Dr. Oz explains that smoking causes changes in the lungs that can lead to emphysema and COPD. "It's the biggest reason that we have lung problems in this country," Dr. Oz says. "[It's] the number four cause of death, and people never hear about it."
Air taken into the lungs enters little tubes called alveoli. "They're like little bubble pops," Dr. Oz says. "As you smoke, you break down those barriers and you pop them. So you take these very nice grape-like structures and you turn them into these big sacs that no longer can exchange air with the outside world. Then when these coalesce and come together, they form these large blebs on the outside of the lung. … That air is not helping you because it can't get into your body and exchange with your blood. So literally as these blebs get larger, they push the normal lung away and you suffocate yourself."
Ten smokers volunteered to have their lungs tested for these effects using state-of-the-art technology at Heart Scan of Chicago. Of the 10, Dr. Oz says six had changes in their lungs that indicated emphysema.
Debbie was one of the patients whose lungs showed signs of emphysema. "You already have, on a scale of 5, 3.5-level emphysema. It's pretty significant," he says. "We get worried about this because this doesn't get better. You can prevent it from getting worse and, depending on how you treat yourself, you can nudge it. But it never gets completely better once you have it." In addition to the effect on her lungs, Dr. Oz says Debbie's heart scan showed a problem. "You have a blockage already. That's actually nicknamed the widow maker," he says. "We're going to have to get a stress test on you to make sure that that's not a life-threatening problem."
Debbie smoked a cigarette right after learning her results. "But my last cigarette was last night. I have a patch on," she says. "The result doesn't surprise me, but it does scare me."
Dr. Oz also found some emphysema changes in Wendie's lungs. "On a scale of 5, it's 2, but you're a very young woman," he says. The doctor expressed more concern about a shadow that showed up on the scan. "Because you're a smoker, these kinds of shadows really concern us, and we start thinking about lung cancer. So we want to repeat the study again in a few months to see if it's changed at all," Dr. Oz says.
With all the life-threatening effects of smoking, why can't smokers just stop? Dr. Daniel Seidman, a leading expert on smoking addiction at Columbia University Medical Center, says people have conflicting thoughts about quitting. "You have the smart brain that's cultured and educated and understands that [smoking is] going to hurt your family and hurt your body," he says. "Then, you have the old reptilian brain that wants what it wants when it wants it. You're at war with yourself."
To end the war, Dr. Seidman says you must "wave the white flag" and admit you need help in ending your addiction. "Smokers are not all the same. Some people can quit on their own and relatively easily, and some people will say it's the hardest thing they ever did. So they need the tools, and they need to make the effort," he says. "It's not just about the motivation—they have to make a commitment. They have to make the effort and need some guidance and outside help to be successful with it."
Once you've made the decision to live a smoke-free life, Dr. Oz, Dr. Seidman and Dr. Michael Roizen suggest following a four-step plan.
Step 1: Face the truth.
Take the quiz to determine what kind of smoker you are. Dr. Oz says learning how out of control you really are is an important realization. "Once you realize you're out of control, it helps you build your commitment and be willing to make the effort so you're not smoking at all," he says. "If you're smoking a little bit, that cigarette's going to make you want to have the next cigarette, and it's not going to go well."
Step 2: Prepare yourself mentally and physically to quit smoking.
Dr. Oz says it's imperative to set a "quit date"—your first day of breathing free—between two weeks and a month ahead of time. During those last few weeks before your quit date, Dr. Oz says you should prepare yourself for a life without cigarettes.
An addiction to smoking has physical, social and emotional components, Dr. Oz says, so it's important to have a battle plan on all fronts. To begin your strategy, Dr. Oz suggests writing a list of all the reasons why you want to keep smoking and a list of the reasons why you want to quit. "Help that reptilian brain that Dr. Seidman was talking about at least retreat a little bit so the smart, higher brain can start to do its job, which is to get you to do the right things," he says.
Get some ideas for your smoke-free strategy.
If you smoke out of habit, Dr. Oz suggests taking up a healthy, new habit—like walking—in its place. "The most common reason women give for not stopping smoking when they're young is weight gain," he says. "So the first thing we want you to do is start walking, because if you don't get on a weight reduction program, if you stop the cigarettes, you will gain weight."
In addition to preventing weight gain, Dr. Oz says walking has other benefits in your battle to breathe free. "If you've got a program that makes sense for you, and you're feeding your brain the right nutrients … you'll lose weight, and you'll be alert and ready to make these difficult moves like stopping cigarettes."
Step 3: Visit your doctor, find support and prepare for your first smoke-free day.
Before your quit date, Dr. Oz says you should talk to your doctor about the different medical options that can help you remain smoke-free. You can ask your doctor about several medications and aids. Check out this list of questions to ask your doctor
When actor Ben Affleck finally kicked his 20-year smoking addiction, he used a different approach—hypnosis. Ben smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for years, until his impending fatherhood prompted him to cut cigarettes out for good. "I finally decided to quit smoking when I was going to have a child, and that was the thing that sort of put it over the top for me," Ben says.
Once he made the final decision, Ben says he went to a hypnotist recommended by his friend, Matt Damon. "He sips water and just talks to you for an hour and explains to you how nicotine is poison," Ben says. "And it seems really, like, 'How could this help me?' And all of a sudden you think, 'This is asinine that I had been doing this to myself for all these years.'"
According to Dr. Oz, understanding your reasons can be vital. "Ben stopped because of his kid. That's internal. That's not someone else giving him a hard time and browbeating him. He's doing it for the right reason," he says. "We should be very cautious about the reasons we pick. Otherwise, we'll run into that same ambivalence that many of us have when we make any kind of behavioral change. Deep down inside, in our core essence, looking at the authentic us, what's the reason to stop smoking? We've got to figure that out to get going."
Step 4: Protect yourself against a relapse.
So you've taken all the steps, your quit date has passed and you're breathing free—but you feel like having just one more cigarette. What now?
Turn to your support system. Whether you and a buddy decide to quit together or you find a support group, you should have someone to turn to when the cravings rear their ugly head.
Find support for your smoke-free life!
So how do you avoid those relapse triggers? Being assertive can help you stay out of social situations that might tempt you to light up. "When your buddy calls up and says, 'Let's go down, grab a drink together, and then we'll go over to the movie,' you've got to say, 'You know, I love you, but I'm not doing that because I know what's going to happen if I do that.'"
When you're really in a crunch, Dr. Oz says you should also have some last-ditch escape mechanisms to steer your focus away from cigarettes. "It can range from other things to put in your mouth, like cinnamon sticks or tea. File your nails," he says. "Do something that distracts you at those times of crisis."
At first, a person who quits smoking will feel some discomfort—but the doctors say that's okay. "We are not comfortable being uncomfortable," Dr. Oz says. "[But] that is the single best way to grow in life. You all have the beautiful opportunity to get through cigarette smoking, which is going to make you a lot better equipped to deal with other realities in life."
When you're preparing for your quit date, you should be ready for the discomfort withdrawal can bring. Dr. Roizen emphasizes that while you might feel bad at first, you will feel better in about a month. "When you first withdraw from a drug—and nicotine in cigarettes is a drug—you feel bad. It's like withdrawal from anything," he says. "That's why we give [some patients] the [nicotine] patch to help you feel a little better. But it's not the same high. When you inhale it, you get a much higher level. And so over time, you withdraw from that, you replace it, and you end up feeling normal again."
Aside from physical symptoms, which usually are temporary, Dr. Seidman says you must deal with the emotional issues that come with quitting. "Sometimes there's other things hiding behind the smoke," he says. "You might have problems with your mood or anger or other things like that. And if it doesn't get better, it's important to realize that whatever's wrong with you, smoking is not the best medicine for you."
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