In my years of practice, I’ve seen how hard it is for my patients to quit smoking. Ugly advertisements and warnings from physicians are often not enough to tear away the claws of nicotine that have sunk in over the years. Fortunately, we continue to learn about addiction and how we can best support those trying to quit. A new study out this week details how we can best convey the health message to smokers to support them through the quitting process.
The study enlisted 740 smokers and asked them how hard or easy they perceived quitting to be. They then showed them two main types of health messages: “gain-framed” that talked about the health gains from quitting, like the decrease in heart disease risk and “loss-framed” detailing the negative outcomes from smoking, like pictures of horrible lung tumors. They then surveyed the smokers to see whether their attitudes toward smoking had changed.
They found a distinct divide in the reactions to the ads based on smokers’ perception of how hard it would be to quit. For those who thought they could quit when they wanted, the loss-framed messages were the most effective. For those who thought quitting would be hard, the gain-framed messages were the best.
This indicates that it’s important to know how you or your loved one thinks about quitting. If you’re scared about how hard it will be to stop smoking, look for messages about the health benefits you’ll gain when you quit. If you’re convinced that you can quit when you want, do some research into how smoking might be damaging your health, both now and in the future. Based on that, I’ve put together some information for each group to think about.
Worried Quitting Will Be Hard?
It will be, but the benefits are enormous and some of them are almost immediate. Here are a few to think about:
- Blood pressure and heart rate drop almost immediately.
- Poisonous carbon monoxide in the blood drops within 12 hours.
- Circulation improves and lung function increases within two to three months.
- Cough decreases and breathing improves progressively over nine months.
- Heart disease risk is cut in half by one year.
- Risk of oral and bladder cancers is cut in half by five years.
- The risk of lung cancer is cut in half by 10 years and the risk of multiple tumors complicating treatment is also decreased.
- At 15 years, heart attack risk goes back to normal, the same as a nonsmoker.
Think You Can Quit When You Want?
Many people who fall in this camp probably acknowledge some of the risks, but also enjoy certain aspects of smoking. Here’s why I think the risks of smoking far outweigh the benefits. Smoking:
- Increases the risk of heart disease and stroke two to four times.
- Increases the risk of developing lung cancer 25 times.
- Can lead to chronic lung diseases like COPD that significant diminish life span and quality of life.
- Can cause cancer almost anywhere in your body because of the carcinogens it puts into your blood.
- Decreases fertility in men and women and can cause pregnancy complications.
- Decreases bone mass in women and can lead to osteoporosis.
- Increases the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration that leads to vision loss.
Ready to Quit?