Health & Fitness

Seek expert advice to help you quit smoking

Addiction to cigarettes is more difficult to deal with than many other addictions. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

“I have a terrible addiction for cigarettes. I won’t just stop smoking. I have tried quitting this habit but each time I run into depression. How can I do away with this habit?”

Unknown to many, addiction to cigarettes is more difficult to deal with than many other addictions.

Some years ago, a tourist was admitted to a leading Nairobi hospital because he had developed “a tourist tummy” which is a kind way of saying he had diarrhoea.

Within a few hours, the tummy was better, he was well hydrated from the drips but the doctors wanted to observe him overnight. All hell broke loose at about 7pm. The tourist wanted a cigarette, the hospital rules did not permit smoking (in part because of the danger posed by the oxygen used for patients).

We were called to “sort out this crazy man” who was insisting on going home against medical advice “just because he wanted to smoke”.


When we saw the man, he was screaming, agitated, sweating and was ready for a fight. All he wanted was a single cigarette and he would stay the night as advised!

The matron was the only person who could “bend the rules” on a matter of this significance, and she was called in and was persuaded to allow the patient to smoke one cigarette under supervision at a safe distance. A few puffs into his lungs transformed an animal into a calm, apologetic man who was no longer restless and was in a position to consider other options while the doctors got him better.

He was given a patch of nicotine on his shoulder, and he remained calm overnight. All indications were that he arrived home safely. One cigarette had saved the day! What a paradox!

On review of his case with the staff who had taken care of this crisis, we pointed out to the team that nicotine when inhaled as a cigarette found its way to the brain very rapidly because it was absorbed through the lungs, went through the heart and on to the brain when it caused the release of the (happy) hormone dopamine.

This very rapid mode of action is part of the reason nicotine causes such problems. A single puff of smoke gets to the brain in seconds.

Just like the heroin addict who injects himself, the speed of the pleasure is key to the addiction.

The lesson for the team was that just because cigarettes are sold legally, they are no less harmful to the body than substances used illegally.

As one young nurse was to point out later, the tobacco industry is the only one that sets itself up to kill the customers it serves. Indeed, if we knew what we know today about cigarettes and its potential to kill its users, cigarettes would be classified as a Category One poison!

The foregoing might not help in your particular case but serves to emphasise that yours is a real challenge that will require the evaluation by an expert.

The fact that you have made numerous (sadly failed) attempts at stopping stand in your favour and any expert you visit will take this to be a positive prediction of a good outcome.

Numerous studies all over the world confirm that the majority of smokers have (like you) tried to stop many times but failed.

In the evaluation, the expert will seek to know many things from you all of which will help the expert to determine how to approach your particular case. For example, how long have you smoked? Why did you start such as during a stressful time at work? How many sticks do you smoke, is there a recent increase in the amount; are there times you smoke more or less? Why do you want to stop smoking? Is it causing health-related challenges, for example, cough and breathlessness or is it social, for example, your wife can no longer stand your smelly breath?

The expert will also want to know if other aspects of your life have changed.

Are you, for example, suffering from depression, anxiety or are in some other way going through a stressful life. Many people with mental health need to “calm their nerves” with cigarettes.

At the end of the evaluation, the expert will plan an intervention that is appropriate for your case, which might include counselling, medication, nicotine patch or indeed the treatment of the underlying condition which could be depression or Schizophrenia.

Ask for expert help to save your life.