Why you should quit smoking

SMOKING is bad for you - the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than seven million people a year.

More than six million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 890 000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

These facts are included in a press release issued by the World Health Organisation to commemorate World No Tobacco day on 31 May.

Nearly 80% of the more than one billion smokers worldwide live in low- and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest.

In some countries, children from poor households are employed in tobacco farming to provide family income. These children are especially vulnerable to "green tobacco sickness", which is caused by the nicotine that is absorbed through the skin from the handling of wet tobacco leaves.

Second-hand smoke is the smoke that fills restaurants, offices or other enclosed spaces when people burn tobacco products such as cigarettes, bidis and water-pipes.

There are more than 4 000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, of which at least 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer.

There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke:

• In adults, second-hand smoke causes serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including coronary heart disease and lung cancer. In infants, it causes sudden death. In pregnant women, it causes low birth weight.

• Almost half of children regularly breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke in public places. Over 1.3 billion people, or 18% of the world's population, are protected by comprehensive national smoke-free laws.

Studies show that few people understand the specific health risks of tobacco use. For example, a 2009 survey in China revealed that only 38% of smokers knew that smoking causes coronary heart disease and only 27% knew that it causes strokes.

Among smokers who are aware of the dangers of tobacco, most want to quit. Counselling and medication can more than double the chance that a smoker who tries to quit will succeed. National comprehensive cessation services with full or partial cost-coverage are available to assist tobacco users to quit in only 24 countries, representing 15% of the world's population.

Hard-hitting anti-tobacco advertisements and graphic pack warnings – especially those that include pictures – reduce the number of children who begin to smoke.

Tips to help you quit:

• Decide on a date to quit smoking, and do it.

• Throw away all reminders of smoking, like cigarette packets, ashtrays and lighters.

• Drink lots of water as it will help flush the nicotine from your body.

• Start exercising, even if it is just a brisk walk or a jog.

• Avoid smokers and things that make you want to smoke for the first couple of days.

• Tell your family and friends that you are trying to quit so that they can offer you support.

• You may experience some dizziness, headaches or coughing once you have stopped smoking. This is normal and should improve after a day or two and disappear within 14 days.

• The first two to three days are the most difficult, after that it gets easier. Your cravings will reduce and eventually disappear.

• If you are worried about gaining weight, eat at regular times during the day. Snack on fruit between meals. Not all ex-smokers gain weight.

• Do not use a crisis or special occasion as an excuse for “just one” cigarette. One cigarette leads to another and another.

Alternative methods: acupuncture, hypnosis and homeopathy therapies; nicotine replacement products like patches, sprays or chewing gum.

“Cold turkey” has been proven to be the most successful method of quitting.

As every ex-smoker knows giving up smoking is one of the most difficult challenges to overcome, but keep at it.

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