Will time ever stop

Finally non-smokers! Why is it worth stopping?

"Mom, you will die from smoking!" The more often my son clapped his hands over his head in horror as soon as he saw me smoking, the less I could justify the smoking to myself. So I stopped.

I smoked my last cigarette two months ago. Addiction doctor Tobias Rüther is enthusiastic about my quitting smoking. He heads the special outpatient clinic for tobacco addiction at the Ludwig Maximilians University Clinic in Munich. "When you quit smoking, a lot of positive things happen in your life very quickly."

Very quickly, a lot

After just eight hours, the body is supplied with significantly better oxygen, explains Rüther. After just a day or two, many people could smell and taste better again. After two weeks, the lung function improved significantly, which is often noticeable during exercise. As a smoker, however, I felt just as fit as I feel now.

"It can happen that you get a stronger cough than you had before," says Rüther. "This is because the lungs begin to clean themselves." This spring cleaning takes about a month. "After a month, your immune system is also much stronger."

If I stay abstinent for another month, I can look forward to a significantly better sleep, according to Rüther. "Smokers experience nicotine withdrawal at night. You may not wake up from it, but you sleep much more restlessly. After three months, sleep has returned to normal."

Danger from dump number 3

Before I could opt for total abstinence, I thought that reducing the number of cigarettes was automatically healthier. Then, however, it shouldn't have been more than two a day: From the third cigarette, the poisonous smoke really clogs the body. "The cardiovascular risk, that is, the risk of a stroke or heart attack, is hardly increased between three and twenty cigarettes," says Rüther. It is different with cancer. The danger increases with every single cigarette.

"It's really great that you quit," says Rüther again and again. His joy about it is contagious; my own enthusiasm had been limited so far.

Every second smoker dies due to tobacco addiction. About 50 percent even before the age of 70. "You would have felt the consequences of smoking by the age of 50 at the latest," says Rüther with certainty. Suddenly I'm very happy to have stopped before the decay could be seen.

More on this: Shock images spur teenagers to smoke

Relapse rate: 95 percent

It wasn't easy. But aids such as nicotine patches, hypnosis or acupuncture were not necessary to keep hands off the cigarettes. The fact that my will was enough could be related to the fact that I switched to the smoking team so late - only when I was 21 years old. Another reason to be really happy, says the drug addict.

"Most smokers start between the ages of 12 and 16, when the brain is still maturing. Nicotine is an extremely active neurotransmitter that has a decisive influence on the development of neuronal connections in the brain." The result is a lifelong dependency that can hardly be overcome with sheer willpower, explains Rüther.

The addiction expert managed to make me feel both proud and relieved by this point. But now he says: "Of 100 smokers who, like you, quit without help, 95 will relapse in the first year." Great.

The smoking illusion

One reason for a relapse could be the "smoking illusion", a nasty psycho trick of nicotine. The psychological dependence is extremely strong, emphasizes Rüther. So of course I got caught up in the smoking illusion: For years I told myself that smoking would calm me down, take away my stress and give me a short break.

"In reality, however, every cigarette increases the heartbeat and makes you restless," says Rüther. The fact that I felt reassured by smoking was simply because I had withdrawal symptoms after a long period without a cigarette and my dependent body craved new nicotine. "So the cigarette only takes away the restlessness that you would not have had if you were a non-smoker."

More on this: Dangerous flavors in e-cigarettes

The Pavlovian dog

The first evening with friends, music and wine, but without cigarettes, was pretty funny. Something was missing and it didn't feel normal. For years I had very successfully conditioned myself to the fact that smoking was simply part of the process in certain situations: with coffee, wine, during a break.

"It works like the Pavlovian dog: you give the dog something to eat and at the same time ring a bell. At some point the tinkling is enough and the dog salivates," explains Rüther.

With smokers, however, this bell rings permanently: Smoking is used to relax or to get going. As a reward after work, after eating, while waiting for the bus or after sex. The list goes on. "The crux is that cigarettes are so firmly integrated into the everyday life of smokers," says the addiction expert.

I want to stop. But how?

So if you want to quit, the task is not an easy one. Tobias Rüther first reassures his patients that failure is normal and is part of it. "If patients say that they have already tried to quit five times, then I first acknowledge those attempts. After all, it seems to be an important concern to them."

Non-smokers can learn like cycling: falls are part of it, the only important thing is to get back on the saddle. The doctor calls it the "decastrophization of relapse".

It is also important to signal to the brain that something has changed. "In the morning, sit in a different chair than usual. Drink tea instead of coffee. Move the plant to a new place where you work." This is how the Pavlovian dog can be tricked in the smoker's head.

I intuitively did everything right! Instead of rearranging furniture, I left my entire day-to-day life behind and went to see my best friend for a few days.

Now I think about smoking very seldom. Maybe I can be one of the 5 percent who survive the first year without smoking? Even if not, it doesn't have to be a relapse, says Tobias Rüther. "A cigarette is a slip. Only after the second is it a relapse."

  • Avoiding cancer instead of curing it

    Fate in hand

    A cancer diagnosis always hits hard and unexpected. Almost half of all cancer cases could be avoided. Smoking is to blame for around one in five tumors alone. The toxic tobacco smoke not only causes lung cancer, but also many other types of tumors. Smoking is the most common self-inflicted cause of cancer - but not the only one.

  • Avoiding cancer instead of curing it

    Being fat can be fatal

    In second place of the cancer triggers: obesity. Increased insulin levels are to blame. They increase the risk of almost all cancers, especially kidney, gallbladder and esophageal cancers. Overweight women also produce more female sex hormones in adipose tissue, making it easier for them to develop uterine and breast cancer.

  • Avoiding cancer instead of curing it

    Get off the sofa!

    Cancer is particularly common in people who barely move. Long-term studies show: Sport prevents tumors. Because physical activity lowers the insulin level and also prevents fatness. And it doesn't have to be high-performance sport: just walking or cycling a little can make a big difference.

  • Avoiding cancer instead of curing it

    Cancer for the good!

    Alcohol is carcinogenic. It mainly promotes tumors of the oral cavity, the pharynx and the esophagus. The combination of smoking and alcohol is particularly dangerous: it increases your risk of cancer a hundredfold. However, a glass of wine a day is healthy because it supports the cardiovascular system. Anything beyond that should be avoided.

  • Avoiding cancer instead of curing it

    Unhealthy from the animal

    Red meat can cause colon cancer. The exact reason has not yet been clarified, but long-term studies show a clear connection. Beef is particularly dangerous, and to a lesser extent pork. Consumption increases the risk of cancer by about one and a half times. Fish, on the other hand, prevents cancer.

  • Avoiding cancer instead of curing it

    Danger from the charcoal grill?

    When grilling meat, carcinogenic substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are produced. In animal experiments, these chemical compounds trigger tumors. This has not yet been clearly proven in long-term studies on humans. Perhaps it is simply the consumption of meat itself that is the evil, not the way it is cooked.

  • Avoiding cancer instead of curing it

    Avoid fast food

    A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and fiber prevents cancer. In long-term studies, however, researchers have seen that a healthy diet has less influence on the risk of cancer than originally assumed: It only lowers the risk slightly, by a maximum of ten percent.

  • Avoiding cancer instead of curing it

    A lot of sun does a lot of harm

    UV radiation in sunlight penetrates the genome and changes it. The result: black or white skin cancer. Sunscreen may protect against sunburn - but as soon as the skin tans, it has already received too much radiation.

  • Avoiding cancer instead of curing it

    Cancer from modern medicine

    X-rays damage the genetic material. With a normal X-ray, however, the exposure is low. Computed tomography is completely different: you should only undergo it if there are good reasons. Magnetic resonance imaging, on the other hand, is harmless. By the way: You are also exposed to cancer-causing radiation when you travel by plane.

  • Avoiding cancer instead of curing it

    Cancer caused by infections

    Human papillomaviruses can cause cervical cancer. Hepatitis B and C viruses can cause liver cells to degenerate. The bacterium Helicobacter pylori (photo) lodges in the stomach and can be the cause of stomach cancer. You can get vaccinated against many of the pathogens; antibiotics help against Helicobacter pylori.

  • Avoiding cancer instead of curing it

    Better than their reputation

    The birth control pill slightly increases the risk of developing breast cancer, but it also greatly reduces the risk of ovarian cancer. Overall, the pill protects more than it harms - at least when it comes to cancer.

  • Avoiding cancer instead of curing it

    A real stroke of fate

    But even if you do everything right - you are never completely immune to cancer. Half of all cancer cases are caused by the wrong genes - or simply age. Brain tumors in particular often develop without external assistance.

    Author: Brigitte Osterath