Tobacco-free week: I’ve decided to quit, now what?

Respiratory health students share insight on the struggles and advantages of being tobacco-free

I knew smoking was bad for me when I started at age 15, but then again I was only 15. I also know that if my parents ever found out I’d be shipped off to boarding school, which of course made me feel cool and rebellious. Once I moved away from home and began paying for all of my own things, I realized that the $12 packs were cutting deep into my budget.

Before my 21st birthday in December, I promised myself I would cut the habit that not only grossed out my boyfriend, but was also making me breathe heavy from a simple walk across campus. I quit cold turkey and haven’t really regretted the decision. I have been unable to resist a cigarette a few times outside the bar and had a particularly difficult time during the last week of fall semester when my workload was heaviest.

I figured I can’t be the only one sitting in this in between of wanting to quit smoking and freeing myself of the addiction. Twenty per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds identify as avid smokers, according to a 2011 Health Canada report.

Second-year respiratory therapy students Alesha Miller, Renae Desrochers, Dave Sahadeo and Christa Miller helped me in butting out my last cigarette.

Ashley: Obviously I’m a sucker for craving a cigarette and giving into the temptation. How do I deal with the cravings?

Christa: Nicotine replacement therapy helps to ward off the cravings a little bit. The reason you get addicted to cigarettes is because of the nicotine in them. So, if you can supplement that with these kinds of replacement therapies – these patches, the gum, the lozenges stuff like that – it will limit the cravings to some extent and keep your blood-nicotine levels at a specific level.

Ashley: Aside from the clean nicotine, is there any behavioural remedies I can turn to?

Renae: There’s the four Ds: drink water, distract yourself, do something else and deep breathe. Also keeping your hands busy, like playing with sticky tack or a small toy so you’re not wanting to do that hand to mouth [action] and you can get your mind off of it.

C: Snacking on healthy foods like carrots or celery can help.

R: Brushing your teeth can also help in changing the taste in your mouth.

Ashley: Aside from cravings, the one symptom I find I have is the intolerance of cigarette smoke – making me feel nauseous. Is this normal or am I crazy?

A: That’s a fairly common one. At our booth [on Tuesday] we had one guy say that he can’t even stand it anymore. It’s not a super uncommon thing, I think it’s that your body knows it’s a toxin and now that you have started to get that out of your body it’s just more aware of the damage it’s done.

Dave: Let’s try to use an example. You go out for a hard night of drinking-lots of tequila and you’re just wrecked-and then you can’t picture yourself drinking tequila for years; and then you smell it and it makes you feel nauseous because your body remembers the poisons that have been in it. While you’re addicted to it you crave it because you need the nicotine, but after you break the addiction and you don’t need it anymore it’s like “No, I don’t want anything to do with it.”

Ashley: Compared to September, what do my lungs look like now?

R: Some of the benefits of quitting smoking can be seen as quickly as 20 minutes after your last cigarette-heart rate and blood pressure begin to decrease. After 48 hours of quitting, people can look forward to senses like smell and taste starting to improve. Between two weeks and three months, lung capacity can increase as much as 30 per cent and exercise starts to get easier. Six months after quitting, people tend to see an improvement in coughing and feel less shortness of breath. When a person has quit for a year their risk of a smoking-related heart attack is decreased by 50 per cent.

Ashley: How much can I expect my lungs to repair?

D: The realistic expectation is that you’d have some reversibility, but there are permanent long-term, non-reversible changes that do happen with smoking. So, don’t expect to go back to where you were. You will be somewhere in-between and depending on how much you smoke and how frequently, those changes will vary person to person.

Ashley: What should I expect to be irreversible?

D: Things like your shortness of breath and your lung capacity. There will be some changes that happen when the particles from the smoke go into your lungs. Your body responds and tries to heal itself because those particles do damage your lungs. When it does that it does make changes and makes the tissue more elastic so it’s harder to inflate your lungs and makes it harder to breathe.

Ashley: From your work with other students wanting to quit, is there any common characteristics of those who successfully quit and those who don’t?

R: The person has to want to change. It can’t be an external force causing them to change—you will just relapse and go back to smoking. You have to want to make the change for yourself. On average, it takes approximately seven to 10 quit attempts to fully quit smoking.

Ashley: I’m a little worried then, it’s only my second time trying to quit, any words of encouragement?

D: As a respiratory therapy student and as a mid-twenty year old we all feel invincible right now. We have been fortunate to work with patients up at [the Tournament Capital Centre] and they seniors in the pulmonary rehab program. They have full onset COPD [Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease]. Twenty to 40 years from now we’ve seen the effects on the patients and how they have little mobility, difficulty just getting changed or carrying groceries from the store to their car. So while you’re [smoking] today and it feels fine think about the long-term effects of what you’re doing to your body.

Respiratory health students will be handing out information on the Quit Tuesdays program at their booth every Tuesday for the next five weeks in Old Main between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. The Resource Education Clinic, run by second-year respiratory students, is also geared to help students in the process of quitting They can be reached at tobaccoeducation@tru.ca.