From saving money to healthier skin, find out about the benefits of quitting smoking for good
Everyone knows that smoking is bad for your health, but it’s easy to presume that if you only smoke a little, or in social situations, then the risks won’t be as high. According to research by Dr Pallavi Balte and Dr Elizabeth Oelsner at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, New York, the risk of lung cancer death for ‘social smokers’ – those who only smoke when with other people who are smoking – is not significantly lower than those who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day.
The study also shows that ‘social smokers’ are more than twice as likely to die of respiratory disease and more than eight times as likely to die of lung cancer than non-smokers.
With coronavirus lockdown restrictions easing and pub gardens and cafe terraces starting to reopen, those who may have quit during lockdown might be tempted to pick up old habits and restart smoking in social situations.
‘It’s a common belief that smoking helps people to relax. In reality, smoking increases anxiety and tension. Having just one cigarette can start you back on the path to becoming a regular smoker again. Think about the effort you made to break the habit. Is having one cigarette worth the risk?’ says National Stop Smoking trainer Jennifer Percival.
If anyone is best placed to warn you of the risks that come with social smoking, it’s Percival.
She held the position of Tobacco Policy Adviser for the Royal College of Nursing for 12 years, developing courses on smoking cessation for nurses. She’s also supported the English Department of Health on a variety of awareness projects, including its hard-hitting anti-smoking TV testimonial campaign. Now, she provides masterclasses on new ways to help people stop smoking.
Are smokers smoking more or less during the coronavirus pandemic?
‘Surveys* have found that over a million people in the UK stopped smoking after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, and a further 440,000 smokers tried to quit during this period,’ she says.
‘As the risks from COVID are far from over, I think it’s unlikely that new quitters will want to return to smoking. Fortunately, with only around 14 per cent of the population still smoking there’s also a great demand for pubs and restaurants to provide smoke-free outdoor areas. If you’ve given up smoking recently, especially for COVID, choose a venue with an outside smoke-free area so you won’t get tempted.’
Are smokers more likely to succeed in quitting if they rely on nicotine replacement therapy?
Of course, quitting smoking can be incredibly challenging – and sometimes willpower alone isn’t enough to help you manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
‘For people who smoke, medications like nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can help them reduce their cravings and manage the withdrawal symptoms experienced when quitting,’ explains Percival.
‘Licensed products improve people’s chances of quitting smoking and, combined with support from a stop-smoking service, give people the best chance of successfully quitting. NRT can be used long-term to help reduce the risk of relapse.’
But isn’t NRT expensive?
Some people think that NRT is expensive, but when you compare it to the cost of smoking, it might surprise you.
‘The cost of smoking is higher now than ever before. Quitting gives you more cash to spend on other treats, like a well-deserved holiday when lockdown ends completely,’ adds Percival.
What are the other benefits of quitting smoking?
It’s also true that quitting smoking leads to improved fertility, with non-smokers finding it easier to conceive than smokers.
So if you think that social smoking means you’re avoiding most of the health risks, remember that smoking is dangerous, regardless of whether you’re a heavy smoker or a social smoker.
Jørgen Vestbo, Chair of the European Respiratory Advocacy Council and Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Manchester, UK, was not involved in the research at Columbia University Irving Medical Center but said: ‘Although the proportion of people who smoke habitually is falling in many countries, we should still be concerned about those who identify as social smokers. Cutting down on smoking is a step in the right direction, as quitting tobacco is one of the best ways to protect the lungs and our overall health, but it’s clear that there is no safe level of smoking.
‘This large study is important because it shows that smoking less will probably not have the effect that people are hoping for. We need to do all we can to support smokers to quit completely using evidence-based means, for example with access to support services, and nicotine patches or gum.’
With so many stop smoking aids available, it can be hard to figure out which is the best option for you. Nicorette is the No.1 NRT brand** helping people quit smoking and offers a wide range of NRT products. To find out the right one for you visit nicorette.co.uk
*Online survey using the YouGov panel with 10,251 respondents, conducted between 15 April and 20 June 2020. For more information on the YouGov Covid Tracker see: https://yougov.co.uk/covid-19. Additional analysis undertaken by Action on Smoking and Health and University College London using ONS population data mid-year 2019 estimates. Central estimate is 1,095,409, with a 95% confidence interval of 947,096 to 1,259,014 people. This is a rate for short-term quit success and it remains to be seen if this translates into longer-term quit success
**Source ©2020 NielsenIQ data, Value, Units, Nicotine Replacement Therapy Category (client defined) 52 w/e 20.02.2021 (GB Total Coverage)