No Smoking: Insights and How Tos

Jun 27, 2024

Perhaps you all saw the Instagram post I shared recently, counting down the most impactful lifestyle changes I have ever made. I’ve been asked about what things have really mattered to me multiple times and, while I don’t believe these will necessarily be as impactful for everyone—we are all bio-individual, after all—I did think I should share what I do. At the very least, it’s a way of showing everyone that I am trying to walk the talk.

So, what was the first thing on the list?   It was a big one.

I stopped smoking!

There is no question that the most impactful thing I have ever done for myself was to stop smoking cigarettes. It was, hands down, the most impactful! And, that’s not just me saying that:  the US Centers for Disease Control agrees.  Quitting has affected every element of my life, benefitting me physically, emotionally, energetically, financially, and socially.  I have grown powerfully.

Did you know that quitting cigarettes is apparently as hard, if not harder, than quitting heroin?  Yes, I found it very, very hard, but I’ve never much wanted to talk about this achievement.  It’s just that, in my circles, smoking cigarettes isn’t something that you admit to publicly.  It’s about the same as being a heroin addict: not something you really want to advertise.   But for the benefit of all of you, Azoki readers, I’ll live with the shame. 

Truly, I feel called to write about this, if only because so many individuals here in the Middle East still smoke. If I can help one or two people quit, then I will have done a good and important thing. And, seriously, they can!  If I could quit, after more than thirty years, anyone can. I would love to know how many of you, women, still smoke. Perhaps there are a few of you?   If so, remember:  you, too, can quit.  I guarantee it.  You just need the right reason to stop.

What might that reason be for you? 

There are probably a zillion reasons.  Let’s consider some of the most trivial:  the horrible smell that hangs on us, or the stench in our car.  How about the yellowed teeth and the less than attractive breath?  What about the yellow on our fingernails?  And, the very fact that we are complete addicts and get those horrible ‘have to’ cravings.  Truly, one of the great ways to motivate yourself is to consider all of the excruciatingly embarrassing things you have done in your life just to have a puff.  Seriously, all of the smokers I know have done outrageous things to find that cigarette . . .  even to the extent of putting themselves in peril. 

You don’t have to tell anyone what you did . . .  but we smokers know. 

But let’s move on.  I’d like this blog to be somewhat uplifting.  That said, we won’t stay long on the most powerful reason for quitting:  our health.  Actually I’ve never thought death and disease was a very powerful motivator for quitting.  At least, it’s not for most of us.  For some reason, we all imagine we’re invincible!  Of course, we should talk about this reason, and we will below.  However, there are many, many other arguments as well.  Did you know that you can lose weight, become fit and athletic, become much better looking, and have better sex? Truly, all of these things can happen.

So, let’s talk about these reasons and, more generally, how you might organise your smoking cessation project. 

Here are the big things I think you should do to get yourself to quit.

 1:  Get Scared.   Yes, get very scared.  You are killing yourself - slowly and horribly.  No, you don’t have to dwell on this issue for long.  But it is something we all need to recognise.

According to the World Health Organisation, tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year, i.e., it is responsible for more than 10% of all deaths annually.  Do not think that this won’t happen to you. None of us are invincible.  You, too, will one day die and there is almost no question that, if you smoke, that day will come sooner rather than later - perhaps as a result of a very painful, ugly cancer.  You should be anxious.  This is very real.  You need to stop smoking now.  When you get into your sixties, many of your childhood friends begin to die.  A few will die from accidents or suicide; however, most of us at that age pass away from cancers or heart attacks, both of which are strongly associated with smoking. 

Yes, you should be afraid. 

But!!  The immediate health benefits of quitting are remarkable. Within just 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your heart rate drops. Within 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood returns to normal. By quitting smoking, you significantly reduce your risk of developing lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory diseases. 

Remember that.

2:  Remember Those you Love. Be Responsible.   Think about your family:  your spouse, your children, perhaps others in your extended family that depend on you.  When I finally quit, it was largely because my husband was told by the Cleveland Clinic that his heart health was so poor, he needed a triple by-pass.  Truly, it was wrong that our children had to depend upon a father with heart disease and a mother who smoked.  They were at the time about 12 and 16.  Still young!  One of us had to do something significant to improve the odds that we would be around to take care of them.  Obviously, that person was me. 

So, I did. 

Truly, step 1 above, getting scared about the very real possibility of dying, combined with step 2 above was all I needed to attempt the quitting process.  I didn’t do anything special other than try to cut down before I quit.  I had actually worked myself down to just two smokes a day.  At that point, the worry wasn’t so much the nicotine addiction as the psychological addition.  So, I just did it.  Cold turkey. 

Yes, the quitting was hard.  But again, because the nicotine issue wasn’t huge, it was more a matter of distracting myself than fighting cravings. 

But, yes, I had to deal with the psychological issues . . . and, as all we smokers know, those are significant!  What do you do to calm yourself?  What do you do to keep yourself from eating something?  What do you do to keep yourself awake?  What do you do when you are bored and lonely and have nothing to do with your hands?

You just have to find alternatives.

3. Develop New Habits.  When I quit smoking, replacing my cigarette habit with healthier alternatives was crucial. Here are some effective strategies:

Physical Activity: Engaging in exercise can be a powerful distraction and a stress reliever. Whether it's taking a brisk walk, going for a run, or practicing yoga, staying active helps manage cravings and improves overall well-being.

Mindfulness and Relaxation: Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation can reduce stress and anxiety. These practices are excellent for calming the mind without the need for a cigarette.

Hobbies and Activities: Keeping your hands and mind busy is essential. Consider taking up a hobby like painting, cooking, or gardening. These activities not only distract from cravings but also provide a sense of accomplishment and joy.

Healthy Snacks: To avoid eating out of boredom, keep healthy snacks like fruits, vegetables, or nuts on hand. These can satisfy your hunger without leading to weight gain.  But do NOT start drinking soda or using food in any way to combat cravings.  That cannot be the solution.  Remember that one of the whole points of quitting smoking is to become healthier and to stay alive longer. So don’t replace cigarettes with junk food. 

Stay Connected: Social support is invaluable. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family, or join a support group for people trying to quit smoking. Sharing your journey and hearing others’ experiences can be incredibly motivating.

Building new habits to replace smoking is key to a successful quit attempt. Find what works best for you, and remember, every small step away from smoking is a significant victory. 

4. Push for the Big Wins.  What people don’t understand is that IF they can manage themselves through these smaller issues, there will be quite a significant reward waiting for you.  Stopping cigarettes is the absolute key to becoming slimmer, younger, happier, and more energetic.

Losing Weight. Quitting smoking can help with weight management and fitness. Research has shown that smokers tend to have a higher percentage of body fat and a lower muscle mass compared to non-smokers. Nicotine increases your metabolic rate, but it also makes your body store more fat around your abdomen. After quitting, you might experience a temporary increase in appetite, but if you’ve begun to walk to combat cravings, you’ll definitely be able to manage this.  In fact, every thing can be managed with a healthy diet and regular exercise. In the long term, ex-smokers often find it easier to maintain a healthy weight and build muscle.

Improved Appearance. Almost certainly, your appearance will improve significantly after you quit smoking. Big time.  Smoking accelerates the aging process of your skin, leading to wrinkles and a dull complexion. It also stains your teeth and fingers. Once you quit, your skin gets more oxygen and nutrients, and the blood flow improves, giving you a healthier complexion. Your teeth will gradually become whiter, and your breath will be fresher. Overall, you'll look healthier and more vibrant.

Improved Sexual Health.  One of the lesser-talked-about benefits of quitting smoking is the improvement in sexual health. Smoking can cause erectile dysfunction in men and reduce fertility in women. It also reduces libido and sexual performance. Quitting smoking improves blood circulation, which can enhance sexual arousal and performance. You'll find that your overall energy and stamina increase, which positively impacts your intimate relationships.

Emotional and Social Benefits.  The emotional and social benefits of quitting smoking are also profound. You'll no longer have to deal with the stigma associated with smoking or worry about smelling like smoke. You'll save a significant amount of money that would otherwise be spent on cigarettes. Additionally, the sense of accomplishment and improved self-esteem from overcoming such a challenging addiction can boost your mental health.

Without question,  quitting smoking is one of the best decisions you can make for your health. It may be challenging, but the benefits are undeniable. Remember, you are not alone in this journey.  Countless resources and support systems are available to help you succeed.

If you’ve quit smoking, share your story in the comments. Your experience might inspire someone else to take that critical first step towards a healthier life.