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The time is right to quit smoking

Nancy Stamp

‘Tis the season to be jolly.

However, the holidays can also be an especially stressful time for many people. Extra shopping, cooking, waiting in lines, spending money, visiting with family and friends, and not getting enough rest, can all contribute to high levels of stress over the holidays. Some of these stressors may be the reason smokers light up even more than usual. But does smoking really relieve stress?

As a health education coordinator with the Public Health Department’s Tobacco Use Prevention Program, I’d like to tackle that question.

Believe it or not, smoking can actually contribute to stress. Nicotine in cigarettes is a stimulant, which causes your heart to beat faster and your blood pressure to go up. So you may ask, “If nicotine is a stimulant, then why do people feel more relaxed after smoking?” There are several reasons. For heavy smokers, who are likely to be addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes, the body begins to need a “fix” and shows signs of stress if it doesn’t get its scheduled level of nicotine on a regular basis. Nicotine is a very powerful drug, and when smokers finally get to smoke, they feel more relaxed because they actually needed that nicotine to feel normal. It’s a vicious cycle that keeps the smoker coming back for more and the tobacco companies very happy.

Light smokers or social smokers may feel more relaxed because they are engaged in stress-reducing activities when they smoke. For example, when a smoker inhales they often take a deeper breath than normal which in itself is a relaxation technique. Many smokers take a break from the activity they were involved in to light up, and the simple act of stopping and taking a break is stress relieving. Finally, smokers often like to smoke with other smokers, where some level of conversation and social support happens, and this can be relaxing.

I sure can empathize with individuals who smoke. I know there are individuals who really need their cigarettes and can’t get through the day without them. But I also know the health consequences of continued smoking, and that the longer a person smokes, the more likely they are to develop serious health problems. Smoking affects many parts of the body, including the heart and blood vessels, your hormone system, your metabolism, and your brain. Most doctors agree that stopping smoking is the single most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of their lives. My hope would be that every smoker considers whether there might be other ways to relieve their stress instead of lighting up.

Mark Twain once said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.” If you’re a smoker, maybe you’ve tried quitting and just couldn’t stick with it. Don’t be discouraged. Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but it can be done. Studies have shown that it often takes several times before a person is successful at quitting. Smokers who have tried to quit in the past and haven’t been successful are actually the ones who succeed in the long run. It’s very important to keep trying.

There are many resources available for people who want to quit smoking. Locally, the El Dorado County Public Health Department offers stop smoking classes. A schedule of class dates and times is available by calling (530) 621-6130 in Placerville or (530) 573-3191 in South Lake Tahoe. The next stop smoking class in Placerville starts Jan. 10. Also available is the California Smokers’ Helpline, 1-800-NO BUTTS, that offers up to seven free over-the-phone counseling sessions to quit tobacco. Most healthcare providers are happy to provide support and information to their patients who want to quit, and can sometimes prescribe aids such as the nicotine patch. Useful information on how to quit can also be found at numerous agency web sites, such as the American Cancer Society.

Keep in mind that stress will be there whether you smoke or not. Remember the best gift you can give your family and yourself is the promise of a longer and healthier life. Congratulate yourself for staying smoke-free during stressful times.

– Nancy Stamp is Health Education Coordinator for El Dorado County Public Health Department.


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