Quitters are winners – it may sound strange, but not when it comes to smoking

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It’s not easy to quit smoking but it’s one of the best things you can do for your health.
It’s not easy to quit smoking but it’s one of the best things you can do for your health.
boonchai wedmakawand/Getty Images

Winners never quit and quitters never win. Or so the saying goes. But in the case of tobacco, quitters are the real winners.

This is the theme of World Health Organization’s year-long campaign that aims to empower 100 million tobacco users to successfully quit by creating networks of support and increasing access to services proven to help.

Many of the world’s 1.3 billion smokers may want to quit – particularly in light of the increased risk of severe disease with Covid-19 –  but even WHO acknowledges that it’s not that easy.

The nicotine found in tobacco is highly addictive and creates dependence. The behavioural and emotional ties to tobacco use – like having a cigarette with your coffee,  craving tobacco, feelings of sadness or stress  – make it hard to kick the habit.

But WHO say tobacco users double their chances of quitting successfully with professional support and cessation services.

Read more | OPINION | The tobacco control bill: Defending human rights

4 reason why you need to quit

Smoking can affect your health in a multitude of ways, harming many organs of the body and causing numerous diseases.

It’s been linked to a number of conditions – everything from diabetes (type 2) to premature ageing of the skin and an increased risk for cataracts. However, these four potential problems are considered the most worrying.

1 Cancer

Smoking causes cancer in many parts of the body, especially the lungs. Other types include cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, bowel and bladder, liver, kidney, stomach, pancreas and cervix.

2 Lung damage

Smoking has also been associated with other diseases that affect the workings of the lungs and make it harder to breath, such as pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that includes bronchitis and emphysema. It can also make the symptoms of respiratory problems like the common cold and asthma worse.

3 Heart and blood circulation

Smoking affects your heart and blood flow, which increases your risk of developing health problems like heart attacks, coronary heart disease and stroke, and damage to the blood vessels and arteries. It can also affect fertility. Smoking limits the blood supply to the penis so it can cause impotence.

4 Pregnancy problems

Smoking may also reduce fertility in women by damaging the eggs and the ovaries. It can cause complications during pregnancy and can increase the risk of still-birth, miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight.

Read more | OPINION | Tobacco control a vital tool in fighting twin HIV/Aids and TB epidemics

The e-cigarette debate

Touted as a healthier option and an easier way to quit, many people have turned to vaping.

They’ve only been around for a decade, so experts say it’s too soon to say what the long-term effects might be. What is known is that compared with cigarettes, they contain far fewer of the ingredients currently linked to cancer.

“I think the general consensus among all of us working in this area is that vaping will ultimately be shown to be ‘safer’ than tobacco – but how safe is always the question,” says Dr Richard van Zyl-Smit, associate professor of pulmonology at the University of Cape Town.

The Vapour Products Association of South Africa (VPA) claims vaping is 95% safer than smoking but Dr Van Zyl-Smit is sceptical.

“This is an estimate based on a single opinion paper. We don’t have long-term studies,” he says.

And do they really help you quit? No, says WHO.

The scientific evidence on e-cigarettes as cessation aids is inconclusive and there is a lack of clarity as to whether these products have any role to play in smoking cessation. Switching from conventional tobacco products to e-cigarettes is not quitting.

"We must be guided by science and evidence, not the marketing campaigns of the tobacco industry – the same industry that has engaged in decades of lies and deceit to sell products that have killed hundreds of millions of people,” says WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“E-cigarettes generate toxic chemicals, which have been linked to harmful health effects such as cardiovascular disease & lung disorders."

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