The World Health Organisation estimates there to be 1.1 billion smokers on planet earth, 80 percent of whom live in low and middle income countries. Up to 50 percent of those exposed to tobacco smoke die as a result of the habit and the harm is all the more vivid when one considers that deaths are at a rate of eight million people annually.
This is equivalent to wiping out the sum of the populations of Nairobi, Kampala and Mombasa annually.
More than an eighth of these deaths are amongst people who choose not to smoke but inhale second-hand smoke from people smoking around them. The list of health conditions associated with the habit is long and includes 14 different cancers; long term and irreversible life limiting lung conditions and cardiovascular illnesses that lead to heart attacks and stroke; impotence and infertility, and diseases affecting bone health amongst many others. Smoking tobacco increases the risk of contracting pneumonia and respiratory tract infections including Covid-19, and also worsens the outlook of those infected.
There are many public health and policy strategies employed to reduce tobacco use and dependence and these campaigns climax on the 31st of every May, dubbed the ‘World No Tobacco day’
It is never too late to stop smoking and the earlier one quits the better.
Seek Professional help
Observational and comparison studies prove that enrolling on a cessation support program that is run by professionals significantly increases quit rates compared to going it alone.
Whichever route one takes, the biggest player in the process is the quitter. A will to quit is a key and necessary ingredient. For the smokers who are not ready to quit, the first step is always to understand the health and economic harm caused by the habit, on both oneself and one’s family; and the benefits of quitting.
One must never feel let down by previous failed attempts, however numerous and spectacular. Conversely, each failed attempt is a treasure trove with lessons on the hurdles one tripped at and what to do differently. Incremental targets are useful.
Seeking inspiration from successful quitters is a useful tactic, and there are always important lessons on what works, and what does not. It is not uncommon that stress, anxiety and fear burden a quitter, especially when ponders the onerous task ahead.
Fill your life with other things
Yoga and meditation, adopting alternative relaxation techniques and surrounding oneself with friends who cherish and support the quit process works well to mitigate the negative energy. Adopting a healthy lifestyle with exercise and healthy diet usually helps condition the mind to an overall positive constitution.
Get support from those close to you
When ready, a quit date is set and a brief run up period helps maintain focus and sustain the energy. Do set a quit date weeks ahead and inform those around you of the date and ask for their support and understanding. This includes family, colleagues and friends.
Overcoming withdrawal symptoms
Addiction to nicotine is perhaps the biggest challenge in the first two to four weeks, and withdrawal manifests with coughs and headaches, cravings and weight gain from an increased appetite. People experience these symptoms to varying extents and degrees and they rarely last longer than a month.
Consultant Pulmonologist at Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi.