Frequently Asked Questions

WHY IS TOBACCO HIGHLY ADDICTIVE?

Smoking is an addiction. Tobacco products contain nicotine, a highly addictive chemical found naturally in tobacco plants. Nicotine addiction has two components: physical and psychological. Research suggests that children and teens may be especially sensitive to nicotine, making it easier for them to become addicted. The younger the smoker, the more likely he or she is to become addicted. In fact, about three out of four high school smokers will become adult smokers. Physical impact of nicotine When a person smokes a cigarette or cigar, uses smokeless tobacco or an electronic nicotine delivery system (e-cigarettes), nicotine travels to the brain within seconds, where it quickly binds to nicotine receptors and eventually leads to a release of dopamine in the pleasure pathways of the brain. Once this happens, the smoker typically begins experiencing feelings of pleasure and calmness. However, these effects wear off soon, triggering an urge to use tobacco again so that the smoker can get those same feelings. With continued tobacco use, the brain may adapt by increasing its number of nicotine receptors, and the smoker will gradually need even more nicotine to feel satisfied. Psychological impact of nicotine The psychological addiction develops based on the connection between tobacco use and the activities a person engages in while using tobacco. For example, if a smoker enjoys coffee and a cigarette every morning for years, the two habits are likely linked in the brain, so even when the person no longer smokes, future cups of coffee may trigger an urge. After months or years of using tobacco, it may become part of a daily routine where the smoker is not even making a conscious decision to use tobacco.

I SMOKE JUST A FEW CIGARETTES A DAY OR NOT EVERY DAY. ARE MY HEALTH RISKS LOWER THAN THOSE OF A PERSON WHO SMOKES MORE OFTEN?

Although people who smoke casually may not experience nicotine addiction the same way as people who smoke more regularly, the health risks associated with smoking are still present. With each puff you ingest dangerous substances, many of which are toxic or cause cancer. Social smokers may eventually become regular, daily smokers if their patterns of smoking continue. No matter how often you smoke, the best thing to do for your health is to quit.

WHAT ARE EFFECTIVE METHODS FOR QUITTING SMOKING?

You can quit smoking! Every year, more than 1 million people quit smoking for good. When you quit smoking, you immediately gain health benefits such as improved lung function, improved circulation and a new confidence to live tobacco-free. RHA provides a number of resources to assist you in quitting. And you don’t have to quit alone. Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence: 2008 Update, a clinical practice guideline published by the U.S. Public Health Service, lists counseling, social support and quit smoking medications as scientifically proven to help people quit smoking for good. Counseling and quit smoking medication, when used in combination, are even more effective than either of them taken alone. There are multiple counseling options available, including group and one-on-one programs like RHA's Courage to Quit®and online and telephone support. Each will help you to address the psychological addiction to nicotine by giving you the tools and skills to become smoke-free. Quit smoking medication can take the form of nicotine replacement therapy (patch, gum, lozenge, inhaler, nasal spray) or non-nicotine medications (Bupropion, Varenicline). Quit smoking medications reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings for cigarettes. Although you may have heard that e-cigarettes, laser therapy, acupuncture and hypnosis will help you quit smoking, these are not evidence-based methods to quit smoking.

WHAT MEDICATIONS ARE PROVEN TO HELP PEOPLE QUIT SMOKING?

Seven first-line medications have been approved by the FDA for quitting smoking. These are:
  • Bupropion (Zyban®, Wellbutrin SR®)
  • Varenicline (Chantix®)
  • Nicotine patch
  • Nicotine gum
  • Nicotine lozenge
  • Nicotine inhaler
  • Nicotine nasal spray
Some of these quit smoking medications are available over the counter, and others require a prescription. Because medications may not be appropriate for adolescents, women who are pregnant, people who do not smoke regularly, and people with certain medical histories, it is important that you speak with a health care provider about what is best for you. For more information about quit smoking medications, visit the Quit Smoking section of our Library.

I AM TRYING TO QUIT SMOKING. DO YOU HAVE ANY SUGGESTIONS?

Yes! Develop a quit plan and gather plenty of support to help you succeed in your quit effort. Consider the following free or low-cost resources to help you reach your smoke-free goals. RHA's list of 10 quit tips can help you get started. Esta lista está disponible en español. Courage to Quit® is RHA’s evidence-based adult smoking cessation program. Led by trained program leaders, Courage to Quit® offers information, skill-building, and support. Find a Courage to Quit® program near you. BecomeAnEx.org is a free, online program that helps you re-learn life without cigarettes through personalized quit plans and support from smokers and ex-smokers. Illinois Tobacco Quitline is a statewide telephone helpline staffed by trained counselors who can provide information about quitting and can work with you to develop a customized quit smoking plan. Call the Illinois Tobacco Quitline at 1-866-QUIT-YES. If you live outside Illinois, call the National Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

HOW SOON WILL I START SEEING HEALTH IMPROVEMENTS AFTER I QUIT SMOKING?

Within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your blood pressure and pulse rate will drop to a normal level. In addition, body temperature in your hands and feet increases to normal. Soon after, you’ll find that your lung capacity has improved, physical activity is easier, and you have more energy. Over time, you will reduce your risk of heart disease, COPD, emphysema and many cancers. Check out RHA's Health Benefits of Quitting for additional information.

WHAT IS NICOTINE WITHDRAWAL? HOW LONG DOES IT LAST?

When you quit smoking, your body goes through several changes (i.e. withdrawal). Everyone is different; some people experience severe withdrawal symptoms and some people experience few if any symptoms. As long as you stay smoke-free, these symptoms will disappear over time. Withdrawal symptoms may include cough, headache, nausea, gas, constipation or indigestion, fatigue or trouble sleeping, sore throat or gums, dry mouth or runny nose, sad mood, irritability, or trouble concentrating. You can use nicotine replacement therapy and other quit smoking medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms. It is also important to practice good self-care when you quit smoking. Get plenty of rest, drink water, do things to relax, eat balanced meals, etc.

IF I QUIT SMOKING, WILL I GAIN WEIGHT?

Nicotine is a stimulant that sometimes decreases appetite. So after you quit, your metabolism may slow down. Cigarettes may also take the place of food in your daily routine. Because of these factors, some people gain up to 10 pounds when they quit smoking, some people gain more, and some do not gain any weight at all. Even if you gain some weight, your health risks as a non-smoker are lower than the risks you would face if you continued smoking. You can plan to counter these changes in your body with increased physical activity – which is made easier by quitting smoking! – and nutritious food choices, particularly if you are using food to manage cigarette cravings.

I HAVE SMOKED FOR YEARS, IS IT TOO LATE TO STOP?

It is never too late to stop smoking! Even lifelong smokers can add years to their lives by quitting. Beyond that, quitting smoking can save you money and can greatly improve the overall quality of your life.

ARE THE RESULTS OF COURAGE TO QUIT® OR OTHER TOBACCO CESSATION PROGRAMS GUARANTEED?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to quitting smoking. In fact, for many people, it is the hardest thing they will do in their lifetimes. It may even require multiple quit smoking attempts before you are successful. However, using a combination of counseling and quit smoking medications can double or triple your chances of quitting smoking permanently. Learn more about RHA's Courage to Quit® and visit the Quitting Smoking and Tobacco sections of our Library for more resources.