Tobacco: What you need to know

People use tobacco in a variety of ways—from traditional cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and chewing to e-cigarettes and vaping. But how much do they really know about the product they are introducing into their bodies? Tobacco contains nicotine, an addictive substance that makes it difficult to stop using tobacco. But nicotine isn’t the only troublesome ingredient. Tobacco contains over 7,000 chemicals, more than 70 of which are known to cause cancer. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body.

How Tobacco affects the body

• When nicotine enters the blood, it triggers the adrenal glands to release epinephrine, which stimulates the central nervous system, raises blood pressure, and increases breathing and heart rate.

Smoking tobacco has been linked to:

• a variety of cancers including lung and mouth cancer

• chronic bronchitis

• emphysema

• increased risk of heart disease, which can lead to heart attack or stroke

• cataracts

• type 2 diabetes

• pneumonia

• poor blood circulation to the hands and feet

• rheumatoid arthritis

• weakened immune system

• gum disease

• reduced senses of taste and smell

• irritation of the stomach and intestines

• reduced bone density

• fertility problems

• erectile dysfunction

• Pregnant women who smoke risk miscarriage, stillborn or premature baby, low birth weight infant

• Smoking can also affect a person’s appearance including prematurely aged, wrinkled skin and teeth that are stained yellow or brown

Many of the problems caused by tobacco smoke don’t only affect the people who smoke; the second-hand smoke can also have a significant effect on the health of the people around the smoker. For example, children exposed to second-hand smoke during their first year of life are more likely to have health problems, including sudden unexpected death.

E-Cigarettes and Vaping

Electronic cigarettes—also known as e-cigarettes, e-cigs, and vapes among other names—are battery-powered devices that heat and aerosolize liquids so they can be inhaled in an attempt to recreate the feeling of smoking. The liquids vary in content. Some contain nicotine, THC (the main mind-altering ingredient in marijuana), or flavourings; others contain unknown chemicals or other substances. Some research indicates that vaping nicotine may be somewhat less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes, but that doesn’t mean it is safe; recent reports have linked e-cigarettes and vaping with lung injury and death. And people who smoke or vape may have a higher risk of complications from COVID-19 due to the lung damage they cause.

When it’s time to quit

According to Health Canada, there are five stages to quitting:

Stage 1

Not being ready. During this stage, the person isn’t even thinking about quitting. If challenged about smoking, the person will probably defend the behaviour.

Stage 2

When the person begins to consider quitting but isn’t quite ready to do it. During this stage, a person is more willing to receive information about smoking and thinks about what barriers might stand in the way of quitting.

Stage 3

Preparation. At this point, the smoker has made the decision to quit and may even begin smoking less. This is the time to create a quit plan and begin preparations.

Stage 4

The action stage. This is when people commit to quitting and take action. They may turn to family and friends to provide encouragement. This stage usually lasts up to six months, and it is when the former smoker needs the most help and support.

Stage 5

Maintenance. This is the stage where former smokers have learned to anticipate and deal with the temptation to begin smoking again. They have learned strategies to cope with the urge to smoke and they develop a sense of control and the ability to remain smoke-free.

Developing a quit plan

The first step in developing a successful quit plan is to select a quit date. It should be close enough so that you won’t lose your motivation to quit but far enough in advance to give you time to prepare. There are some things you should do as you wait for your quit date to arrive.

• Write down a clear statement about why you want to stop smoking—for example: “I want to quit smoking to set a good example for my children.” Post it someplace where you will see it to act as a reminder.

• You will have to decide if you want to quit abruptly or to gradually reduce your tobacco use up to your quite date and then stop.

• Another decision you will have to make is whether you want to use a smoking cessation aid such as a nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) product or a prescription medication. While some people try to quit “cold turkey,” only about 6% of these quit attempts are successful. If you decide that an NRT product is right for you, your London Drugs pharmacists can help you select one that will work best for you.

• Dispose of all your tobacco products and ashtrays.

• Prepare for withdrawal. Have a plan for how to deal with withdrawal symptoms. Write down one or two strategies to try to deal with each withdrawal symptom.

• Stock up on oral substitutes such as sugarless gum, hard candies, and raw carrots.

• Set up a support system. Tell your friends, family, and coworkers that you will be quitting, and ask them to encourage you to succeed. Ask the smokers among them not to smoke around you.

• Think about the places and activities that trigger you to want to smoke, and try to make alternate plans. For example, if you always smoke after lunch, try making a phone call or scheduling a quick errand for that time. If going out for a drink with friends triggers your smoking, suggest going to a movie instead.

Benefits of quitting

Quitting may not be easy, but it will be worth it. It is likely that quitting will help you live a longer, healthier life.

• 20 minutes after quitting, your blood pressure starts to lower

• 8 hours after quitting, the level of carbon monoxide (a dangerous chemical) in your blood drops to a normal level

• 24 hours after quitting, your risk of having a heart attack begins to decline

• 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting, the airways in your lungs relax and breathing becomes easier

• 1 to 9 months after quitting, your lungs are stronger and you cough less

• 1 year after quitting, your risk of coronary heart disease drops to half of that of a smoker

• 5 years after quitting, your risk of having a stroke drops to that of a non-smoker

• 10 years after quitting, your risk of dying from lung cancer is much lower, and your risk of getting cancer
of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, or pancreas decreases

• 15 years after quitting, your risk of coronary heart disease is as low as that of a non-smoker

The bottom line

Is it time for you to think about becoming a non-smoker for your health and the health of your family and friends? Speak with your London Drugs pharmacists for more information on smoking cessation. They will be happy to provide tips to help you achieve your goal of becoming smoke-free.

Health Tips Video: Quit Smoking Successfully

London Drugs Pharmacists Can Help You Quit Smoking

We all know smoking is bad for our health, but so many of us still struggle with an addiction to cigarettes. In 2017, Statistics Canada reported that around 5 million people in Canada smoke and of those 5 million, 3.6 million smoke daily.

Smoking Can Cause Serious Health Problems

Smoking is closely linked with many serious health conditions, including:

  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Lung cancer
  • Other forms of cancer, such as mouth and throat cancer
  • Dental problems
  • Fertility issues

Smoking also yellows skin, teeth, and nails.

Second-hand Smoke is Also Dangerous

Smoking isn’t just dangerous to the smoker. Second-hand smoke is also a serious problem. In Canada, over 800 non-smokers die each year from illnesses caused by second-hand smoke. Children are especially at risk, and are more likely to develop asthma, leukemia, respiratory infections, and other conditions if exposed to second-hand smoke.

It’s Never Too Late to Quit Smoking

You might think it’s too hard to quit smoking, or it’s too late if you’ve been smoking for a long time, but it’s never too late to quit. Penny Lehoux, a Registered Pharmacist and Certified Tobacco Educator with London Drugs, says quitting smoking has health benefits at any age, with almost an immediate effect.

If you quit smoking, your health will improve in the following ways:

  • Within 20 minutes, blood pressure lowers
  • Within 24 hours, the risk of heart attack is reduced
  • Within 2 weeks to 3 months, your lungs work better

All of these effects will increase your life expectancy, regardless of how long you’ve been smoking or when you quit.

We Can Support Your Efforts to Quit Smoking

There are many types of smoking cessation aids that may help you on your journey to quit smoking, such as nicotine replacements to help with nicotine cravings and prescription medications that can reduce the physical effects of addiction.

There is also lots of support available to people who want to stop smoking via community groups, counselling, and online tools. Check out Alberta Quits in AB and QuitNow in BC.

If you want to speak to someone directly, London Drugs offers consultations with pharmacists to give you tips and advice on how to reduce your tobacco consumption. They’ll work with you on making a plan to quit, potentially including prescription medication if it makes sense for you.

Visit or call your local London Drugs to book an appointment with a Certified Tobacco Educator and make sure to bring any current medications, over-the-counter drugs, or herbal remedies with you to your appointment—this will help your pharmacist make your personalized smoking cessation plan.

For more tips on how to quit smoking, visit your local London Drugs and speak to a Certified Tobacco Educator, or visit online.

Dr Art Hister – It’s Never Too Late to Change

One of the most important lessons I try to leave with my audiences, especially when I’m addressing a group of seniors, is this: it’s never too late to change and to start doing healthy lifestyle things you’ve long neglected or even never done.

So even when you get into your nineties – and the great thing is that the over-80 demographic is probably the quickest-growing demographic in Canada – there is always something more you can do to make your life more pleasant, to give you more energy, to help you cope with the inevitable conditions that accompany aging, to reduce your risk of illness, to keep your brain sharper, and even perhaps to prolong your life. Although, if you are going to make a change, one other bit of advice: go about it slowly because there’s really no rush.

And to illustrate the truth of that advice, that is, that it really is never too late to make healthy lifestyle changes, a study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston followed 2231 patients who had what is called left ventricular (LV) dysfunction, that is, in these people, the left ventricle of the heart (the bearing chamber that sends blood into the rest of the body) wasn’t working properly any more as a result of a heart attack.

Of these people, 463 had been smokers at the time of their heart attack, and although most of us would think that none of them would continue to smoke after suffering a heart attack, we know from many studies that a majority of smokers continue to smoke after a heart attack, which was the case in this study, too: 268 of these people continued to smoke.

At the end of 5 years, comparing the smokers with the ones who’d quit, 15 % of the non-smokers had had a 2nd heart attack compared to 23 % of the smokers.

So repeat after me: it’s never too late to quit, to start doing more exercise, to eat better, etc. It just takes will.