Kick The Habit, Save Your Life

01 June 2021

Did you know that it takes just 20 minutes for a smoker to experience the health benefits of kicking the habit? Within six hours, your blood pressure will decrease, and in 24 hours, your body’s blood oxygen level will see an increase as carbon monoxide levels drop.

In the next 24 hours, the nicotine levels will also drop, causing the ex-smoker to crave a cigarette again – but if they can push through it, they will see a marked improvement on their blood circulation after 12 weeks. In a year, their lung capacity will also be increased, and their risk of heart disease drops by a whopping 50 per cent after five years.

This year, in conjunction with World No-Tobacco Day on May 31, 2021, themed ‘Commit to Quit’, medical consultants from Sunway Medical Centre highlight the health benefits that smokers can observe in almost all organs, especially the heart and lungs, as well as dispel misconceptions they may have on quitting.

The Grim Realities Of Smoking

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco accounts for over 7.2 million deaths every year including exposure to second-hand smoke, with the number projected to increase in the coming years. According to the National Institute of Health, approximately five million Malaysian adults aged 15 years and above are currently smokers.

Cardiologist Dr Mohd Kamal bin Mohd Arshad from Sunway Medical Centre explains that the chemicals in tobacco smoke causes plaques to build upon the wall of the arteries. “Over time, the plaque hardens and narrows the arteries, limiting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to one’s organs and can lead to chest pain, high blood pressure, heart attack, or even death,” he says.

Furthermore, smoking does not just affect one’s heart but it also has an impact on their lungs. Respiralogist (internal medicine) Dr Kow Ken Siong from Sunway Medical Centre shares, “Out of the 4,000 chemicals present in cigarette smoke, 69 with hundreds more are carcinogenic that can trigger an inflammatory reaction in the lungs specifically the airways and alveoli. The inflammation can then lead to tissue damage in one’s lungs and airways, resulting in a less efficient gas exchange.”

Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, especially the heart and lungs, and reduces the health of smokers in general. However, quitting can be daunting, especially when smokers have already developed a dependency on it. Many fear that it would take a long time to see improvements in their health and well-being upon quitting smoking, but the timeline for seeing real health benefits is faster than most people realise.

Addressing Misconceptions – Vaping Is Not ‘A Better Option’

In the recent years, many smokers have turned to e-cigarettes and vaping as it is deemed to be a ‘healthier’ option to satisfy their nicotine cravings. 

Dr Kow corrects this misconception and shares that e-cigarettes are not a ‘better’ or ‘healthier’ option although they contain a lesser amount of toxic chemicals – they are just as harmful as normal cigarettes. In many instances, the nicotine level in e-cigarettes is found to be double that of a conventional cigarette and the vapour inhaled can result in a similar type of airway and lung inflammation after a period of time.

“Vaping on the other hand is a method to recruit smokers who may have never tried smoking before, and vaping actually ‘legitimises’ the act of smoking therefore making it ‘acceptable’. Vaping has actually reversed most of the efforts we’ve done over the years to delegitimise smoking in public spaces especially among children and young adults. The vaping community has glamourised the habit and misled many others into this unhealthy habit particularly amongst school children and young adults,” he elaborates.

Another misconception that Dr Mohd Kamal corrects is a common thought that occasional or social smoking is acceptable and less harmful. 

“There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco. Even in small amounts, tobacco smoke still increases health risk. Just smoking one to four cigarettes a day doubles your risk of dying from heart disease. Heavy smokers who reduce their number of cigarette consumption daily still have a high risk of heart disease because cutting down is not the same as quitting,” he explains.

Seeking Help

Quitting smoking generally means breaking the cycle of addiction and rewiring the brain to stop craving nicotine. As outlined above, a smoker’s body will begin to reap the benefits of quitting within 20 minutes of their last cigarette, but the withdrawal symptoms can make it seem otherwise.

Dr Kow suggests that the best way to combat nicotine withdrawal is to have a nicotine replacement that can come in many forms like gum, patches, and even sprays including medication that reduces nicotine dependence in the brain.

“There is a misconception that smokers can never quit smoking immediately. Many fail due to their dependence on nicotine, but they can quit smoking if they have the desire to. However, if they have failed multiple times, they can choose to seek medical help to ease the process.”

The sooner a smoker quits, the higher their chances to reduce the risks of cancer, heart and lung disease, and other health conditions related to smoking. However, it is important to remember that smoking cessation is different for everyone. Nevertheless, personal willpower to quit smoking paired with medical support is crucial and will help see the smoker through a successful cessation.

As Dr Kamal simply puts it, it is never too late to stop smoking. “You can reduce the risk of heart disease just 24 hours of putting out your last cigarette. Yes, withdrawals from smoking will occur but most people who do stop smoking have testified to feeling happier and better overall – with some encouragement and support, it can be done.”

Source: Code Blue