Benefits of Smoking Cessation and the Role of Health Professionals
Published: 30 March 2020
Published: 30 March 2020
With tobacco involved in the deaths of more than eight million people globally, every year (WHO 2019), health professionals play an essential role in supporting people with cessation.
In Australia, tobacco smoking is a major contributor to preventable illness and death. In fact, it is estimated to contribute to the deaths of almost 19,000 Australians every year (ABS 2019).
Smoking cessation, the process of quitting smoking, is imperative to the health of every individual who smokes. Regardless of age or smoking-related conditions that have already developed, there are immediate and long-term health benefits to be gained by quitting (Cancer Council 2019).
Cessation is a difficult process due to the addictive property of nicotine in cigarettes. Dependence is a chronic condition and those who smoke will experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to abstain.
It’s important for anyone embarking on the cessation journey to remember that only a minority of initial cessation attempts are successful, with the average 40-year-old who smokes having made about 20 attempts on average (RACGP 2019). Therefore, a failed first attempt is not necessarily the end, but indeed an important first step on the road to recovery.
The most effective way to attempt cessation is through a combination of behavioural support and medication (RACGP 2019.).
Tobacco smoking contributes to the risk of health issues including but not limited to heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, renal disease, eye disease and respiratory conditions (ABS 2019).
Of these conditions, cancer is the largest cause of smoking-related death and illness, with about 22% of the cancer burden attributed to smoking. There are over 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, more than 70 of which are carcinogens (AIHW 2018; 2020).
In 2015, smoking was also attributed to:
As well as being directly involved in numerous diseases and health problems, smoking is also a risk factor for a myriad of other conditions including Crohn’s disease, back pain, sleep disorders and autoimmune diseases (Quit n.d.).
It is also worth noting that people who smoke have a significantly greater vulnerability to COVID-19. This is because smoking may cause lung disease or reduced lung capacity, which increases the risk of serious illness. Furthermore, cigarettes or fingers could be contaminated, resulting in possible transmission of the virus during the act of smoking (WHO 2020).
Smoking during pregnancy can have serious adverse effects on the fetus and contribute to the risk of pregnancy complications (RACGP 2019). These consequences include:
In addition to the potential long-term consequences for the smoker outlined above, smoking can also cause serious harm to others who breathe in the smoke second-hand and may exacerbate other conditions they may have (Better Health Channel 2019).
Second-hand smoke increases the risk of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30%, even if that individual has never smoked themselves. Infants and children are particularly susceptible to suffering adverse effects from second-hand smoke (CDC 2020).
About 1.2 million deaths every year can be attributed to passive smoking (RACGP 2019).
Quitting has immediate effects, and will continue to progressively improve the individual’s health as time goes on (Cancer Council 2019).
(Australian Government Department of Health 2019)
Additionally, evidence shows that quitting may increase an individual’s life expectancy by about 3 to 10 years, depending on their smoking habits and age at cessation. Those who quit before the age of 30 may avoid excess risk of smoking-related death entirely (Cancer Council Victoria 2016).
Cessation will also protect others from the detrimental effects of cigarette smoke.
Healthcare professionals of all kinds play a crucial role in supporting cessation. They should identify clients who smoke and offer advice, treatment or referral for cessation at every opportunity, especially during periods where their smoking habits are particularly problematic (e.g. if they present with smoking-related diseases, if they are hospitalised or if they are pregnant) (RACGP 2019).
The 5As are Australian guidelines for health professionals to address and assist with smoking cessation (RACGP 2019).
Health professionals should recommend pharmacotherapy to all clients with nicotine dependence in addition to behavioural support. Medications used to support cessation are proven to be effective (RACGP 2019).
Refer to the RACGP’s guide for more information on supporting a person’s smoking cessation.
Ausmed’s Editorial team is committed to providing high-quality and thoroughly researched content to our readers, free of any commercial bias or conflict of interest. All articles are developed in consultation with healthcare professionals and peer reviewed where necessary, undergoing a yearly review to ensure all healthcare information is kept up to date. See Educator Profile