Every year, on 31 May we mark World No Tobacco Day, highlighting the health risks of smoking, and supporting policies to save lives by reducing the smoking rate.
A smoker’s belief about the perceived benefits of smoking will have an affect on their quit attempts. If you are worried your mental health will suffer when you quit smoking, read on, because I’m going to debunk two commonly-held myths.
Did you know tobacco is the leading worldwide cause of preventable death? It is estimated to kill more than 5 million people every year. Smoking is a major risk factor for the development of cancers, heart and lung diseases. The good news is that stopping smoking considerably lowers these health risks.
Whilst over 85% of smokers with a mental illness have tried to quit at some point, the smoking rates for people with a mental illness are still 2-3 times higher than that of the general population.
Most smokers report wanting to quit. However they continue to smoke because they feel it provides them with mental health benefits – easing feelings of anxiety and depression, relieving stress.
But this false sense of relaxation is actually caused by the addiction.
Smokers experience feelings of irritability, anxiety and depression when they haven’t smoked for a while. This is caused by nicotine withdrawal, the addictive substance in cigarettes. These feelings are removed when you smoke, creating the illusion that smoking has mental health benefits, when it’s the smoking that has caused the mood disturbances in the first place!
Quitting smoking is actually associated with reduced depression, anxiety, and stress – as well as an improved mood and quality of life. So you are going to feel better after quitting smoking.
When quitting smokers generally go ‘cold turkey’ and stop smoking, or they gradually reduce the number of cigarettes smoked.
This second method results in smokers trying to get more out of the cigarette by breathing the smoke in more deeply and holding their breath for longer. Consequently increasing their exposure to harmful toxins and carbon monoxide.
For years there was a misconception that only smokers going cold turkey could use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). The myth claimed that smokers who used NRT while reducing their rate were in danger of a nicotine overdose.
This is not the case.
You can use NRT as a harm minimisation strategy when quitting, reducing the physical harm of smoking without completely stopping. Recent research has proven that you can smoke and safely use NRT (gum, patches, lozenges) at the same time. This method helps to alleviate the initial anxiety around quitting and the inhalation of harmful toxins. This is an option for people who don’t want to go cold turkey or have higher dependence, withdrawal effects, anxiety, depression and distress. Be sure to discuss any use of NRT with your GP or other health professional before starting to use it.
Quitting can be very challenging and long-term smokers often need more than one attempt to give up the habit for good. But no matter what your age is and how long you've smoked, the health benefits are certainly worth the effort.
For general information on mental illness and mental health, see Facts and guides.