The rate of smoking among Australian adolescents, statistically defined as those aged between 12 and 17 years, has hit a record low, fueling hopes of a smoke-free generation. Twenty years ago, 23.5% of 12- to 17-year-olds smoked cigarettes, and the average age of “initiation” of smoking was 14. Now only 6.7% of youth in this age bracket smoke, with smokers beginning at age 16 on average.
New policies such as increased cigarette prices, plain packaging, and expansion of smoke-free areas are believed to be behind this change. However, it may also be because of changing attitudes among teenagers. Supervisors of events for school graduates have noted that there is a trend of young people favoring healthier options, such as fresh juices over alcohol. Either way, this may save billions of dollars in economic costs and improve quality of life as well as lengthen the lives of many.
In the U.K., tobacco smoking causes 19% of cancer cases, 18% of all deaths, and 27% of cancer deaths. Conversely, alcohol causes only 4% of cancer cases despite wider use and status as an intoxicant.
Tips to Help You Quit Smoking
So how can those who already smoke improve their ability to quit successfully? One often cost-free tool smokers can use is short bouts of exercise. A study of 84 participants who had abstained from smoking for 11-14 hours involved them either doing 5 minutes of light exercise, 5 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, or no exercise, in order to measure effects on withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
Moderate exercise was found to significantly reduce cravings for up to 5 minutes after exercise and to significantly cut stress, restlessness, and poor concentration at 5 and 10 minutes after exercise. In another study, 30 minutes of aerobic exercise or Hatha yoga significantly reduced cravings, as shown by participants’ responses 20 minutes post-exercise. Obviously the results aren’t huge, but exercise is great for overall health – so do it up!
Acupuncture has also been used by patients wishing to give up smoking, though mixed results abound within studies. However, the most convincing results come from trials in which patients were not asked to give up smoking; they were told that they were receiving treatment for other purposes. When auricular (ear) and whole body acupuncture were compared, 70% of the auricular and 11% of the whole body acupuncture recipients reduced cigarette use by over half.
In another study, acupuncture was found to reduce cotinine and thiocyanate levels in comparison to controls.
Overall, the WHO has listed tobacco dependence as a condition for which the efficacy of acupuncture has been shown, but further proof is needed to include it in the ranks of acupuncture treatments for headache, depression, and induction of labor.
Herbs for Releasing Greater Amounts of Neurotransmitters
When tobacco is smoked and nicotine crosses the blood-brain barrier, it stimulates the release of greater amounts of some neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, GABA, and norepinephrine. This mimics the action of some antidepressants, and fortunately there are many herbal medicines that are already in use for such conditions. These include St. John’s wort, withania, and rhodiola; but it’s best to visit a qualified naturopath who can provide an individualized herbal formula.
Nutrients such as magnesium, B vitamins, and some amino acids (tryptophan, e.g.) are needed to synthesize these neurotransmitters too, so including more sources of these in your diet or supplementing with them may also aid in quitting smoking.
You can quit smoking without pharmaceutical drugs! However, professional assistance is recommended to find the best treatment plan for you as an individual.