“It is never too late to stop smoking”: interview with stop-smoking specialist Dyna Torrado
Dyna Torrado is a general practitioner and stop smoking specialist. Today for World No Tobacco Day, she explains all of the benefits for people who stop smoking, and provides lots of useful advice to help people who are trying to stop.
Could you introduce yourself and tell us about your experience helping people to stop smoking?
I am a General Practitioner in a public health centre in the South of Portugal. I started my professional career 25 years ago in Spain and, after settling in Portugal, I opened a stop-smoking service in the health centre in 2008. Later I did a masters degree, and started to train more doctors to help smokers to quit. I also collaborate with the Regional Health Services to organise stop smoking services.
Many of us know about the dangers of smoking, so why do people find it so difficult to stop?
Nicotine develops physical dependence causing the brain to need increasingly higher doses over time, and experience symptoms like anxiety, headaches and insomnia when stopping smoking without any treatment. That’s why less than 5% of smokers who attempt to quit on their own succeed.
Lighting a cigarette is also related to multiple everyday situations: drinking coffee or alcohol, relaxing, watching tv, talking to friend, etc. The repetition of these acts creates a mental and social dependence that is made worse when people view smoking as a normal act. That’s one of the reasons why it is so important not to allow smoking in public places.
What are the benefits of stopping smoking? Do these benefits still apply to people who have been smoking for a long time or already have a lung condition?
The best step a smoker can take to improve their health is to stop smoking, no doubt. And the benefits are immediate:
- Only 20 minutes after quitting, blood pressure and heart rate fall.
- After 8 hours, blood oxygen increases.
- In 24 hours the risk of having a heart attack goes down.
- In 48 hours, sense of smell and taste improves.
- Between 2 weeks and 3 months, circulation and lung function improves.
- In just 1 year the risk of heart attack is reduced by half.
- In 10 years the risk of cardiovascular diseases, including stroke, is the same as people that have never smoked, and the risk of lung cancer is reduced by half.
These benefits are even greater for people who live with a lung condition because quitting tobacco will allow more oxygen to reach vital organs such as the heart, lungs and brain. This means the risk of heart disease decreases, breathing symptoms lessen, and ability to exercise improves, along with brain function and overall quality of life.
In addition, quitting smoking enhances the effectiveness of all medicines for lung disease and reduces the effect of other conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
It is never too late to quit smoking, even when you have smoked for many years. Even over the age of 65, quitting smoking can help people live longer and have a better quality of life. A man who stops smoking at that age increases his life expectancy by 1.5 - 2 years. For women the pay-off is even higher - life expectancy increases by 4 years.
And there’s a lot of other benefits not related to health too: hair and skin improvements, cleaner smelling breath, clothes and living spaces, sexual and sports capacity, reduced risk of fires and accidents, as well as reducing the pollution of the sea (cigarette butts) and air.
How can we help children and young people not to start smoking?
By being non-smokers we can be a good example for them, especially parents, teachers, sports and trainers. We should educate them to be aware of damage from tobacco. A good strategy is also to train children to saying “no” when offered. That includes the new ways of using tobacco, such as heat-not-burn tobacco, which are fashionable among young people.
Of course, it is important to avoid the normalization of smoking through laws that protect the environment and children from smoke. In this sense the best example is Singapore, where the access to tobacco is denied to all inhabitants born from the year 2000.
How can organisations like ELF and ERS help to reduce the number of people affected by smoking?
They have an important role in providing information about the harmful effects of active and passive exposure to tobacco smoke. We need to create a collective awareness of the dangers. But maybe the most important role is advocacy for an effective tobacco control policy by pressing governments and institutions to strengthen the implementation of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
What can governments and decision-makers do to reduce tobacco use in their countries?
There is a plan of anti-smoking strategies well defined by the WHO, known as the MPOWER plan. At this moment, the implementation of these measures is very unequal across Europe.
Some of the strategies that have been shown to increase quit rates are raising taxes on tobacco, restricting places where people can smoke, educating smokers about the harms of tobacco and banning all advertising and marketing, including establishing plain packaging rules for cigarettes. Offering stop-smoking services at primary health care and supporting medical treatments for stopping smoking are essential measures too.
Do you have any advice for someone who is finding it difficult to stop smoking?
I would recommend all smokers seek professional help and use medical treatments like nicotine replacement therapy. Studies show that you are four times more likely to quit with professional help. Smoking cessation drugs like nicotine replacement, varenicline or bupropion have proven efficacy that highly increase the chance of stopping smoking successfully. They are safe and are funded in some European countries.
And don´t give up trying! The average number of times a smoker tries to stop until they finally quit smoking is between 4 and 5.
If you would like to stop smoking, or you are a healthcare professional who would like to improve the stop smoking services at your workplace, ELF has a number of different resources that could help you. Download our factsheets on smoking with a lung condition and the benefits of stopping smoking.