Statement of Sharon Nyatsanza (NCAS Project & Communications Manager)
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives. For many it is an unexpected opportunity to become healthier, by not smoking. The reasons for smoking vary, many adults smoke because of habit or routine, some because they are addicted and others smoke to relax.
When you smoke nicotine reaches the brain in 10 seconds providing a short-lived high, this feeling fades quickly and you will have to smoke more to provide your body with more nicotine. This cycle is how most smokers become addicted to nicotine, and is also why it becomes uncomfortable for smokers when the supply of nicotine decreases.
Many adults in South Africa are aware of the physical health risks associated with smoking including increases in blood pressure, heart rates, decreased oxygen levels and how it damages the ability of your lungs to work properly. The feel-good effect from smoking is short lived and you will have greater health problems in the long run.
Consider stopping smoking in the middle of this crisis
Scientists have predicted that the coronavirus outbreak will be with us for at least a year, in so far as we have no vaccine or immunity.
Stopping smoking at any time and especially now, is one of the best things you can do to improve your health. You will experience the benefits immediately, in 20 minutes your blood pressure and pulse begin to return to normal.
Within 12 hours, the oxygen levels in your blood will increase as carbon monoxide levels decrease. Blood flow improves and within a day the risk of getting a heart attack begins to reduce. From 14 days your blood circulation improves and your lung function will also increase. Your immune system starts getting stronger and you will be better positioned to fight off infections and diseases that affect your breathing and lungs.
Smoking is also associated with conditions like diabetes, lung or heart conditions which can worsen a coronavirus infection. Tobacco users are also more likely to suffer from respiratory problems like bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. People who use tobacco products face a greater chance of experiencing severe Covid-19 symptoms and may take longer to recover. For each day that you stop smoking you improve your health, immunity and your response to the Covid-19 illness.
If you stopped at the start of the lockdown
Congratulations on the decision and progress you have made, it is important that you keep going and to reach out for help. Take it one day at a time, make a fresh commitment daily, and focus on staying free of tobacco.
Do not start smoking again. By now the urge to smoke should be less frequent but if it comes remind yourself of the reasons why you stopped smoking. Delay and wait out the urge to smoke, it will pass. The urge disappears after about 5 minutes. Drink water which will also help to wash away nicotine from your body.
Do not think that one smoke will not hurt, one will lead to another and this will derail your progress and you will be back where you started. Also avoid smoking triggers such as alcohol and hanging out with friends who smoke, for the next few weeks.
Take deep breadths to be more relaxed and also discuss your feelings with supportive family or friends, especially those who are ex-smokers. For support you can also call the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS) Quitline at 011 720 3145 or send a WhatsApp message on 063 828 2909 and we can help you get through some of these challenges.
If you want to stop
No matter how many times you have tried stopping smoking, how old you are or how many years you have been smoking, the benefits of stopping always outweigh the challenges you will face in trying to stop.You will be in a better position to deal with any illness affecting your breathing and lungs.
Set a quit date, get support and plan on how to disrupt and overcome your smoking patterns.
There are also a number of places to get help, like the NCAS telephone quitline
The NCAS website also has useful information about stopping smoking or you can download our Make a fresh start quit booklets in English, Afrikaans and Zulu at https://www.againstsmoking.co.za/helping-you-to-quit.
Also find other organisations which can provide both online and telephonic assistance for people who want to stop smoking at https://www.againstsmoking.co.za/helping-you-to-quit.Your GP and pharmacy service can also help with over the counter and prescription medicines, including nicotine replacement therapies which help ease the withdrawal symptoms.
Worried about withdrawal symptoms
The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are different from person to person and can include: anxiety, headaches, hunger, fatigue, trouble sleeping and in some cases irritability, cravings, mood changes and restlessness. Some do not experience any of these withdrawal symptoms.
The good news is that these symptoms do not last for long. Withdrawal symptoms reach their worst in the first 2-3 days and the slowly start to reduce. In 3 – 4 weeks you will start to feel better. Take it one day a time because it gets better every day as your body adjusts and learns to live without nicotine.
You stand a better chance of successfully stopping smoking if you draw up a plan and prepare for nicotine withdrawal. We can help you.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
During this lockdown period you can still access nicotine replacement therapies like sprays and nicotine patches from pharmacies. You can also get prescriptions for other medication like Champix (varenicline) or Zyban (bupropion).
These medications have been proven to be safe and effective. Pharmacists will be able to provide guidelines on which products to use and how long you can use them. Using medication to help with stopping smoking is more effective when used alongside a behavioural programme of stop smoking support. Not everyone needs medication.
Support others who want to stop smoking
If you know someone who is trying to stop smoking, help them by giving encouragement. You can learn more about the challenges they face and how you can support them through quit support materials which can be downloaded at https://www.againstsmoking.co.za/helping-you-to-quit .
You can also join the activities that assist them in keeping distracted and breaking the cycle of smoking.
Your loved ones are also at risk
When you smoke those around you breathe second-hand smoke and this can cause cancers too.
Second-hand smoke also causes many health problems in children including, sudden infant death syndrome, ear infections and increased asthma attacks. It also causes children’s lungs to develop poorly, sometimes their lungs never grow to their full potential – and they get infections like pneumonia and bronchitis more easily.
The smoke itself is not visible for long, but it leaves high levels of invisible and harmful chemicals which can linger in the air for a very long time.
Avoid spreading infection
Increased hand-to-mouth contact is experienced when you smoke cigarettes, e-cigarettes, snuff, hookah pipes or any tobacco product.
Moreover sharing products also increases transmission of viruses, including the novel coronavirus. Remember to wash hands frequently and avoid sharing cigarettes, cigars or hookah pipes. Protect yourself and everyone around you.
For further information, contact:
Dr Sharon Nyatsanza: 0796661356