Reduce or stop smoking

Avoid passive smoking

It is not the purpose here to enter into the whether or not to smoke’ debate. There is, however, much medical evidence associating smoking with a number of diseases including lung cancer, heart disease and circulatory problems. Many smoking-related diseases are also cited as being stress-related, so it makes sense not to smoke.

However, some people smoke to cope with their demands and pressures. Simply having a cigarette in their hand can lower reaction to potential stressors which would otherwise cause distress. Who is to say which is worse for these people – the harmful effects of smoking or those of stress? We recommend using healthy coping strategies (as we describe in this blog), rather than an unhealthy (smoking) coping strategy. Research evidence indicates that smoking together with potential stressors can lead to a stress response activation higher than the effects produced by either smoking or stress alone. One reason for this may be that, during the stress response, breathing is more rapid and deeper, thereby allowing more cigarette smoke to enter the lungs than during more relaxed conditions.

Nicotine is the main culprit as far as the stress response is concerned. Again, like caffeine, nicotine stimulates the production of the catecholamines, particularly noradrenaline. This may be a reason why smokers tend to have lower levels of Vitamin C in their body (Vitamin C is used in the production of stress hormones). As we pointed out earlier, lack of Vitamin C may cause the deposition of cholesterol in the arteries and could be part of the reason why smoking is linked to coronary heart disease.

It has been suggested that smokers smoke to maintain high levels of noradrenaline which stimulate the pleasure centres of the brain. Noradrenaline addiction again? Nicotine also stimulates the heart, increasing its rate, and the blood vessels, causing them to constrict. Both these effects can exacerbate heart and circulatory disease problems: coronary heart disease, hypertension and intermittent claudication (cramps in the legs due to poor circulation).

It is not only nicotine that is to blame. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke combines with the oxygen-carrying haemoglobin in the red blood cells, reducing the blood’s oxygen levels. Both carbon monoxide and nicotine cause the blood to clot more easily.

For some people there can be some beneficial effects of smoking. Nicotine, through the effects of noradrenaline, increases alertness and good performance, benefits associated with the fight aspect of the alarm reaction. However, smokers are not usually fighting or exercising, so the benefits of nicotine are not used in an appropriate way.

Recently, much evidence has accumulated to suggest that breathing other people’s cigarette smoke, known as passive smoking, can be harmful to health. So where possible avoid passive smoking. At times this may mean asking someone not to smoke and doing this assertively will avoid unnecessary distress that can easily arise in such situations.

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