Smoking is one of the most common (as well as one of the deadliest) habits in the world. On a global scale, over 1 billion people (equivalent to 20% of the world’s population) are cigarette smokers. Of those 1 billion individuals, an estimated 4.6 million are Canadian.

Smoking is often a hard habit to break as tobacco is highly addictive. This is because when you smoke tobacco, nicotine enters the body quickly and releases chemicals that go to the heart and brain which can have an imitating effect on one’s mood that are similar in nature to other types of drugs (such as amphetamines) and can speed up your reaction time as well as increase your attention span and ability to focus. While these may all seem like positives, there are far more many negatives and dangers when it comes to tobacco use.

For example, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of cancer – including those of the mouth and throat, esophagus, voice box, stomach, kidney, pancreas, liver, bladder, cervix, colon, rectum, and, of course, lung cancer – which is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer as well as the leading cause of cancer-related death in Canada. Aside from causing cancer, there are also many other health impacts associated with tobacco use to consider, including increasing your risk of developing (or worsening) the following:

• COPD (including emphysema and bronchitis)
• Asthma
• Heart disease
• Diabetes
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Eye disease
• Tuberculosis

The good news is that if you are a smoker, this is something you can also quit. That being said, given the addictive effects of nicotine, smoking cessation isn’t always easy for everyone and is usually something that takes willpower and determination. It’s also important to note that when you do quit smoking, you can develop withdrawal symptoms – sometimes as quickly as a few hours after you’ve had your last cigarette.

Symptoms of smoking withdrawal may include physical, mental and behavioural changes, such as:

• Insomnia
• Restlessness
• Poor concentration
• Irritability (i.e., frustration or anger)
• Depression
• Tremors
• Increase appetite
• Digestive problems
• Weight gain
• Headaches
• Cough
• Decreased libido

While these symptoms may be unpleasant to deal with, it’s important to note that they are only temporary as the body gets used to not relying on the effects of nicotine, and should fully subside after 2 or 3 weeks. If your cigarette cravings and withdrawal symptoms are severe, there are things you can do in effort to distract yourself and keep your mind on something other than that need to smoke. For example, by going for a walk (or doing other forms of exercise), avoiding other triggers that make you want to smoke (such as alcohol or caffeine consumption), or by using nicotine replacement therapy (which is available as gum, lozenges, or a patch.) It’s also important to remember why you’re quitting: For the betterment of your health.

If you’re already a non-smoker, tobacco can still have an effect on you too. This is known as second and third-hand smoke, which comes from inhaling air exhaled by a smoker, as well as from smoke that stays in things like our clothing, hair, carpeting, walls, furniture, etc. Exposure to second and third-hand aerosols can increase someone’s risk of things like asthma and COPD, as well as expose them to potential cancer-causing chemicals. The best way to prevent your exposure to second-hand smoke is by being in 100% smoke-free environments. For example, do not allow those around you to smoke in your presence, and avoid areas where smoking is permitted.

For help on quitting smoking, visit QuitNow.ca.