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World No Tobacco Day!

Hey guys 😊

I am a huge huge supporter of efforts to have smoking-free campuses, and would love if all public areas were smoke free, and I’m sure some will disagree, but that is certainly how I feel. World No Tobacco day is an initiative by the WHO, and occurs on the 31st May every year. It aims to raise awareness about the harm that smoking does, either passively (via second-hand smoke - why should I have to suffer the negative effects of smoking when I never chose to smoke?) or actively – the damage smokers suffer from smoking cigarettes themselves.

Tallaght hospital entrance sign. Smoke-free campus.
Tallaght Hospital: Smoke-free Campus (Sadly I still see people smoking outside - hopefully this will improve)

I once had a conversation with a patient in the pharmacy, who has COPD, which is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary (Lung) Disease. You may have heard of emphysema, which falls under the umbrella term of COPD. COPD is a condition where the build-up of pus-filled mucus in the lungs results in a painful cough and agonising breathing difficulties.

Sketch of healthy lungs, to explain lung function.
Our lungs take in oxygen from the air we breathe in, and allow it to reach our bloodstream, where it travels to all of our organs and tissues. The lungs also excrete waste products such as Carbon Dioxide, which is produced by the body.

In this conversation, this patient had been experiencing a flare-up of her COPD and was very breathless and needed to increase her dosage of her medications (such as steroids etc) in order to deal with this flare up. This lady was really acutely ill because of her condition. In the conversation, she said that she still smokes. This absolutely blew my mind. I have to compare it to having a punctured tyre, and trying to solve the problem by pumping the tyre with air. You have not gotten to the root of the problem, which is the puncture, you have just filled the tyre with air, which will temporarily make that flashing light on your dash about tyre pressure go away, but very soon, your tyre will be flat again. Now imagine doing this over and over again, and never thinking to change your tyre, or at least cover the hole. This is exactly what this patient was doing. She can treat the flare up with her steroids and other inhalers, but ultimately, she will just have an even worse flare up the next time, and the decline in her lung function will move along quickly as long as the causative agent is still present. How can you treat something, without first removing the cause? Why would you put a plaster over a bullet wound without removing the bullet? I asked this lady why she never stopped smoking, even though it was really affecting her quality of life, and she told me a few things, which I will include below. First, I will mention that she was in the early stages of COPD and that she had an attitude that the damage was done - although COPD cannot be cured, continuing smoking increases her risk of other illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and will make her decline in lung function occur much faster than if she quit smoking.

What she said: She stopped smoking once before. She noticed that when she stopped smoking, it was harder to walk up the hill to her house, and that she was more out of breath than she was when she was smoking. She also stated that her mother died of lung disease, and she doesn’t mind if that is the way she eventually goes too, if it has to be like that.

How this can be explained:

24 hours after quitting smoking, coughing will actually increase, which is your body’s way of clearing the toxins from the lungs. After 72 hours, the worst is essentially over. She may have also felt nauseous, irritable, anxious and on edge in this period, but after that, everything gets better. This is all the body’s way of clearing the toxins and responding to the lack of something which it is used to having, and this would happen with other addictive substances like caffeine as well.

The second part of what this lady (approx in her 50's I would say by looking at her) said to justify continuing smoking did not make any sense. COPD is an awful way to go. COPD always leads to a clear and steady decline. Deaths from COPD are rising, and yet this incurable lung condition rarely gets a moment in the limelight – it is just as severe, and less curable than certain types of cancer, and yet this lady, and many people in the public, do not think so. Also, she is at high risk of developing lung cancer, in addition to COPD. The definition of COPD is irreversible airway obstruction (compared to asthma, which is defined by reversible airway obstruction – the cause of shortness of breath can be cleared completely with medications, whereas in COPD it cannot). The medications available to treat COPD can help with symptoms but they do not stop COPD or complications of COPD from developing. Risk of death from COPD increases as exacerbations like bronchitis and pneumonia develop. Eventually, breathing is assisted by a ventilator, which the patient cannot go without, and they are unable to leave the hospital/care centre they are in. Hopefully this message can help someone else who thinks the damage is done and it is not worth stopping. It certainly is, you just have to power through the nasty part at the beginning, know your motivation for doing so, and seek help from your doctor or pharmacist.

A study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management looked at 210 patients with advanced stages of cancer, heart failure, and COPD. The patients were evaluated for activities of daily living, anxiety, depression, and quality of life. The study concluded that patients with COPD had experiences similar to those of patients with cancer and heart failure. I do not understand why people feel that because they have smoked, there are no two ways about it, the damage is done. The anonymous patient above had a notion in her head even before her diagnosis of COPD, which is only recent, that the damage was done. If she had stopped before her diagnosis, even though she had smoked for years, she could have stopped just in time before the obstruction to her lungs became irreversible. So even if you are a smoker now, stopping will get you back onto the normal path of lung function. The period of discomfort you may have while you quit is a small price to pay compared to the potential diagnosis of lung disease, and other diseases associated with smoking, including heart disease (smoker’s blood is much thicker, and a smoker has higher blood pressure as well as damage to blood vessels), and cancer.

The benefits of quitting smoking:

Smoking while driving
Does this image look familiar to you?

For you:

When you stop smoking, the benefits are almost instant. After 1 hour, the heart rate drops and returns to normal. Blood pressure begins to drop, and circulation may start to improve.

After 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level (poisonous gas from cigarettes, which also reduces the oxygen level in your body) starts to go down. So this means that after just 12 hours, your carbon monoxide level goes right down to normal level, and oxygen levels go way up. Oxygen in your blood is required for all body processes, and this will help with your energy levels and capacity to do daily tasks, and physical activity.

After 24 hours, the risk of heart attack decreases, because blood pressure begins to drop towards normal level, and also the increased oxygen levels make physical activity easier, which also promotes exercise and healthy habits, which contribute to heart health.

After 48 hours, your taste and smell should. Start to come back! Woohoo! For some long-term smokers the damage to these nerve endings may be. permanent, but for many, these senses will return, and it will be so good!

After 72 hours, the nicotine levels in your body are depleted (unless you are using NRT, which is a great support for people who stop smoking). While it is healthier to have no nicotine in the body, this can be where people will really crave cigarettes and. May give in. Planning your quitting smoking journey, with nicotine replacement therapy incorporated, will help to ensure your quitting is successful.

In as little as 1 month, lung function will start to improve, due to your body clearing toxins (which may cause more coughing in the beginning, as we have discussed).As the lungs heal, and toxins clear, this coughing will subside! Yay! Between 1 and 3 months after quitting, circulation will also improve. So with better breathing and circulation, you will find yourself much more able for physical activity.

It takes about 9 months for the cilia in your lungs to regain their function, which is to move mucus along and out of the lungs, and mucus traps harmful bacteria and viruses, so you will be less prone to respiratory illness (less chest infections! Another yay!)

The benefits continue as the years go on. After 1 year, your risk of heart disease will halve and for example, after 10 years of quitting smoking, risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker. There are many other benefits but I think you can see that while it causes discomfort in the beginning, having a plan of action for this phase, with your pharmacist or doctor (with NRT incorporated), will ensure success. This is the best thing you can decide to do for your health, and once you are past that initial phase you will never look back and regret your decision. It will be the best thing you decided to do.

For others:

If you can’t contribute to world no tobacco day for personal reasons, do it for other people. Young children exposed to second-hand smoke are at risk of the onset and exacerbation of asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis, and frequent lower respiratory infections (chest infections). Globally, an estimated 165,000 children die before the age of 5 of lower respiratory infections caused by second hand smoke. Does that not disgust you? Those children that live on past these lower respiratory infections at a very young age are at higher risk of developing COPD as an adult, even though they have never smoked, and due to no fault of their own. This is so wrong, and if world no tobacco day helps to raise awareness about this, I am all for it. So even if you cannot stop smoking for yourself, do it for the sake of reducing the impact that second-hand smoking has. Do you smoke at the bus stop? If you do, think about the impact this has on other people, who have no choice but to also stand there and breathe it in, as if they walk away they will miss their bus. Do it for those who you are affecting via second-hand smoke.

baby gets lungs checked
Second-hand smoking can cause irreversible damage to a young child's lungs, as their lungs are in their vulnerable development stage, which can cause complications, such as COPD, later in life.

This is an amazing initiative by the HSE which gives you access to one-to-one support from a trained stop-smoking advisor:

Speak to your pharmacist about NRT

Usually this is a 12-week plan. Using a patch alongside lozenges/inhalers/gum can be super effective.

Speak to your doctor:

The doctor may prescribe NRT or other medications if you are really struggling

Know why you are quitting!

Like with anything in life, in order to Have a list of the reasons why you want to quit and make it your phone wallpaper, stick it on your mirror, whatever you have to do to remind yourself of why you are on this journey. If you have your motivation engrained in you, you will not give inwhen you feel a craving

Read a book on it!

Ask in your local library for books on quitting smoking! There are lots out there which have been shown to help with results, do whatever it takes.

That's all for now, I hope this post has shed some light on the effect tobacco and cigarette use is having on people all over the world, and I hope you contribute to world no tobacco day in any way that you can. Feel free to share this post, and to post all about World No Tobacco day. As always I have included some useful links below!


Lauren x

useful links:



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