With the season for New Years’ resolutions in full swing, University of Alberta researchers have developed new guidelines that aim to give smokers a better chance of butting out for good.
The researchers collected input from 50 top health and addictions experts from around the world for a new textbook titled, “Disease Interrupted: Tobacco Reduction and Cessation.”
Funded in part by Health Canada, the book is written for health professionals to help smokers quit, and contains Canada’s first clinical guidelines on treating tobacco addiction.
Co-editor and U of A associate professor Charl Els says a major barrier to tobacco addiction treatment is that many health professionals continue to view smoking as a lifestyle choice, and are resistant to treating it as an addiction.
That leaves smokers to quit on their own, with far less success.
“Smoking is a bona fide chronic relapsing disease that responds well to treatment, and we have safe and effective treatment available. There’s no excuse to not treat,” says Els.
“Hopefully this book starts to shift attitudes in the right direction.”
According to the World Health Organization, tobacco use kills 5.4 million people each year. It remains the leading preventable cause of death and disease, and is the only legal consumer product that will kill at least 1 out of 2 of its regular users when used as intended by the manufacturer.
Smoking is a bona fide chronic relapsing disease that responds well to treatment.
— Charl Els, University of Alberta
“Tobacco use is such a prevalent condition—20 percent of the Canadian population smoke—responsibility for treatment can’t be limited to one group,” says co-editor Diane Kunyk, an assistant professor in U of A’s Faculty of Nursing.
Els says that 70 percent of smokers want to quit, and can be greatly aided by the support of family, friends, and health professionals.
“Bottom line is, tell them, ‘I’m worried about your health, this is the best thing you can do for your health, now let’s make it happen,’” he says.
“That really is the best way to engage people, as opposed to simply negative consequences of smoking. Most people are aware of those.”
Treating tobacco addiction is highly individualized, he adds, and guidelines suggest a treatment combination of counselling and medication.
“Just like any chronic disease, it takes time to be under control and stay under control. People succeed all the time.”
Resolutions should be Realistic
New Year’s resolutions need to be realistic in order to have staying power, says Arya Sharma, a U of A professor with the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.
He says weight loss, one of the most common New Year’s resolutions, often fails because people try to make too many changes at once.
“A lot of resolutions tend to add things onto our already busy schedules, which rarely make any resolutions sustainable. One of the secrets about weight management is trying to live healthier by making lifestyle changes that are sustainable,” says Sharma.
“Think about people wanting to get up an hour earlier to go exercise: they can do it for a few days, but unless they’re going to go to bed an hour earlier so they don’t end up losing sleep, this is not something that’s going to last.”
He recommends starting with small changes, such as taking breaks from the computer at work to walk or stretch, getting more sleep, and finding time to make meals at home instead of eating out.
He also suggests reframing the way you look at life—making a conscious decision to be satisfied and happy with your life and accepting the things you cannot change.
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