making sure to avoid places, people and things that could trigger the cravings for tobacco/nicotine products. It may require changing friends, changing relaxation spots and or avoiding to use alcohol.
There are evidence-based ways to quit nicotine addiction for good. These include:
- Pharmacotherapy: Quitting with the aid of medications like Varenicline (Chantix) and Bupropion. These medications work by interfering with nicotine receptors in the brain. Two ways they help you quit are by helping with the withdrawal symptoms and reducing the pleasurable feelings you get from nicotine. Because these medications must be prescribed for you by a qualified physician or health care provider, you must work with your health care provider when considering using medications to quit. These medications can also have side effects.
- Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT): This is when you use nicotine replacement products in the form of patches, lozenges, inhalers, gums and sprays to assist you to quit. These products have a low dosage of nicotine and would assist you to quit nicotine in 2 ways. First, they help your body wean off nicotine gradually. Second, they help you break off the behavioural conditioning associated with the use of the tobacco/nicotine products. For example, if you are a smoker, NRTs can help break the physical routine of consuming the cigarette like the hand to mouth movement. Some NRTs are available over the counter but you will need to work with a tobacco treatment specialist if you want to get the best outcome from using NRTs.
- Psychotherapy: This is when you get cessation counselling either in-person or telephonically to help you quit. Check if you have a national quit line in your country. There are also some online programmes and Apps that could assist you to quit nicotine addiction. The Cancer Association of South Africa runs a free online smoking cessation programme that you can access here.
- Combination therapy: Studies have shown that when tobacco users use combination therapy, they are more likely to be successful at quitting. Combination therapy involves using two types of cessation aids at the same time. This could involve using 2 types of NRTs for example nicotine gum and nicotine patch or using a medication and an NRT or using psychotherapy and an NRT.
- Quitting cold turkey: This is when you do not use any medication, NRT or counselling to help you stop using tobacco/nicotine products. Dealing with withdrawal symptoms is the main challenge you would face if you choose to quit cold turkey.
The Guidelines for the implementation of Article 14 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control recommend all parties to the treaty to have a national quit line which is toll free. This means that it is not enough to have a national quit line, callers should not be billed for trying to get help to quit nicotine addiction.
Let me know what obtains in your country in the comment section.