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It's your year to stop smoking

Published:Wednesday | January 6, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The challenges of 2009 still remain and may deepen in 2010, but we are resilient and have mastered the coping skills to meet and surmount them as they come.

My dad started smoking cigarettes in 1946 and he continued for another 30 years, until one rainy night when he walked for miles to get to a cigarette. The following day, he reviewed his behaviour and concluded that, had he not got cigarettes where he did, he would have walked many more miles in the rain to get them. He was destroying himself and he knew it. That was his cue to stop and to save his life.

'Cold turkey' no longer necessary

Back then there was no chewing gum, skin patches, or tablets designed to help a smoker quit. One had to go 'cold turkey' (that is, to decide to stop and just stop) and I suspect that the rate of relapse was high. However, going 'cold turkey' has worked for some smokers. Cutting down the number of sticks per day is not a good idea, since slipping into the regular routine is likely.

In 2010, there are 'stop-smoking' medicines available here. Motivational and behavioural support is also available from counsellors to augment the programme that the (non)smoker chooses. Counselling is highly recommended.

Stop smoking, live longer

Smoking is regarded as the single most health-damaging activity we undertake. In most countries, it is the leading preventable cause of premature death.

The moment we take a puff, our heart rate and blood pressure and stomach-acid production increase, and our nervous system becomes excited. The hairs lining the lungs' airways, which act as a filter to clean incoming air, become paralysed. If that isn't enough, various cancers affect more smokers than non-smokers.

The single most important thing a smoker can do to live longer is to stop smoking. The smoking-cessation aids cannot stop you from smoking or make you want to stop or make quitting easy, but they can ease withdrawal symptoms, boost confidence and reduce the urge to smoke.

The quitting power of varenicline

Varenicline (Champix) tablets are available here. The marketers say that it puts smokers on a path to success. Ideally, the smoker starts using Champix one to two weeks before the date that he or she plans to quit. An additional 12 weeks of therapy may help the (non)smoker to avoid relapse. Nausea, sleep disturbance and constipation are possible side effects of varenicline.

Bupropion tablets

Bupropion (Wellbutrin) is used to treat depression but was eventually found to help smokers quit. It reduces the desire to smoke and helps to relieve some unpleasant symptoms experienced when one stops smoking. The treatment lasts about nine weeks. Dry mouth, difficulty sleeping and headaches are possible side effects.

Nicotine replacement products

These products replace some of the nicotine that you used to get from smoking, to ease the withdrawal symptoms. The gum is normally used for two to three months. Indigestion, headache, gum irritation and disease are possible side effects.

Dahlia McDaniel is a pharmacist and final year doctoral candidate in public health at the University of London; email: