The hazards of smoking are pretty much known to everyone. Yet the true extent of its damage is perhaps not as widely recognized. For instance, serious ailments like cancer, lung disease, and heart attacks are well known to be worsened by smoking, but the less-talked-about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is actually one of the leading causes of illness and death in Canada.

Approximately 90 percent of all COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoke, ultimately making it preventable in most cases. Even so, large numbers of people with COPD still struggle to quit smoking after having been diagnosed.

The psychology of smoking

While it may sound surprising to some, the fact is that smoking has an incredibly strong physical and psychological hold on the user. “Nicotine actually changes smokers’ brains, causing smokers to have strong cravings when they are unable to smoke,” says Dr. Robert D. Reid, Deputy Chief, Division of Prevention and Rehabilitation, University of Ottawa Heart Institute. “Smoking also becomes tightly embedded into daily routines and social interactions, both of which become potent triggers to light up.”

Though it’s no easy feat, the ability to quit is certainly within everyone’s capabilities. While not impossible to quit without it, the addition of help into the equation can increase one’s chances of successfully quitting smoking. Help is available through your nurse, doctor, pharmacist, or respiratory therapist.

A helping hand

While quitting cigarettes cold turkey might work for some, it’s a decidedly tough road to go down. “You don’t have to quit smoking alone,” says Dr. Andrew McIvor, Department of Medicine, Firestone Institute of Respiratory Health, St. Joseph’s Healthcare. “Research shows that a combination of medication, such as nicotine replacement therapy, and support can double your chances of success.”

“Research shows that a combination f medication such as nicotine replacement therapy, and support can double your chances of success.”

There are currently three approved forms of smoking cessation medication available in Canada: nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which is available over the counter, and two prescription medications.

As with many prescriptions, there are side effects to these drugs that can be discussed with your family doctor, but according to Dr. Reid, “Compared to continued smoking, all forms of smoking cessation are safe, even for smokers with existing respiratory diseases.” These medications work to reduce the severity of tobacco withdrawal symptoms, and in turn give your willpower a greater chance at success.

It’s never too late

“I’ve been smoking for 40 years  —why should I bother quitting now?” is a question you may have heard from a loved one, or perhaps even uttered yourself, but it’s one that has a clear answer.

The fact is that smoking cessation is beneficial at any age. “Even those who quit much later in life still gain benefits,” according to Dr. Reid. “Among smokers who quit at age 65, men gained 1.4–2.0 years of life, while women gained 2.7–3.7 years.”

The hold that cigarettes have on a long-term smoker will obviously be quite strong, but chances are those people are strong too. Older adults have strengths that younger people haven’t acquired yet. Those, coupled with the medical assistance available, make quitting an attainable goal no matter what your age.