Chinese New Year is around the corner and with the relaxation of rules, this year expects to gather more families and friends for reunions and merrymaking. As such, smokers who wish to quit, might find it hard to resist the temptation to light a stick, especially during festive seasons. We speak to Dr Alvin Ng Choon Yong, Consultant Respiratory Physician & Intensivist to share some tips on how those who are in the midst of quitting smoking can prepare themselves and resist lighting up.
Q: How do festive periods pose as challenging environments for those looking to quit smoking? Have you encountered any testimonials from patients who found it challenging to quit because of social environments?
The festive period is a time for festive merrymaking and increased social engagements. Such social activities might present an environment with increased smoking triggers. Majority of adult smokers have been shown to smoke more in socially cued settings, such as bars and nightclubs. With festive periods, more social engagements are presumed and that could also mean peer pressure to smoke or picking up the habit while losing consciousness amid the festive highs.
Q: Can you share common environmental smoking triggers? If they are socially driven, how can one avoid these triggers and stick to quitting smoking for good?
Most smokers have triggers. Recognising these triggers will be helpful to keep them committed to their goal to stay smoke free.
Common triggers to smoke include habits and routines, activities that are often associated with smoking and generally part of a daily routine. Examples include drinking alcohol or coffee, watching TV or finishing a meal. It can be helpful to consider alternatives to these habits to eliminate the triggers such as swapping coffee with tea.
Environmental triggers, referring to peer pressure from the environment, including mingling with friends who are also smokers or being at nightclubs and bars. In this case, it can be helpful to tell friends and family members about the decision to quit and to avoid environments that present increased smoking triggers.
Emotional triggers, ranging from experiencing stress and anxiety to feeling happy and satisfied. When emotions are triggers, take slow, deep breaths or talk through your feelings with a friend or a family member. Sometimes, exercise also helps.
Finally, withdrawal symptoms related to the nicotine withdrawal process and can manifest in increased appetite, anxiety, or irritation. For those struggling with withdrawal symptoms, try quit aids like Nicotine Replacement Therapy or seek a quit counsellor to help you on your progress.
Q: How about social smokers who may continue or pick up smoking particularly during such occasions. Do you have any advice for them?
Social smokers are individuals who smoke with friends or in social situations. Often these individuals may not think that they are harming themselves because they do not smoke as frequently, but they are equally susceptible to the harms of smoking. Social smoking may actually be a guise or excuse for habitual smoking. Only the smoker knows how many cigarettes he or she smokes if they keep count. “Social” or intermittent smoking have the same health risks as habitual smoking – cardiovascular, respiratory and cancer risks, for example, all are higher in “social smokers” than non-smokers. “Social smoking” can easily lead to smoking more and more and can end up becoming a regular smoker, especially for the young who are more susceptible to nicotine addiction.
Q: How long does it usually take for smokers to quit smoking, based on your experience?
Smoking cessation is dependent on a variety of factors including the duration the person has been smoking for and the levels of nicotine dependence. Everyone will be subjected to different side effects from quitting. The first 4 weeks of actively quitting cigarettes may be the toughest time due to the withdrawal effects from nicotine. However, health benefits start straight away upon quitting smoking and the longer the quittor persists, the less will be the withdrawal symptoms.
Quit aids like NRT can help smokers who have higher nicotine dependence. Quitters need help and encouragement to persist, the longer they stay smoke-free the higher the chance of quitting permanently. Even if one attempt at quitting fails, repeated attempts are shown to increase smokers’ quit rates.
Q: What are some tips and tools that smokers looking to quit can rely on, especially going into the festive Chinese New Year period?
With nicotine levels in tobacco and cigarettes being highly addictive, individuals who quit may experience withdrawal symptoms, especially if they have smoked or relied on tobacco products heavily for many years. They may experience symptoms like nicotine cravings, anger, frustration, difficulty concentrating on their tasks, anxiety and more. Social gatherings may also increase the chances for one to relapse and take a puff.
Here are some tips to keep the smoking cravings away, avoid the temptation from environmental triggers. Try replacing a glass of alcohol with a tall glass of water or unsweetened cold beverage. If smoker friends offer a cigarette, politely reject, and say no. Physical activity is also one healthy way to distract oneself from tobacco cravings. Short bursts of activity such as going for a stroll can keep smoking cravings at bay.
Try quit aids such as Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) gum and patch. Studies have also shown that Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) is effective in relieving smoking cravings and help increase chances of quitting successfully. NRTs are designed to help with withdrawal symptoms by releasing small, controlled amounts of nicotine without the harmful substances present in cigarettes. Speak to a pharmacist at our local retail pharmacies or consult a doctor to find out more about Nicotine Replacement Therapy and get started on your quit journey.
Let your family and friends know that you are trying to quit smoking and have them to participate in your journey and they will support and encourage you.
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