Quitting smoking is a great goal, but it’s not an easy one. Many ex-smokers say quitting was the hardest thing they have ever done; even for people who have climbed mountains, started their own company or even experienced natural childbirth.
It can take smokers multiple attempts before they are completely smokefree. But despite how difficult it is, quitting is worth it. Just 20 minutes after quitting, a person’s heart rate returns to normal. Within 12 hours, carbon monoxide levels in the blood are back to normal, and in as little as two weeks, lung function improves.
It’s important to understand why quitting is so difficult so you can support your employees in their smoking cessation efforts.
According to the American Lung Association, there is a "three-link chain" of physical, social and mental components to smoking addiction. Smokers have a better chance of quitting, and staying smokefree, if they address all three links of the chain:
- Physical: Cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive chemical that when inhaled causes the release of another chemical called dopamine in the brain that makes you feel good. Unfortunately, after the dopamine wears off so does the feeling, which causes the smoker to crave another cigarette. Smokers also build up a tolerance and physical dependence on nicotine, meaning they have to smoke more to feel the same effect. There are seven FDA-approved medications that can help with these symptoms in people who are trying to quit smoking. A healthcare provider can help determine what option is best for each individual.
- Mental: For many people, smoking is part of their daily routine. Smokers tend to light up at specific times of day, such as during lunch breaks or when they’re driving home. Others are triggered by certain feelings, such as being stressed or tired. In this case, cigarettes can become a crutch. Identifying triggers and adjusting behaviors to stay strong during a craving can help the person trying to quit stay on track.
- Social: Many smokers develop social interactions around smoking. For example, people will head out for a smoke break with friends or coworkers. Smoking also can be used as a social icebreaker by asking, "Got a light?" However, relying on social groups that support a quit smoking attempt can work in the same way. Rather than trying to quit on their own, smokers should reach out to a support network and let them know they are trying to quit.