Smoking (or tobacco use) is the leading risk for disability and premature death in Canada. Becoming tobacco-free has huge health benefits – for you as well as those 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. In fact, smokers are three times more likely to have a stroke or die of heart disease. 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.
Second hand smoke – the smoke we breathe when we are with smokers –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.
- Children, especially babies, who live with smokers have more colds, chest and 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 because family, friends or colleagues smoke.
- Youth often smoke because of peer pressure or to help them fit in. Tobacco companies work hard to convince young people that smoking is glamourous, exciting, and stylish.
E-cigarettes and quitting
E-cigarettes, sometimes called vapes, are battery-operated devices that heat and vaporize a liquid that users inhale or “vape” to imitate the smoking experience. This liquid is usually propylene or vegetable glycol based and can be combined with other ingredients and flavours. They can be available with or without nicotine. Health Canada has recently legalized the sale of vaping products with nicotine so that e-cigarettes are accessible as a less harmful option for smokers.
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 long-term, than continuing to smoke regular cigarettes. Research shows that it would be less harmful to quit smoking completely, rather than use both e-cigarettes and tobacco (known as dual use). The best approach would be to stop smoking altogether, with behavioural support and/or cessation aids increasing the chance of success. E-cigarettes should not be used by youth, by non-smokers, or by ex-smokers who have quit altogether.
Benefits of quitting
Quitting immediately reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke. As soon as you quit, your body starts to recover.
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 the same as someone who never smoked at all.
Within 48 hours your chances of having a heart attack start to go down and your sense of smell and taste begin to improve.
- 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.
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.
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 addition. Changing your behaviour through self-help materials, individual or group counselling and telephone counselling (quit lines), can also be helpful to your quit efforts. Learn how to handle your symptoms and cravings through National Cancer Institute. Your doctor can also help you to identify available programs and there are links to resources at the bottom of the page.
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 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.
- Canadian Mental Health Association’s Tips for Quitting Smoking and their Nicotine Dependence Clinic
- Health Canada’s 1-800 Quit Lines or Health Canada’s gosmokefree.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 tobacco position statement: Becoming and remaining tobacco-free
- Cannabis, heart disease and stroke
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.