The Devastating Effects of Smoking and How to Quit

Smoking harms you (cancer, heart disease) and others (secondhand smoke). It's addictive (worse than cocaine) but you can quit! UNAM Anti-Smoking Clinic offers virtual therapy and meds to help you overcome tobacco dependence and live a smoke-free life

The Devastating Effects of Smoking and How to Quit
Quitting smoking: Breathe easy and reclaim your health.

Cigarette smoke is a toxic blend of over 7,000 chemicals, with a frighteningly high number (around 250) being highly toxic and 60-70 confirmed carcinogens, according to Guadalupe Ponciano Rodríguez, coordinator of the Smoking Research and Prevention Program at UNAM's Faculty of Medicine.

Despite these alarming figures, many people continue to smoke due to its addictive nature. Dr. Ponciano Rodríguez emphasizes that nicotine, a key component of tobacco, is even more addictive than cocaine and heroin. This addiction often overpowers a smoker's willpower, making quitting a challenge that requires professional help.

The Global Toll of Smoking

The World Health Organization (WHO) designated May 31st as World No Tobacco Day to raise awareness about the devastating effects of smoking. Every year, this habit claims the lives of eight million people worldwide. In Mexico alone, over 170 people die daily from smoking-related illnesses.

Dr. Ponciano Rodríguez explains the addictive power of nicotine. When it reaches the brain, it interacts with receptors in the reward area, triggering the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and well-being. This creates a powerful reinforcement cycle, making smokers crave the feeling and return for another cigarette.

The dangers of smoking extend beyond the smoker. "Passive smokers," those exposed to secondhand smoke, are also at risk. In Mexico, a staggering 11 million people are exposed to cigarette smoke at home, highlighting the need for stronger public health measures and self-care awareness.

Smoking is a major risk factor for various life-threatening diseases. Dr. Ponciano Rodríguez lists some of the most concerning ones:

  • Cancers: Especially lung cancer, with eight out of ten cases linked to tobacco use.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): A debilitating lung condition.
  • Cardiovascular diseases: Including heart attacks and strokes.

Established in 2000, the UNAM Anti-Smoking Clinic offers a lifeline to those seeking to quit smoking. It caters to the public, not just the university community.

The clinic's comprehensive approach combines:

  • Pharmacological Therapy: Nicotine replacement therapy with medication, following a thorough evaluation to determine suitability.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: Helps smokers identify and change negative beliefs associated with smoking, such as the misconception that tobacco relieves stress or enhances one's image.

Making Quitting Accessible

The clinic offers a virtual treatment program with 12 weekly Zoom sessions, making it accessible to people nationwide. Additionally, podcasts are used to reinforce therapy concepts at different stages of the program.

The initial eight weeks focus on quitting, while the following four weeks equip participants with relapse prevention strategies, a crucial aspect considering the addictive nature of smoking. Follow-up support is provided for up to twelve months after treatment completion.

The clinic's success rate is noteworthy. In its 24 years of operation, it has helped over 3,600 people overcome tobacco dependence.

The WHO's 2024 World No Tobacco Day theme is "Protect children from the tobacco industry." This is particularly important as e-cigarettes and vaping devices are increasingly targeted towards young people, despite being harmful and containing addictive nicotine. These products are often sold illegally in appealing colors and flavors, making them even more dangerous.

Dr. Ponciano Rodríguez highlights the ongoing challenges. Nearly 4,000 lawsuits have been filed against restaurants and convenience stores for violating smoking bans and displaying cigarette packs, which is against the Mexican Control Law of Tobacco.

Smoking is a major public health concern with devastating consequences. If you or someone you know smokes, there is help available. Clinics like the UNAM Anti-Smoking Clinic offer effective and accessible support to overcome this addiction and live a healthier life. By raising awareness about the dangers of smoking and advocating for stricter regulations, we can create a smoke-free future and protect future generations from the harms of tobacco use.