Why and how to quit smoking from a doctor who has seen it all

 

A Q&A with Dr. Jeff Lambert

Dr. Jeff Lambert is one of Nano’s in-house clinical experts and a family medicine physician who has practiced for over 30 years. He earned his medical degree at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston and was named one of “America’s Top Doctors” three times by his peers.

 

Nano: As a family medicine physician, what has your experience been with patients who smoke?

Dr. Lambert: Having practiced for more than 30 years, I have seen my share of smokers. I have seen how otherwise healthy individuals have had their bodies ravaged by the effects of smoking tobacco, and I have seen patients lose their loved ones due to COPD or emphysema, lung problems, heart disease or cancers caused by smoking. The most tragic – and the most hopeful – part of it all is that all of these things are completely preventable. 

Nano: Besides the major health risks that we all know are associated with smoking, are there any lesser-known or less talked about effects?

Dr. Lambert: There are plenty of annoyances that come with smoking that people might not realize, like losing a sense of taste and smell, staining your teeth, wrinkling of the skin around the mouth, smelling like smoke (the smell really sticks around!) or running out of breath when you try to exert yourself. 

Nano: Given all the dangers and annoyances at play here – why don’t smokers just quit? 

Dr. Lambert: The combination of the physical addiction to nicotine along with the mental addiction to the habit of smoking (i.e. after a meal, upon getting into your car, along with an alcoholic beverage, a smoking break from work) makes smoking a serious addiction to contend with.

Every year, only about 6% of people who attempt to permanently quit smoking are successful – and the average smoker tries to quit 4-5 times before they succeed.

Nano: So, what works?

Dr. Lambert: Whenever I visited with a patient who had successfully quit smoking, I would ask them (after congratulating them and celebrating a bit, of course), “So, what made the difference?”

Inevitably, the answer was, “Doc, I just made up my mind that I was going to quit and nothing was going to stop me.”

As a doctor, there are a variety of tools I would recommend to help someone who has made up their mind to quit. I have seen patients have success with nicotine gum and patches, acupuncture, hypnosis and even cognitive behavioral therapy. There are also prescription medications like Wellbutrin and Chantix, which are thought to work on decreasing the pleasure effect that a person receives from smoking and can be highly effective in some people (as your doctor if it’s the right approach for you). 

Nano: Can you reverse the negative effects of smoking once you stop? If so, how quickly?

Dr. Lambert: Overall lung function does indeed improve over time. Certainly, if a person smokes long enough, there can be some permanent lung damage – but there is also significant room for improvement. Most former smokers report breathing better and having less shortness of breath. Most have significant improvement in their ability to smell and taste food, and wrinkles caused by smoking also improve. 

Most importantly – 10 years after quitting smoking, your risk of developing lung cancer is cut in half, and your risk for other associated cancers is decreased. One year after quitting smoking, your risk of coronary artery disease is one half that of an active smoker. Finally, people who quit smoking simply live longer than active smokers. 

Nano: Is there a story that comes to mind for you about a patient who successfully quit smoking that you find especially moving? 

Dr. Lambert: I was seeing a patient who had developed such severe lung disease from smoking that he required a double lung transplant. Prior to the transplant, he had to be wheeled into my office using portable oxygen. After the transplant, he waltzed into my office with no oxygen at all. 

His wife also smoked. After the three of us celebrated how well he was doing post-transplant, I glanced over at his wife and said, “How about you? You can’t be thinking it’s still ok for you to smoke around your husband and expose him to second-hand smoke?” She was reluctant at first, despite the circumstances, but ultimately agreed to quit – it was such a testament to how people can turn their health around once they put their minds to it.

Nano: What about e-cigarettes and other new trends in smoking? Are they just as dangerous?

Dr. Lambert: The new rage – especially among adolescents – is the use of e-cigarettes, or vaping/juuling, which is an entirely new topic that could lead to a brand new set of medical problems. 

We don’t have the same level of research on the health impacts here that we do with tobacco products, but there is early evidence that some of the substances found in e-cigarette vapor  can damage the lungs and increase the risk of cancer.

Nano: What advice would you give to your best friend who wanted to quit smoking? 

Dr. Lambert: I would ask them to stop and think for a second about what they value most in life at this time – and maybe even encourage them to jot down their answers. Is it their family members, a pet, a hobby? Maybe it’s helping others or a job that motivates them. Then I would ask them to imagine that their life (or at least quality of life) has been cut way short because of the effects of smoking tobacco and they are robbed of spending precious time with the people or things they value most. I think that’s a powerful motivator.

I would also suggest that they post self-reminders in the places where they normally smoke about why they value these things more than smoking. Posting pictures of your precious children, grandchildren, spouse or whatever you choose to focus on can help you imagine that this bad habit is standing between you and the things you treasure most. 

I would tell them that if you commit to quitting, your loved ones will be proud of you, I will be proud of you, and most of all, you will be proud of yourself. And after one year of non-smoking, think of the nice cruise you can take with the money you save. You got this! You can do this!