Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Mark Morgan.

Toby Turner, an office manager from St. Boniface, MB, is looking forward to Thanksgiving 2018. “The Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend 10 years ago – that’s when I was able to butt out for the last time. I remember my last cigarette. I leaned against the hood of my daughter’s car in the driveway, enjoying one last puff while the turkey was being carved.”

Turner, now 58, a former “pack-a-day smoker,” didn’t stop smoking on her first attempt: “I tried numerous times between my late 30s and late 40s without success. As I approached 50, I said to myself, ‘What’s the point now? I’m too old. The damage is done. It’s too late for me.’”

Twenty minutes after you quit smoking, your heart rate drops to more normal levels”

The turning point came when a friend handed her a pamphlet from a smoking cessation program, which highlighted information that made Turner think differently. “The pamphlet went beyond the usual health risks of smoking,” she says. “Instead of telling me I was going to get cancer, it actually focused on the health benefits  – what I could gain if I stopped smoking. And I finally understood – for the first time in my life – that butting out even at my age would improve my life immensely.”

The benefits of quitting smoking begin just 20 minutes after the last cigarette. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Jonathan Ganderson.

The things I never knew about smoking

“I don’t think I’m alone when it comes to understanding all of the health risks of smoking,” she explains. “I read the cancer warnings. I sometimes worried about what would happen to my breathing as I got older. But as I neared 50, I didn’t think it was possible to ‘undo’ some of the damage.’”

The Manitoba health department’s Seniors and Smoking Cessation website told her otherwise. Three facts alone were enough to convince Turner to butt out for good:

  • Twenty (20) minutes after quitting, your heart rate drops to more normal levels.
  • Twelve (12) hours after quitting, the carbon monoxide level in your blood returns to normal.
  • Two weeks to three months after quitting, your heart attack risk begins to drop and your lung function begins to improve.

“Of course, there were numerous other health benefits and risks but these few points alone made me want to end my addiction to cigarettes,” says Turner, who plans to buy herself a new mountain bike to mark her 10 smoke-free years. “When I was 30, I didn’t have the lung power to cycle! Now I out-distance my daughter!”

It’s never too late

 “Oh, it’s too late for me.”

Anjie Valgardson, tobacco programs coordinator for the Lung Association – Manitoba, is familiar with this refrain from aging Canadians who doubt their ability to stop smoking. “But the truth is, it’s never too late to appreciate the benefits of quitting,” she says.“We all know that smoking can cause lung cancer and heart attacks, but it can also cause things like cognitive impairment and dementia, macular degeneration, cataracts, hearing loss and even diminish your sense of smell and taste. Smoking also increase your chances of getting osteoporosis, breast cancer, and cardiovascular disease.”

Freedom from smoking means being able to enjoy a more active lifestyle. Photo: Shutterstock.

According to the World Health Organization and Alzheimer’s Disease International, smokers have a 45 percent higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers – and the more a person smokes, the higher the risk. Health experts estimate that 14 percent of Alzheimer’s disease cases around the world can be attributed to smoking.

While the number of regular smokers has decreased in Canada in the last decade, smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the country. Smoking kills more than 37,000 Canadians each year – six times more than vehicle collisions, suicides, murders and AIDS combined.

And, contrary to what some believe, regular smokers don’t necessarily smoke less as they get older. According to StatsCanada, those aged 65 and over) are more likely to smoke daily (85.5 percent) compared to youth aged 12 to 17 (46.1 percent). The Canadian Association of Mental Health (CAMH) states that “older people who smoke have double the mortality rate compared to those who do not smoke.”

Quitting is a new beginning
The first step is to speak to your health care provider. “Addiction is the biggest challenge, but there are many treatment options available to help with withdrawal symptoms,” says Valgardson. “There is no need to feel you must suffer when quitting. Talk to your health care provider or pharmacist to discuss your options and find the option that will work best for you.” A variety of smoking cessation programs are available across Canada.

Valgardsonalso recommends support groups, which, she says act as a sounding board and provide a sense of belonging as well as a place to learn new strategies. We do know  the chances of successfully quitting are increased when people have support and counselling, but that could also be a one-on-one with your provider or even something you do by phone or online. Turner credits her support group for getting her through the most challenging periods of her smoking cessation journey.

Vaping is a less harmful option to smoking. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Vaping360.com.

Vaping has become another popular option in the quest to stop smoking. According to Health Canada: “Vaping is less harmful than smoking. Except for nicotine, vaping products typically only contain a fraction of the 7,000 chemicals found in tobacco or tobacco smoke, and at lower levels.” Valgardson points to studies that show short-term general health improvements in those smokers who have completely switched from smoking cigarettes to vaping products.

Valgardson also points out that butting out can decrease the progression of diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Take the next step and find out more here. If someone you love needs help to stop smoking, share this post and get the conversation started