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Alternatives to Smoking

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  • Rates of cigarette smoking are down in teens, but more youth are turning to flavored “little” cigars and e-cigarettes instead
  • If you quit smoking, your risk of dying from heart-related problems may return to that of a non-smoker within eight years, even if you quit when you’re over 65 years old
  • I recommend getting healthy first – via diet, exercise, and stress relief – before you attempt quitting smoking
  • Exercise, listening to music, distraction, and keeping healthful snacks on hand can make it easier to quit when the time comes
 

6 Things to Do Instead of Smoking

December 02, 2013 | 91,552 views
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By Dr. Mercola

If you're a current smoker, the research suggests that no matter what your age, quitting can be extremely beneficial. For instance, if you quit smoking before the age of 40, more than 90 percent of the excess mortality caused by continuing smoking may be avoided.1

If you quit before the age of 30, the benefit is even more dramatic, with 97 percent of excess mortality vanishing. However, even if you quit later in life, there are still impressive benefits.

New research showed that smokers over 65 who quit smoking may reduce their risk of dying from heart-related problems to that of a non-smoker within just eight years.2

Six Things to Do Instead of Smoking

If you're thinking of quitting, read below for the three steps you should take first. But when you're ready, the following strategies, recently posted by TIME,3 may help, especially in the early days and hours:

  • Chew carrots: A healthy snack can help you beat nicotine cravings (and the urge to bring something to your mouth). Carrots, celery, radishes, bell pepper slices, and other fresh veggies would all work for this purpose.
  • Distract yourself: Surround yourself with people who are supportive of your choice to quit and who can help take your mind off of cravings.
  • "Snap" your cravings away: Wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it if you're considering giving in to a craving. The sting will distract you and give you a moment to remember all of the reasons why you're quitting.
  • Exercise: Exercise helps fight addictions by releasing natural feel-good endorphins and easing stress and anxiety.
  • Take a shower: This is another calming distraction, plus when you feel clean and fresh, you'll be less likely to want to light up.
  • Listen to music: Take your mind off of cravings with your favorite relaxing tunes, or put on an upbeat tune and dance to celebrate your new "smoke-free" self.

Cigarette Smoking Causes One of Every Five Deaths in the US

Nearly 44 million US adults (or 19 percent) smoke cigarettes, and cigarette smoking accounts for one of every five deaths in the US each year, which adds up to more than 440,000 deaths annually.4 The good news is that this is more than half that of what it was fifty years ago.

While smoking is conventionally described as a leading cause of preventable death, it actually pales in comparison to the excessive use of sugar and relying on the conventional health care system for health challenges. Both of these behaviors are far more deadly than smoking.

Still, the risks of smoking are well established and it's certainly better off avoided. If you decide to quit, I believe it's wise to get healthy first so you don't turn to another vice, like sugar, as a substitute for cigarettes. When you do quit, however, you'll experience certain benefits right away and others in the years that follow:5

  • Within 20 minutes after quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure drop
  • 12 hours after quitting, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal
  • Within three months after quitting, your lung function increases
  • Within nine months after quitting, coughing and shortness of breath decrease
  • Within one year after quitting, heart disease risk drops and within five years related cancer risks are cut in half

Tobacco Companies Luring Teens with Candy-Flavored Cigars

Most flavored cigarettes have been banned since 2009, largely because they lured in children with candy- or fruit-like tastes. Flavored cigars, however, are still allowed and the tobacco industry has cleverly made flavored cigars that are thin in shape so they look just like cigarettes. In the last 12 years, sales of flavored cigars have jumped from $6 billion to $13 billion,6 and teens, in particular, are drawn to them.

A report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently showed that more than two-fifths of middle and high school students who smoke use flavored little cigars or flavored (menthol) cigarettes7 -- and nearly 60 percent are not thinking about quitting.

Teens Also Turning to E-Cigarettes

While rates of cigarette smoking in teens have gone down since 2011, use of other tobacco products have increased notably. Among them, increasing numbers of teens are using hookahs (also known as water pipes) and electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), likely because they believe them to be a safer alternative to cigarettes.

According to the CDC's 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey,8 2.8 percent of high school students tried e-cigarettes in 2012, compared to 1.5 percent in 2011. E-cigarettes are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and they are currently legal to sell to minors on a federal level (certain states and cities have already banned such sales, however).

Aside from the fact that smoking electronic cigarettes may tempt youth to try the real thing next, they also pose unique risks in and of themselves (not the least of which is exposure to nicotine). When you take a puff of an electronic cigarette a battery heats up a liquid that contains a flavoring (such as tobacco, menthol, cherry, vanilla, or java), a humectant (typically propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin) and, sometimes, nicotine.

As you inhale, you get a "dose" of flavored nicotine without the chemicals typically produced from burning tobacco. However, the FDA has already detected a potentially deadly antifreeze chemical called diethylene glycol in an electronic cigarette cartridge,9 along with tobacco-specific nitrosamines, which are linked to cancer.

Research has also shown that the aerosol from a leading manufacturer of electronic cigarettes contains metals including tin, copper, nickel, and silver, silicate beads and nanoparticles,10 with unknown but likely deleterious health consequences.

Do These Three Steps Before You Quit

Research shows that two-thirds to three-quarters of ex-smokers stop unaided,11 so if you're thinking of quitting try going cold turkey. However, I believe the "secret" is to get healthy first, which will make quitting all that much easier.

Exercising is part and parcel of this plan, and as research shows people who engage in regular strength training double their success rate at quitting smoking compared to those who don't exercise.12 Healthy eating is another crucial aspect that can't be ignored. In short, if you want to quit, here are the three basic tips to get you started:

  1. Read through my comprehensive free nutrition plan to get started eating right, which will teach you about intermittent fasting and other tools to get you healthy BEFORE you quit, radically increasing your likelihood of successfully quitting.
  2. Develop a well-rounded exercise regimen. It is your ally to fighting disease and quitting smoking. Strength training is an important part, but also remember to incorporate high-intensity interval exercises like Peak Fitness, core-strengthening exercises, aerobics, and stretching.
  3. Find a healthy emotional outlet. Many people use exercise, meditation, or relaxation techniques for this, and these are all great. I also recommend incorporating the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), as this can help clear out emotional blockages from your system (some of which you might not even realize are there), thus restoring your mind and body's balance and helping you break the addiction and avoid cravings.

If you smoke, I do advise quitting. You should also know about astaxanthin, which has been found to help prevent oxidative damage in those who smoke.13 This might be one way to at least help lessen some of the smoking-related damage for those who are unwilling or unable to quit.

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