Smoking (or tobacco use) is a leading risk for disability and premature death in Canada. Becoming tobacco-free has huge health benefits – for you as well as the people around you. When we talk about smoking, we mean tobacco misuse*. There are many forms of tobacco that are harmful to your health.
How tobacco causes heart disease and stroke
Tobacco use increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Smoking contributes to the buildup of plaque in your arteries, increases the risk of blood clots, reduces the oxygen in your blood, and makes your heart work harder. In fact, smokers are two times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke and are two times more likely to die from them. People who smoke 25 cigarettes a day or more have three times the risk for heart attack or stroke and are nearly five times more likely to die of heart disease or stroke.
Second hand smoke (SHS) – the air we breathe in when we are with someone else who is smoking – is harmful to you and the people around you – especially children.
- If you smoke during pregnancy, the health of your baby will be affected. Smoking increases miscarriage risk and birth complications
- Infants exposed to SHS have a greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- Children who live with smokers have a higher risk for bronchitis, breathlessness, coughing, ear infections and pneumonia.
- Children who have asthma or allergies have more health problems when they live with smokers.
- Many people find it hard to quit smoking. It is often a physical and psychological addiction.
- Many use smoking to manage unpleasant feelings such as stress, depression, loneliness and anxiety.
- Some feel that smoking helps them to concentrate or control their appetite
- Many smoke or use tobacco because their family, friends or colleagues smoke.
- Young people often smoke because of peer pressure or to help them fit in. Tobacco companies worked hard to convince young people that smoking is glamourous, exciting and stylish.
Benefits of quitting
Quitting tobacco immediately reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke. As soon as you quit, your body starts to recover.
Within 24 hours your chances of having a heart attack start to go down.
Within 5 years your risk of having a stroke will be nearly that of a non-smoker; within 10 years your risk of dying from lung cancer is cut in half; and within 15 years your risk of heart disease will be similar to someone who never smoked at all.
- You will save money on cigarettes.
- Your life and house insurance premiums may go down.
- Smoking will no longer control your life.
- You won’t have to search for places that let you smoke.
- You’ll feel proud of your ability to overcome something so challenging.
- Your sense of smell and taste will begin to improve.
Ready to quit?
To successfully quit smoking, you need to address the physical addiction and the psychological habits that go along with it. This is hard work but you can do it:
Ask for help:
- Tell family, friends, and co-workers that you plan to quit. Let them know your plan and how they can help.
- Talk to your healthcare provider. There are medically-approved smoking cessation aids to help you overcome withdrawal symptoms and increase your chances of success.
Set a quit date:
- Write it down and tell someone you’ve decided to become tobacco-free.
Have a plan for the challenges you’ll face while quitting:
- Understand your triggers, and be prepared to manage or avoid them.
- Myquit.ca and smokefree.gov both offer personalized quit plans that can help deal with the emotional and physical aspects of quitting.
Make your home and car tobacco-free zones:
- The more difficult you make it for yourself and others to use tobacco, the less you will.
- Wash your clothes and clean anything that smells like smoke (car, drapes, furniture etc.)
Coping with withdrawal symptoms
Nicotine is one of the addictive chemicals found in tobacco.. The physical symptoms of withdrawal begin quickly, usually within thirty minutes to an hour after the last cigarette. They peak about two to three days later. Withdrawal symptoms can last for a few days to several weeks. They vary from person to person.
Nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) and other medical therapies may help you manage the physical addiction. Provincial health insurance plans and some private insurance plans may cover the cost of smoking cessation aids. Speak with your insurance company and/or check your provincial coverage online. Learn how to handle your symptoms and cravings through the National Cancer Institute.
Changing your behaviour through self-help materials, individual or group counselling and telephone counselling (quit lines), can also help you quit. Your doctor can help you find quit programs and there are links to quit resources at the bottom of this webpage.
E-cigarettes and quitting
In May 2018, Health Canada legalized the sale of vaping products with nicotine as a less harmful option for smokers. E-cigarettes, or vapes, are battery-operated devices that heat and vaporize a liquid that users inhale or “vape” to imitate the smoking experience. The liquid usually contains nicotine in a mixture of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, water and flavouring agents.
Evidence is emerging about the toxic effects of e-cigarette vapour on the cells that line the mouth, nose, lungs and blood vessels. Vaping is also linked to respiratory injury and an increase in blood pressure. The nicotine in e-cigarettes is addictive and most users of e-cigarettes want to quit. For these and other health reasons, smokers in Canada who are trying to quit should use medically approved nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) and/or counselling. There is strong evidence to show that NRTs are effective aids for smoking cessation.
If you have tried other ways to quit smoking without success, you could try e-cigarettes. If you are unable to quit smoking, you would be better off from a health perspective using e-cigarettes in the long-term, rather than continuing to smoke regular cigarettes. But using e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes together (dual use) can be more harmful than either smoking or vaping alone. Daily dual use may increase your risk of a heart attack five times more than if you did not use either vapes or cigarettes. The best approach would be to stop smoking altogether. Quit programs and medically approved cessation aids will increase your chances of success.
E-cigarettes should not be used by young people, by non-smokers or by ex-smokers who have quit altogether. For more information about youth vaping, visit Health Canada’s website.
Preventing weight gain after you stop smoking
Weight gain is a common concern when quitting smoking or tobacco use. Tobacco use suppresses appetite so after you quit, your appetite may increase and food will seem more appealing.
Weight gain can also happen if you replace the oral gratification of smoking with eating, especially if you’re eating unhealthy foods. Take pleasure in nourishing yourself with healthy foods and beverages, eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding sugary drinks and alcohol. Find more tips from the American Heart Association on combating weight gain.
What to do if you slip or relapse
Most people try to quit using tobacco several times before they kick the habit for good, so don’t beat yourself up if you start smoking again. Turn the relapse into a rebound by looking at what triggered your tobacco use. Learn from the slip up and you will become even more prepared and motivated. Give yourself credit for what you were able to accomplish. Reducing tobacco – even if just for a day – is hard work and a good start.
- Health Canada’s 1-800 Quit Lines or Health Canada’s gosmokefree.gc.ca website.
- Heath Canada’s On the Road to Quitting: Guide to becoming a non–smoker for young adults
- Canadian Cancer Society’s Smokers’ Helpline at 1-877-513-5333: will help you make a quit plan and manage symptoms.
- Smokers’ Helpline Online program: allows you to track your progress, work through exercises and get support from peers.
- Heart and Stroke e-cigarette position statement: E-cigarettes in Canada
- Heart and Stroke position statement on e-cigarettes and youth: Protecting youth from the vaping crisis
- Cannabis, heart disease and stroke
- Vaping: What you need to know
When we talk about tobacco misuse we mean the non-traditional, recreational and/or habitual use of commercial tobacco products.
This includes water-pipes (hookahs) which may be more harmful than cigarettes and E-cigarettes which may help reduce use but the long-term health impacts are unknown.