Tobacco use harms almost every organ in the body. It can lead to cancers[LJ1] , heart disease[LJ2] , lung disease[LJ3] and diabetes[LJ4] . Tobacco also impacts your reproductive system[LJ5] ; it can cause erectile dysfunction in men as young as 20 and reduces fertility in men and women.
E-cigarettes and vaping products are also tobacco products. Using these products exposes you to nicotine and other harmful chemicals, including heavy metals like lead and nickel and cancer-causing chemicals called TSNAs (Tobacco-specific nitrosamines). The number and type of chemicals in vapes may be different from the ones found in tobacco smoke from cigarettes, cigars and pipes, but that does not mean that they are safer! Many of these chemicals have never been studied before in terms of being inhaled, so we don’t know what long-term effects they have on the body. Remember, there was a time in our history when people thought that cigarettes were safe and even healthy – we just don’t know yet how e-cigarettes might harm us.
Being around secondhand smoke and vape is also harmful to your health because you are still breathing in the harmful chemicals found in smoke and vape. Smoking /vaping or being around smoke/vape makes you more likely to get the flu or other respiratory infections like pneumonia by harming your lungs’ immune system.
Nicotine is very addictive and hard to quit – but it can be done! The good news is that there is free support and resources to help quit for good. The benefits of quitting tobacco begin almost immediately and continue for the rest of your life!
Just like any break-up, leaving tobacco behind can be tough. But ultimately, ending your relationship with tobacco will improve your physical and mental health as well as your quality of life. Here are some helpful tips for calling it quits with tobacco:
- Take advantage of free resources to help you quit, such as Quitlines, websites and apps. Find links to some of these helpful resources at the end of this post!
- Plan for a quit date – give yourself a few days or up to a couple weeks to prepare and build skills to help you quit successfully. Circle the date on the calendar.
- Let friends and family know that you are breaking up with tobacco. This can seem scary, but it helps to have loved ones to support you and to be there to hold you to your goal.
- Talk to your doctor or health care provider about medications that can help you quit tobacco. Most insurance plans cover these medications, and they will increase your chances of leaving tobacco behind for good, and can help you manage symptoms of nicotine withdrawal like headache, irritability, and fatigue.
- In the days leading up to your quit date, notice when, where and why you use tobacco. Take notes each time you use tobacco about your environment, your thoughts and your feelings. You will become more aware of what places, people, times, and feelings make you want to use tobacco. Once you understand when, where and why you usually use tobacco, you can make decisions about how to avoid or change those situations that usually make you crave nicotine and come up with alternative activities or responses.
- When your quit date comes, throw out all your tobacco products. You will have cravings and temptations, so you want to make it easier for yourself to deny those urges! Think of it as deleting or blocking your ex’s number. Celebrate that you are taking this step to a healthier you!
- Nicotine causes changes to
your brain – this is what makes it so addictive! Your brain and your body will
begin to heal itself once you quit, but healing is not always pleasant! Think
about when you have a great workout and your muscles are sore the next day –
they are sore because they are healing from the workout and getting stronger in
the process! You will experience some symptoms of withdrawal, but these are
signs that your brain and body are healing and will get better over time. Some
common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Cough, sore throat, runny nose – you might feel like you have a cold when you quit tobacco. This is because your lungs are healing and getting rid of the harmful chemicals and mucus caused by tobacco. These symptoms are usually better in a few days. Have cough drops, lozenges or gum handy to help with throat irritation and cough.
- Headaches and dizziness– many people experience headaches when they quit tobacco, possibly because of increased blood flow to the brain (ultimately a good thing!) You might also feel dizzy at times because your brain is getting more oxygen! As your brain and body get used to going without nicotine, these headaches go away, usually after no more than a week. Dizziness should last only a couple days.
- Irritability and grumpy mood – tobacco causes chemical changes in your brain, so the brain starts to rely on nicotine to produce positive brain chemicals. When you take away the nicotine, the brain takes some time to learn how to get the levels right. You might be irritable, grumpy and snappy. Ask your family and friends to be patient with you, and remind yourself that this won’t last forever! Be mindful of your mood and be kind to yourself – breaking up is hard to do!
- Feeling tired or fatigued– nicotine is a stimulant like caffeine. When you stop using tobacco, you might feel tired at first but this will get better over time – after about 2 weeks to a month, your energy will increase for good! To get through this time, don’t push yourself too hard and take naps if you can.
- Trouble concentrating or focusing – If you’re used to having coffee every morning, you might notice that it’s hard to focus when you don’t get that morning caffeine; the same thing can happen with nicotine, when your brain starts to rely on it. Your concentration and focus will get better within a few weeks as your brain gets used to working without nicotine. If you can, be easy with yourself during this time by taking on a lighter load at home or work and avoiding extra stress.
- Trouble Sleeping – nicotine changes brain wave patterns that impact how well you sleep. As your brain gets used to going without nicotine, you’ll start to sleep better, eventually feeling more well-rested than when you were using tobacco. Trouble sleeping usually lasts for about a week after quitting. To help you get some rest, try to avoid caffeine later in the day and focus on relaxing before going to bed – try a warm bath, herbal tea, quiet stretching, reading, or meditating. Limiting screen time for an hour or two before bedtime can also help!
- Increased appetite – there are a couple of reasons why quitting tobacco can increase your appetite. First, nicotine is a stimulant that can keep you from feeling hungry so you go longer without eating even when your body needs energy. Second, cravings for tobacco can sometimes feel like hunger pangs. When you feel hungry, first try drinking water or a low-calorie drink; if this doesn’t help your hunger, try a low-calorie snack. It’s important to plan ahead and have some healthy snacks on-hand before you quit. Feeling hungry can continue for several weeks after quitting tobacco and you may gain some weight after quitting. Be kind to yourself and remember while your body might be changing, quitting tobacco is one of the BEST things you can do for the health of your body and brain. Eating well and moving are healthy ways to maintain your weight, while tobacco use is very harmful.
- Cravings for tobacco – because nicotine is addictive, you will have cravings for tobacco. Cravings are more frequent when you first quit, but get better the longer you stay tobacco-free. You still may crave tobacco months or years after quitting, but it will happen much less often. It’s’ important to remember that each craving will last for a few minutes, so the best thing to do is wait for the urge to use tobacco to pass. When cravings strike, it’s helpful to do something to distract yourself. Think of some activities ahead of time that you can do to distract yourself – make a list and have it handy so that when you feel that urge you can pick something off the list. The more you deny your cravings, the easier it will be to keep denying them! Every time you defeat a craving, find some way to celebrate – do a little dance, say “woo-hoo” out loud, or pat yourself on the back – you did it!
What happens if you start using tobacco again? We all know a friend who keeps getting back together with a partner they’ve broken up with – and sometimes we just can’t understand why! But, change can be really hard, and sometimes we return to someone or something that isn’t good for us because it’s a comfort that we know and are used to. If you start using tobacco again, remember that you can quit again! You are not a failure. It takes many people several tries to leave tobacco behind for good. Each time you break up with tobacco, you learn something new about yourself and what strategies work or don’t work for you. Eventually you will have all the tools you need to leave that toxic relationship with tobacco behind forever!
Helpful Resources and Links to Read More:
Smoke Free.gov – Information, tools, tips, tricks and other resources!
Find your state’s tobacco Quitline. The Quitline is a free service that can help you find resources and products to quit. Quitlines connect you with trained QuitCoaches who can help you make your plan to break up with tobacco whether you smoke, vape or use smokeless tobacco products
BecomeAnEx – A free, online quit smoking plan and online community of thousands of smokers and ex-smokers. Following the BecomeAnEx quit plan can increase your chances of quitting by 4 times!
The Truth – Learn the truth about tobacco and the manipulative practices of the tobacco industry.
Know the Risks – E-Cigarettes – Vapes are NOT safer. Learn about the vaping epidemic and why so many young adults are becoming addicted to nicotine without touching a cigarette.