Giving up smoking: Recovery begins in twenty minutes

It is alleged that Dr Robert Atkins, the diet guru, weighed just under 260lbs when he died and that Alan Carr, the Stop Smoking Now author, died of lung cancer. Poor examples of what they preached? Not in Alan Carr’s case. He helped (and is still helping) millions to stop smoking through his self-help books. His own habit for many years, coupled with exposure to second-hand smoke in the many cessation clinics he held, are thought to have contributed to the cancer that eventually killed him.

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Change isn't easy

Change is not easy. Giving up something you enjoy, however much of a problem it is causing you or others around you is hard work, and quitting smoking is one of the hardest.  

Actually, no. “Stopping smoking is easy, I’ve done it hundreds of times,” is the oft-heard cry of those who’ve tried and failed. And then we also hear, “Why should I even attempt to quit when I know I’m going to start again?” If the apparent benefits still outweigh the (not-so-apparent) dangers or disadvantages of smoking, it is more than likely we will continue to use.

Smoking is devious

A pack does not make you drunk, stoned, render you unconscious or get you arrested and any real health issues that the government warns us about are “probably years away”. Some also believe that even if they do manage to quit, it will take at least ten years before their lungs recover to the pre-smoking state. So, no great motivation there then.

After numerous attempts to quit, my two-packs-a-day-and-one-for-the-morning colleague checked himself into a private hospital in Hong Kong. He felt he could make no attempt to stop smoking if he was in his own home and only feet from his favourite ashtray. And it worked.

The clean environment (and a rather hefty bill for the week) at least ensured he would not light up in the taxi on the way home. Psychologically, seeing himself as someone who needed medical treatment for something beyond his ability to control was crucially important and gave him both the initial motivation and commitment to continue.

Whilst he was there, he caught the tail-end of a Smoking Cessation Course the hospital had been running and one information sheet, in particular, caught his attention:

  • 20 minutes after your last cigarette: There should be a return to normal of both your blood pressure and the temperature in your hands and feet. Result.
  • 8 hours after your last cigarette: Nicotine and carbon monoxide levels in your body will have dropped dramatically by as much as 50-90%.
  • 12 hours after your last cigarette: Those carbon monoxide and blood oxygen levels will have returned to normal.
  • After 48 hours: Your natural sense of taste and smell will have started to return.
  • After 72 hours: Elvis has left the building. You are now nicotine-free and most of the chemicals which the nicotine had become have left your body.

And the list continued. These encouraging statements provided exactly the motivation my colleague needed at that moment. They weren’t simply promises of a return to health in ten or twenty years’ time, but indicators of an improvement in physical health right here, right now, and only minutes and hours after his last cigarette.

I wonder how many of us who’ve ever thought about quitting were aware of these early benefits. I think this is really important information especially to those who think they may have to wait years in order to experience improvements to their physical health.

But as anyone with an addiction will tell you, it’s not the stopping but the staying stopped that is the hard part, and I’m not here to pretend giving up a strong chemical dependency and a lifelong habit is going to be anywhere near easy. Even with nicotine out of the system the physical and psychological changes can be extremely challenging. But the rewards in terms of better health, well-being and self-esteem can also be immense.

If you are thinking of quitting smoking – go for it. The NHS and others are here to help and personal counselling can be a strong support during the early days, especially in terms of re-enforcing that ever-important motivation.

My smoke-free colleague has just celebrated 32 years.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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