Despite the resolutions of thousands of Australians to quit smoking this New Year, research has found that 9 in 10 quitters will be unsuccessful within a few months - a concerning trend given the 300,000 hospitalisations and 15,000 deaths each year from tobacco related illness.
While the study found that New Years Eve is the most popular time of the year for Australians to attempt to quit smoking with one in four (27 per cent) attempting to quit, the results show that if people are going to try to quit, they need to think seriously about how they quit and what kind of support they need to be successful.
There are obviously many options available for Australians to quit smoking - patches, pills, hypnotherapy, books, cold turkey the key though is for smokers to speak with their healthcare professional or GP to help decide which option is best for them.
Non-smokers are the most likely to encourage their smoking friends and family to quit, whilst using a GPs advice ensure that you surround yourself with those of your friends who are encouraging. Although, non-smokers must be considerate as there is a low success rate and they may need to present options for their smoking friends to quit, time and time again.
Dr Colin Mendelsohn is a general practitioner and an expert in temporary or the complete stopping of smoking; he answered some of the question that we found to be on a smokers mind whilst trying to quit.
What are some of the approaches to quitting smoking that you see as the most successful? Dr Colin Mendelsohn:
I advise all smokers to get some assistance to quit. Smoking is a powerful habit and most attempts at quitting on your own fail within a week due to nicotine addiction.
Professional advice and support significantly increases success rates. Speak to your GP or pharmacist or ring Quitline on 137 848. All smokers who are dependent on nicotine (about 80% of smokers) should use some medication to relieve cravings and withdrawal symptoms. This will greatly increase quit rates. And plan your quitting attempt carefully. Set a quit date, look at your barriers to quitting, identify your smoking triggers and develop some coping strategies and get lots of help and support.
Is it possible to stop smoking cold turkey if yes, how? Dr Colin Mendelsohn:
Most attempts to quit are cold turkey, which means abrupt cessation without any assistance. However only about 1 attempt in 30 is successful. Cold turkey is not recommended. A planned quit attempt with professional support and medication will be successful for 1 in 5 or 6 attempts.
Is there a natural or an easiest way to quit smoking, have you seen remedies, yoga or natural therapies work? Dr Colin Mendelsohn:
In spite of the claims of some methods there is no easy or miracle cure. There is no evidence that hypnosis or acupuncture is effective. A number of other methods have insufficient evidence to support their use. These include Allen Carrs method, Nicobrevin, NicoBloc, St Johns wort, Lobeline and laser therapy.
How many times will a smoker try to stop smoking before becoming successful? Dr Colin Mendelsohn:
We now see smoking as a chronic (long-term) disease, with repeated relapses and remissions. Successful long-term cessation requires 5-7 quit attempts on average. The good news is that each unsuccessful attempt is a learning experience and smokers are more likely to be successful on a subsequent attempt. The key message is to keep trying and you will get there!
What can a person who is trying to quit smoking do to ensure they dont smoke whilst at social functions? Dr Colin Mendelsohn:
It may be best to avoid high-risk social situations in the first few weeks, until you are feeling more confident. Try to keep away from smoking environments whenever possible so you dont get tempted. It is also a good idea to keep away from alcohol for a while, or at least reduce it, as well as it can weaken your resolve. Tell your friends that you are quitting and get their assistance and support. And if you are in a smoking environment and feel you may crack, just get out and go for a walk and come back when you feel stronger.
How can you still keep your social life when you have quit and how do you resist temptation if all of your friends are smokers? Dr Colin Mendelsohn:
Being around smokers is a common trigger to relapse. It is a good idea to avoid contact with smokers for the first few weeks. Ask smoking friends to not smoke when they are around you, for example ask them to go outside for a cigarette. In really difficult cases consider whether changing your circle of friends is feasible. If you are successful in quitting, it will often influence your friends to quit. If you do slip and have a cigarette, dont give up! Resolve to stop as quickly as possible and get back on track.
If a smoker normally smokes in the car, what can they do to help them not light up whilst driving? Dr Colin Mendelsohn:
I had one patient who had a box of apples on the passenger seat. Whenever he got into his car to drive he reached for an apple instead of a cigarette. He ate a lot of apples, but he quit successfully!
What are the best distractions to stop you from smoking apart from eating? Dr Colin Mendelsohn:
Doing something will distract you from cravings. Instead of eating, get up from the table and wash up, clean your teeth, go for a walk, go to another room, have a drink of water, chew some sugar-free gum. Mental distractions can also be useful, such as counting backwards from 100 by sevens or thinking of all the reasons why you want to quit. Remember cravings only last 2-3 minutes, although it may feel longer! If you can distract yourself for this long, you will be back on track.
Why do you find it is harder for those who choose to stop smoking as their New Years Resolution? Dr Colin Mendelsohn:
People who quit at New Year are often not prepared. They charge in without carefully planning their quit attempt. A plan might include setting a quit date, consider medication to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, insomnia and lack of concentration. The 3 proven, effective medications are nicotine replacement therapy, Champix and Zyban. Also look at your barriers to quitting, such as concerns about weight gain or coping with stress, and plan some strategies to deal with them. It is a good idea to identify your smoking triggers and plan some coping strategies for them. See your GP for advice and support. This will greatly increase your chance of success. Alternatively, ring Quitline for free telephone support, on 137 848.
Also, many quitters in the New Year period are not really motivated to quit. They may try for someone else or because they feel some pressure to do so and therefore have a low chance of success.
What is your no.1 recommendation to people who are trying to quit? Dr Colin Mendelsohn:
Dont do it alone. Get some professional help and use some medication if you are addicted.
What are the health effects of smoking? Dr Colin Mendelsohn:
Smoking is the single greatest preventable cause of illness and death in Australia, particularly from cancer, cardiovascular disease and lung disease.
Half of all long-term smokers are killed by their habit.
Those who continue to smoke lose on average about 10 years of life compared to non-smokers.
Even several cigarettes a day is harmful.
Quitting smoking is the single most important thing you can do to improve your health. Most of the health effects from smoking decline rapidly after quitting and life expectancy improves. For example, the risk of a heart attack is halved after one year and is the same as a non-smoker after 15 years.