Ask Your Pharmacist

July 16, 2020
Q:

What advice can you give me about how to stop smoking?

A:

Quitting smoking is hard. According to the Center of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, there are nearly 6,999 chemicals in a cigarette, including nicotine. Many of these chemicals cause physical and mental dependence, so it is not just nicotine that you are taking on when you try to quit.

Despite how hard it is, my advice is: keep trying until you succeed. If not for yourself, do it for the people in your life who will miss you when you are dead. It really comes down to that hard truth. When my mother, a smoker since her childhood, was 56 years old (and I was 27 years old), I drove her to the emergency room for her unrelenting cough (i.e. newly diagnosed lung cancer). Thirty days later I buried her. My life has never been the same. 

According to Statistics Canada, New Brunswick has the highest rate of lung cancer in Canada.  Tobacco consumption remains the number one preventable cause of lung cancers (i.e. responsible for up to 31 per cent of lung cancer cases.)  Do not become the next sad statistic. You are worth it and so are your loved ones.

What are the health benefits to quitting?

If you are a smoker, quitting is the most important step you can take for your health. Hands down. I found some great information at The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (www.camh.ca). The sooner you attempt to quit, the sooner you reduce your risk of smoking-related illnesses, including cancers and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) disease. In as little as 20 minutes after a cigarette, your heart rate, blood pressure and circulation start to improve and return to normal levels. After one day, the risk of heart attack starts to decrease. After three days, the nicotine levels in your body are depleted. According to the American Cancer Society, life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years shorter than that of non-smokers. Quitting smoking before the age of 40 reduces the risk of dying from smoking-related disease by about 90 per cent. Ten years after quitting, your risk of lung cancer is about half of a person who is still smoking. 

How can you deal with the cravings to smoke?

You may still experience strong cravings to smoke for a while after quitting. Some people benefit from using medications designed to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings to smoke, such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). NRT contains nicotine but does not contain the other harmful chemicals in tobacco. Examples of NRT include the patch, gum, inhaler, lozenges or nasal spray, which are all over-the-counter at the pharmacy. Using these aids can increase your chances of quitting smoking and work best when the person is motivated to quit, and has other supports, such as family, friends, a stop-smoking group, a healthcare provider like a pharmacist or telephone support. Other medications such as bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Champix) require a prescription, do not contain nicotine and can also increase the chances of quitting smoking.

What is the first step?

Even if you are just thinking about quitting, please make a point of chatting with your pharmacist about options. I promise you this: your pharmacist will be happy to help you. Do not let the cost of smoking cessation products stop you. Many drug plans including the New Brunswick Prescription Drug Program have at least some coverage to assist you in quitting smoking. Your pharmacist will work with you to find effective, safe, and affordable prescription(s) or over-the-counter product(s) to help you. Pharmacists can assess and prescribe medication to help you quit smoking, as appropriate. We recognize that helping you quit smoking is one of the most influential things we can do to help you improve your health.

Do not get discouraged if you are not successful on your first attempt to quit smoking, or your second. It takes most people several attempts to successfully quit. There is no shame in trying.  When you are ready to quit smoking, talk to your pharmacist or call 1-866-366-3667 to receive free support on your journey toward smoke-free living. Visit the Tobacco Coalition of New Brunswick at  http://nbatc.ca/quit- smoking/support-to-quit/ For information on how to get started on your future as a non-smoker.    

 Dr. Kevin Duplisea (PharmD BSc. Pharm, BSc. ACPR) is a pharmacist at Sharp’s Corner Drugstore in Sussex, New Brunswick. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.