According to the latest federal data, only about 42 million Americans (or 18 percent of the adult population) smoke cigarettes. I say only because this is actually the lowest percentage since the US government began tracking such data in 1965.
If you smoke, quitting is absolutely essential to get your health on track. But I do strongly recommend that you get your diet under control first, as the health implications of poor diet (including obesity) may actually outweigh those from smoking.
And since many ex-smokers turn to food for comfort in lieu of cigarettes, it’s important that you’re eating right before (and while) you attempt to quit. That being said, smoking cigarettes is clearly not a healthy choice.
You’re probably aware that it’s linked to chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and stroke, but you may not know that it influences far more than this. Your bones, muscles, brain, teeth, eyes and even your fertility can all be damaged by smoking.
New Campaign Warns Cigarettes ‘Rot’ Your Body
If you live in or travel to the UK, you may see billboards and digital ads featuring cigarettes full of rotting human flesh. They’re part of Public Health England’s (PHE) new campaign to highlight “how smoking damages the body and causes a slow and steady decline in a process similar to rotting.”
Indeed, smoking one or two cigarettes probably won’t cause you much lasting harm. It’s the ongoing exposure to the toxins within that begin to trigger breakdowns in your body.
Many people don’t begin to feel the most serious effects of smoking until years (and many packs of cigarettes) later, and once you begin to feel the symptoms, you know damage has already been done (similar to the effects of a poor diet). PHE’s new report details the many ways that cigarettes cause slow, accumulating “rot” in your body. You might find some of these surprising:
Smoking causes progressive harm to your musculoskeletal system and bone mineral density Men who smoke have a 25 percent increased risk of any fracture and a 40 percent increased risk of hip fracture Smoking leads to slower healing after injury Smoking leads to a 79 percent increase in chronic back pain and a 114 percent increase in disabling lower back pain. Smokers are 53 percent more likely to develop cognitive impairment than non-smokers Smokers are 59 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease Smoking increases your risk of tooth loss and decay Smoking increases your risk of age-related macular degeneration by 78 percent to 358 percent, and increases your risk of age-related cataracts
Quitting Smoking Timeline
If you’re looking for motivation to quit, the video above provides it. It emphasizes the positive effects of quitting smoking and how your body works to restore itself to health. Within 20 years of quitting, your body will be “as good as new” in that your risks of chronic diseases will be the same as that of a non-smoker.
However, the benefits of quitting start within the first 20 minutes, at which point your heart rate and blood pressure drop. Within the first eight hours, your nicotine levels fall by more than 93 percent and within 12 hours your blood oxygen level will return to normal.
These benefits apply to those who quit “cold turkey” – if you continue smoking during this time (even if it’s a reduced amount) the benefits won’t be as dramatic. Cravings in the interim might not be as bad as you think, either.
As shown in the video, in the first week after smoking, most ex-smokers have an average of just three cigarette cravings a day (and these are typically cue-induced and no longer than three minutes each). By 10 days post-quitting, most ex-smokers have two or less craving episodes a day, and by two weeks you’ve likely gotten past the addiction (at least physically).
Going cold turkey might sound drastic, but research shows that two-thirds to three-quarters of ex-smokers stop unaided. This is likely a far better approach to relying on e-cigarettes as a crutch, as these relatively new devices carry serious risks of their own.
Use of E-Cigarettes Rises Amid Safety Concerns
While rates of cigarette smoking are declining in the US, e-cigarette use is on the rise. It’s estimated that 30 percent of smokers, and 8 percent of the general population, have tried them,6 along with a concerning number of youth.
For instance, a National Institute on Drug Abuse survey showed that nearly 9 percent of 8th graders, 16 percent of 10th graders and 17 percent of 12th graders had used e-cigarettes during the previous month.7 In youth, e-cigarette use now exceeds smoking tobacco cigarettes, and most users (both youth and adult) are unaware that this is not a “safe” alternative.
The latest generation of e-cigarettes has been designed to increase nicotine delivery and contain chemosensory agents (including flavors like chocolate and watermelon) that may provide cues for reward along with “transmembrane signaling.” The combined effect may be increased cravings and addiction. As reported in Medscape:
“Generation 1 e-cigarettes had a small battery and erratic aerosol format; generation 2 devices, such as Blu and NJOY, doubled the battery size and increased the amount of venous nicotine deposition; and generation 3 devices, such as Vuse, use microchips ‘to control aerosol to ensure small particles in fine cloud for deep lung deposition.'”
In a presentation at the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP) 25th Annual Meeting, Gregory N. Connolly, DMD, MPH, from Northeastern University, explained that the flavor agents in e-cigarettes do not simply make them taste better: “These are not benign compounds that just make things taste better. If you can modulate delivery of nicotine, it increases craving because of the ingrained behavior associated with reward and reinforcement.”
There has been some debate that e-cigarettes are a useful smoking cessation tool because they’re at least less dangerous than smoking regular cigarettes in the interim. This is debatable, however, as is their usefulness to quit smoking. A study published in late 2014 showed that smokers who used e-cigarettes daily were more likely to quit tobacco, but those who used them intermittently were six times less likely to quit smoking tobacco in the following year. There’s also data showing that ex-smokers, some of whom hadn’t smoked for five years, were taking up (or relapsing) with e-cigarettes – which is quite risky when you look at the health effects involved.
High Levels of Toxins Found in E-Cigarettes
In the latest blow to e-cigarette safety, researchers commissioned by Japan’s Health Ministry found toxic chemicals including formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in the vapor produced by several types of e-cigarettes. In at least one brand, more than 10 times the level of carcinogens contained in a regular cigarette was detected. Separate research has shown e-cigarettes emitted higher levels of certain metals, including nickel, zinc and silver, than tobacco cigarettes. “Some of these metals are extremely toxic even in very low amounts,” the study’s lead researcher noted, adding in a statement:
“The metal particles likely come from the cartridge of the e-cigarette devices themselves – which opens up the possibility that better manufacturing standards for the devices could reduce the quantity of metals in the smoke. Studies of this kind are necessary for implementing effective regulatory measures. E-cigarettes are so new, there just isn’t much research available on them yet.”
Even the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has detected a potentially deadly antifreeze chemical called diethylene glycol in an electronic cigarette cartridge,17 along with tobacco-specific nitrosamines, which are linked to cancer. According to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR), secondhand e-cigarette aerosol contains at least 10 chemicals identified on California’s Proposition 65 list of carcinogens and reproductive toxins, listed in the table below.18
Acetaldehyde Benzene Cadmium Formaldehyde Isoprene Lead Nickel Nicotine N-Nitrosonornicotine Toluene
Health Risks of Vaping Revealed
As more smokers turn to vaping (the ‘new’ word used to describe e-cigarette use), the industry is expected to reach $3.5 billion in 2015 (more than twice the $1.7 billion estimated for 2013). Yet, it could be that the newer generation e-cigs, which run hotter to dispense more flavor and nicotine, could be even risker than older models. The Japanese study mentioned above found that higher amounts of harmful substances seem to be produced when the wire that vaporizes the liquid becomes overheated. Likewise, researchers from the Roswell Park Cancer Institute found that a solvent used in e-cigarette liquid flavors transforms into cancer-causing chemicals, and the biggest risks came from the hotter second-generation models.
As Science News reported:
“Because early e-cigarettes didn’t deliver the same powerful hit of nicotine that burning tobacco does, engineers developed second-generation technology that allows users to increase an e-cigarette’s voltage, and thus temperature, to atomize more nicotine per puff. But the higher temperatures also can trigger a thermal breakdown of the solvents, producing the [cancer-causing] carbonyls… If users of second-generation e-cigarettes maximize the power on their devices while using vaping liquids containing a solvent mix of glycerin and propylene glycol, formaldehyde levels can reach that found in tobacco smoke…”
In addition, a study found that people exhale less nitric oxide after vaping, which suggests it may cause lung inflammation., And, the cartridge liquid for e-cigarettes contains highly concentrated liquid nicotine, most at levels between 1.8 percent and 2.4 percent. These concentrations can cause sickness, but rarely death, in children, but higher concentrations, like 10 percent or 7.2 percent, are widely available on the Internet. At those levels, a lethal dose for an adult would be less than one tablespoon. Already, increased poisonings from e-cigarettes are being reported.
Is There a Safer Way to Quit?
If your goal is to reach optimal health, you’ll want to avoid smoking cigarettes and e-cigarettes, as well as other tobacco products (like smokeless tobacco, which has also been shown to increase the risk of mouth cancer, although not as much as cigarettes). That being said, my mother smoked for all of her adult life. When she decided to give up smoking, she used a rechargeable, electronic cigarette in the process and found it helpful. So I encourage you to do your own research if you’re thinking of using e-cigarettes to help you quit and continue in your effort to fully quit.
However, I believe the “secret” to quitting smoking is to get healthy first, which will make quitting much easier. Exercising is part and parcel of this plan, as research shows people who engage in regular strength training double their success rate at quitting smoking compared to those who don’t exercise. Healthy eating is another crucial aspect that can’t be ignored.
In short, if you want to quit, here are the three basic tips to get you started:
- Find a comprehensive nutrition plan to get started eating right.
- Develop a well-rounded exercise regimen. It is your ally to fighting disease and to quitting smoking. Strength training is an important part, but also remember to incorporate high-intensity interval exercises, core-strengthening exercises and stretching.
- Find a healthy emotional outlet. Many people use exercise, meditation, or relaxation techniques for this, and these are all great. I also recommend incorporating the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), as this can help clear out emotional blockages from your system (some of which you might not even realize are there), thus restoring your mind and body’s balance and helping you break the addiction and avoid cravings.
Once you are regularly doing these three things, then you can begin to think about quitting smoking and at this point many are ready to try quitting “cold turkey.”