Smoking is a major risk factor for heart attacks and stroke, is the leading cause of lung cancer, and is related to many other health issues. Smoking is estimated to kill 5,000 New Zealanders each year. Smoking kills one in every two regular smokers. If it doesn’t kill you, it will damage your health.
Non-smokers are also at risk. An estimated 350 New Zealanders die each year due to exposure to "second-hand" smoke (also known as passive smoking).
Why quit smoking?
Simply put, you will probably live longer and enjoy much better health.
It is never too late to stop smoking because the body begins to repair itself as soon as the organ-damaging and cancer-causing chemicals present in tobacco smoke are removed.
Studies demonstrate that a person's risk of cardiovascular disease starts to decline soon after they stop smoking. New Zealand medical guidelines indicate the risk of heart attack or stroke is greatly reduced within 1 year of stopping, and reaches that of a non-smoker within 3–5 years.
Lung cancer risk can also be reversed by stopping smoking, but it takes a lot longer – perhaps 10–15 years.
How does smoking cause illness?
Smoking is strongly linked to atherosclerosis (fatty build-up in the arteries, which restricts blood flow around your body) which is a major cause of cardiovascular diseases. It does this by damaging blood vessels, reducing “good” blood cholesterol, which transports fat away from artery walls, and worsening already high blood pressure.
Smoking raises blood glucose (sugar) levels, which makes diabetes harder to control. People with diabetes who smoke have a greatly elevated risk of heart attack and other complications associated with diabetes.
In relation to lung and other cancers, cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) in tobacco cause damage to cells in the smoker’s body that, over time, can become cancerous. More than 60 carcinogens have been identified in cigarette smoke.
Smoking has negative effects inside the mouth, In addition to increasing the risk of oral and throat cancer, smoking causes gum disease, loss of taste, stained teeth, and bad breath.
It is not just a smoker’s health that can deteriorate as a result of smoking. A smoker’s children are more likely to get pneumonia or bronchitis and develop asthma due to exposure to second-hand smoke. They also have a higher risk of getting glue ear, other middle ear infections and meningococcal disease. And they’re more likely to follow their parent’s example and become smokers themselves.
Quitline is a free service that supports New Zealanders as they quit smoking. Quitline outlines five steps that will increase a smoker’s chance of kicking their addiction:
- Step 1 – Set a quit date. Tell family and friends you intend to quit and be ready to combat cravings.
- Step 2 – Know your goals and reasons for quitting. Write a list – health, money, impact on others.
- Step 3 – Know your smoking triggers – addiction, habits, emotions.
- Step 4 – Stop smoking medicines. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) available as patches, gum, or lozenges used for eight weeks can double your chance of quitting and the cost is subsidised. NRT is available without a prescription. Prescription stop smoking medications that work by reducing the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal or the urge to smoke are also available to support quitting.
- Step 5 - Stay quit. Develop strategies for not smoking. Use the 4Ds to deal with cravings: delay, deep breathe, do something else, drink water.
Vaping is not a harmless alternative to smoking but it is less harmful than smoking. Vaping may be a good option for you if other ways to quit smoking (patches, gum, etc) have not helped you quit smoking completely. Health authorities agree the best thing you can do for your health is to be smoke and vape free.
Further information and support
For 24/7 personal support: call 0800 778 778 or text 4006.
Or visit www.quit.org.nz.
Cancer Society (2022). Smokefree (Web Page). Wellington: Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org.nz/cancer/reduce-your-risk-of-cancer/smokefree/ [Accessed: 07/02/23]
Ministry of Health (2023). Health effects of smoking (Web Page). Wellington: New Zealand Government Ministry of Health. https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/healthy-living/addictions/quitting-smoking/health-effects-smoking [Accessed: 07/02/23]
Ministry of Health (2021). Quitting smoking (Web Page). Wellington: New Zealand Government
Ministry of Health. https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/healthy-living/addictions/quitting-smoking [Accessed: 07/02/23]
New Zealand Guidelines Group (2003). Evidence-based best practice guideline: The assessment and management of cardiovascular risk (PDF). Wellington: New Zealand Guidelines Group. https://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/publications/cvd_risk_full.pdf
Reviewed: February 2023