By Talib I. Karim, Health Writer*
Sister Mary, as we’ll call her, is sharp-dressing, nice looking, and holds an MBA degree along with a six-figure position with the federal government.
An usher board member with a prominent church, Sister Mary recently added a new title, “ex-smoker,” she proudly professes.
“I got started young…and used to smoke a pack a day,” says Sister Mary, which according to the American Legacy Foundation can be as many as 25 cigarettes.“Two years ago, when my mom died, I cut back to three a day,” Sister Mary reflects. From then until just recently, Sister Mary explains “I would normally go onto my balcony and enjoy a cigarette along with a glass of red wine,” she adds.
In late July, a friend disclosed to Sister Mary that he could taste cigarettes in her skin and on her lips, even though it had been hours since she had last smoked. “That’s when I knew it was time for me to quit for good,” recounts Sister Mary.
The taste of cigarettes as described by Sister Mary’s friend is real according to Dr. Joseph Adams, MD, who specializes in internal and addiction medicine at Park West Health Systems in Baltimore, MD. ”Kissing a smoker is like licking an ash tray,” says Dr. Adams, past president of the anti-smoking group, Smoke Free Maryland.
Dr. Adams also notes that smoking by mothers during pregnancy is widely understood to cause behavior problems and learning disabilities in their new born. The American Legacy Foundation recommends that since smoking can damage the DNA, it is “vitally important” for men and women alike who wish to have children to quit smoking at least several months prior to conception.
Women who smoke can also risk the health of those near them through second-hand smoking. The U.S Surgeon General estimates that living with a smoker increases the chance of getting lung cancer by 20% to 30%. Many studies show that secondhand smoke causes children to develop asthma, ear infections, and pneumonia in children.
In fact, some researchers suggest that even after a person gives up smoking, the toxins from past smoking that remain in a person’s hair and clothes or in carpet and furniture are hazardous to infants and children. Researchers describe this gradual buildup of toxins from secondhand smoke as “thirdhand smoke.”
While stats like these inspire women like Sister Mary to kick the habit annually, quitting smoking like ending a long relationship, is easier said than done, according to Dr. Adams. And that’s not by mistake, he adds.
A report by the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine suggests conditions called “smoking withdrawal symptoms” are tied to nicotine, the highly addictive ingredient in cigarette smoke. According to the report, cigarette companies manipulate levels of nicotine in cigarettes to make sure that smokers become addicted.
Nicotine causes the brain to release chemicals that create feelings of pleasure, or the “buzz” which many smokers report. Within half an hour, the “buzz” fades away and the smoker is left feeling depressed and tired. This feeling is what causes smoker to light up the next cigarette. The cycle of stimulation and depression keeps repeating, which leads to addiction.
A person who plans to stop smoking can expect several withdrawal symptoms including headaches, nausea, and low blood pressure. In addition to physical symptoms, women should also be on guard for the emotional issues that often result from smoking withdrawal such as anxiety, trouble sleeping, and even hunger.
To cope with these issues, Dr. Krystal Stanley, Ph.D., a DC-based licensed psychologist offers patients a few techniques. Dr. Stanley recommends that those seeking to kick the habit should be prepared to address anxieties that may have caused them to start smoking in the first place.
For sleeping troubles and weight gain concerns, Dr. Stanley advises patients to (1) avoid alcohol or caffeinated beverages up to five hours before bed; (2) spend an hour or so before bed to wind down, without TV, text messages, or other highly stimulating input; and finally (3) drink a warm, non-caffeinated beverage before bed such as warm milk or tea.
Beyond the withdrawal symptoms, since as Dr. Adams notes, over 4000 chemical compounds are created by burning a cigarette, many additives like nicotine can remain in the body long after you quit smoking.
The health web portal, primehealthchannel.com, suggests several steps for flushing your body of nicotine including drinking at least 8-10 glasses of water per day; consuming fruits containing antioxidants like Vitamin C; and regular and rigorous physical exercise.
Knowledge is one of the most potent weapons to help women leave cigarettes for good suggests Amber Bullock with the American Legacy Foundation. On this front Bullock’s organization offers a free hotline (1-800-QUIT-NOW) and a website where smokers can develop a personalized quit plan at www.BecomeAnEX.org.
*Brian Jones contributed to this article. To contact the writer, email him at email@example.com.