Debi Austin Dies: The Psychology of Quitting Smoking
Debi Austin Dies: The Psychology of Quitting Smoking

The recent death of Debi Austin, anti-smoking icon, reminds us of the damage smoking causes, both physical and mental.

Austin’s story, shared with the world over many years as an anti-smoking advocate, is remarkable because it demonstrated the true power of addiction: giving up your life to something beyond your control.

Austin knew that smoking was killing her, but even after having her larynx removed because of cancer caused by the cigarettes, she could not stop. 

The anti-smoking campaign launched by the state of California that featured Austin was effective because it showed young people the terrifying long-term effects of smoking. 

Fear may have stopped many from starting, but it is often not enough to motivate smokers to quit.

According to an article by the National Communication Association (NCA), fear is a more effective motivator when “people believe they can do something to reduce their threat.” According to the NCA, ads that show both what there is to be afraid of and what you can do about it are more effective than ads that use fear alone.

Additionally, many older adults are not interested in quitting because they think the damage has already been done. The feeling that it is too late to quit can be a big demotivator, according to a report by the Surgeon General. 

Fortunately, there is plenty of good news: Quitting is good for you at any age, regardless of sickness or health. Often, adults who quit after smoking for many years immediately notice a difference in how they feel and look. The best part is that the longer you stay away from cigarettes, the better the health effects.

Short-term and long-term health benefits of quitting smoking:

12 Hours—Your blood oxygen and carbon monoxide levels have returned to normal.

48 Hours—Your damaged nerve endings are on the mend and your sense of taste and smell are improving. The worst of the anger and irritability caused by withdrawal is over.

72 Hours—Your body is 100% nicotine free. The worst of the physical withdrawal is over. Your breathing feels easier, and your lungs’ functional abilities are already improving.

10 days—The “average” ex-user is down to encountering less than two crave episodes per day, each less than 3 minutes.

2–4 weeks—Cessation-related anger, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, impatience, insomnia, restlessness, and depression have ended. If still experiencing any of these symptoms, get seen and evaluated by your physician.

1 year—Your excess risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke have dropped to less than one-half that of a smoker.

5–15 years—Your risk of stroke has declined to that of a non-smoker.

15 years—Your risk of coronary heart disease is now that of a person who has never smoked.

20 years—In women, excess risk of death from all smoking-related causes has now reduced to that of a never-smoker. Don’t worry guys, you’re doing great, too, but the 2008 study only included women.

Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General” (2004), and www.whyquit.com

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