Smoking is addictive. More so if you are a woman. The best way to quit is to know how to get tough and when.
Koh Joh Ting
"The first thing I do when I wake up in the mornings is to cough. I hack away for 15 minutes before I can calm myself down, roll out of bed and feel well enough to go to the toilet. I didn't use to cough like that. I'm really frightened. Not so much about lung cancer or anything, but at just this whole sense of being unwell." - Media executive in her 30s who has smoked since age 20.
It's tough being a smoker. Especially if you are a woman.
At a time in your life where you have climbed up the corporate ladder, where everyone looks to you to make the vital decisions, and where you slog through the night to keep everything under control, your silent companion and sole comfort is the cigarette, thanks to Philip Morris and gang.
It is no accident that as more women delay marriage to build their careers, more of them are turning to the cigarette in the belief that smoking helps them to handle stress. And more and more of them are starting to smoke at a younger age.
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (1995) show that 29.5% of Australian women between the ages of 18-34 are smokers.
The news gets more worrying when you look at figures for alcohol consumption as well. The greatest proportion of binge drinkers, for both men and women, lies in the group aged between 18 and 29. More and more young Australian women seem to enjoy using alcohol and cigarettes to lift their spirits.
What Are You Smoking Away?
Let's assume you smoke a pack of menthol lights a day, which means a $8.40-a-day habit. This would cost you $58.10 a week, $232.40 a month, or $2788.80 a year.
Just $2788.80 for control of stress a year out of an annual income of $40,000? Think again.
If that $2788.80 was left in a bank, you'd have enough for a shopping trip to Hong Kong, or to buy that DVD you've always wanted!
On top of that, you would be doing your health a great favour.
Research shows that smoking alone is the single most preventable cause of death. Cancer already accounts for one in four deaths (Cancer) in Australia every year. And cancer is a chronic condition that takes its time to kill. You'd be short for breath, making you less likely to exercise. Menopause can arrive earlier as production of estrogen is curtailed in your ovaries. Finally, your teeth and bones become weaker.
The Dope On Nicotine Dependency
You may have tried to stop using cigarettes and failed many times. You are not alone.
The thing to realise is that the sense of pleasure you derive from smoking is due to nicotine.
Smoking one cigarette delivers 1 mg of nicotine to the smoker's brain in 10 seconds. That nicotine is not only addictive, its effects are also self-reinforcing. That means that over time, you have to smoke more to experience the same effects.
According to a smoking cessation expert smoking involves three components: the ritual of reaching for the cigarette and lighting it, powered by the belief "I can't live without a smoke," and the neurochemical effects of nicotine in your brain.
Nicotine works on the part of the brain that evokes feelings of pleasure (dopamine) and alertness (norepinephrine). When you smoke, you feel calmed, vigilant, aroused, and, temporarily, able to take control. But once the feelings subside after 40 minutes, you nervously reach for another cigarette.
This is the reason why the stress levels of smokers are actually higher: they are constantly racing to keep their stress levels down. When there is no nicotine available, nicotine withdrawal actually triggers off feelings of depression, which is why so many who try to quit smoking go back to it.
Women are more sensitive to the effects of nicotine. Those who give up after smoking for 30, 40 years feel like a best friend has died when they give it up.
More ominously, data from the US shows that one in three smokers have underlying depression.
Nicotine is a self-administered anti-depressant. An over-the-counter mental health support provided by cigarette companies.
Where To Find Help
Because the ritual, the lifestyle, the habit and individual perception of the cigarette differs so widely among smokers, there is no way to expect every smoker to stop just because they know the risks.
A smoker can only quit when he or she feels ready to. He or she has to be able to last seven days on the withdrawal symptoms, more days may be needed for some people.
At the moment, the newly-available oral tablet called Zyban (www.Zyban.com) has been shown to be a better method for quitting than the nicotine patch.
While the rationale of the patch is to supply nicotine while allowing smokers to learn alternative coping skills, Zyban works by targeting the pleasure effects of nicotine in the brain. As an anti-depressant, Zyban eliminates the need for nicotine as a crutch for feelings of anxiety and of being 'down.'
Women Smoker Beware!
Women are not harder to treat, but have a greater tendency to relapse.
For women smoking is a way to control the way they feel. This is unlike the case for men, who smoke because their friends do.
It is no wonder the nicotine patch works less well for women than for men, because it does not help her to deal with depressive symptoms once it is removed.
Women need to work on achieving their priorities, whether that be personal health, the health of their family, or the health of their unborn baby. She also advises giving women coping skills to help her cope with stress. For example, women should not try to stop smoking a week before their periods.
So, be good to yourself. Get ready to quit. Save the money you spend smoking and take control of your life.
Invest your cigarette money in a sense of well-being, like a holiday at the Maldives after you quit for one year.
It's a far better deal than worrying about how to get medical attention for that hacking cough later in life. And the best time to do this is during the best years of your life.
- Joe S. McIlhaney Jr., MD and Susan Nethery, 1001 Healthcare Questions Women Ask (3rd Ed), Baker Books, 1998.
- "Stop The Urge, Stop Smoking - Essential Smoking Cessation Skills For Healthcare Professionals," Glaxo-Wellcome Singapore, April 2000.
- National Health Survey 1998, Ministry of Health, Singapore
Date reviewed: 16 September 2004