If you’re struggling to quit smoking, or know someone trying to kick the habit, take note. Common smoking misconceptions could be keeping you or your loved one from succeeding.
“People tend to know very little when it comes to the dangers of smoking,” says Alexander Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson. “They think cutting back to a few cigarettes a day is good enough or trying other tobacco products is a safe alternative.”
The truth: Any amount of smoking can increase your risks for cancer, heart and lung disease, premature aging and death.
And, it’s not just cigarettes that are harmful. “All tobacco products are dangerous,” Prokhorov warns. Products like electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), hookahs and cigars contain the same disease-causing chemicals.
To help you or your loved one quit smoking for good, Prokhorov debunks common smoking myths.
Smoking myth #1: Quitting after years of smoking won’t improve your health.
Truth: It’s never too late to benefit from quitting. Quitting at any age can lower your disease risks, improve your health and help you live longer. Even if you quit at age 50, you’ll be 50% less likely to die young from smoking-related diseases.
Smoking myth #2: Other healthy habits make up for your smoking habits.
Truth: Healthy lifestyle choices, like eating a balanced diet and exercising, are beneficial, but they won’t prevent or make up for the harmful effects of smoking.Smoking is responsible for most lung cancer deaths and one-third of all cancer deaths. It contributes to heart disease, stroke and lung disease. That’s true regardless of your other healthy habits.
Smoking myth #3: Smoking light cigarettes, filtered menthol or low-tar cigarettes is safer than conventional cigarettes.
Truth: “‘Light’ and ‘low-tar’ may sound less dangerous, but these types of cigarettes pose the same health risks as conventional cigarettes,” Prokhorov says. Smokers who use these types tend to smoke more to get their nicotine fix and inhale deeper, taking in more even damaging substances like tar and carbon monoxide. And, filters are designed to make smoke particles smaller. That makes nicotine easier to absorb and increases addiction.
Smoking myth #4: Cutting back or smoking only a few cigarettes a day is good enough.
Truth: No amount of smoking is safe. There are more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke. “Smoking any amount can increase your risk for cancer and tobacco-related disease,” Prokhorov says. And, if you’re trying to quit, cutting back is not recommended. You’ll still experience withdrawal symptoms that may be unpleasant and stressful. Research shows setting a quit date or choosing when to stop can be more effective.
Smoking myth #5: Smoking doesn’t hurt anybody but you.
Truth: Secondhand smoke, or the smoke given off by a burning cigarette, kills an estimated 50,000 non-smokers each year, Prokhorov says. It contains almost 70 cancer-causing chemicals and is associated with heart disease in adults, and asthma attacks and ear infections in children.
Smoking myth #6: Nicotine replacement therapy doesn’t work.
Truth: Nicotine replacement products deliver a measured dose of nicotine into your body, which helps to relieve any cravings and withdrawal symptoms.Evidence shows nicotine replacement treatments, like gum, a patch, lozenge and inhaler, result in better smoking cessation rates. And, your insurance may cover such treatments.
Smoking myth #7: E-cigarettes will help you quit smoking.
Truth: Claims that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit are unproven. The Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved any e-cigarette as a safe or effective quitting method. “Plus, no one knows what dangerous chemicals could be inside e-cigarettes because they’re unregulated,” Prokhorov says.
Smoking myth #8: Cigars aren’t dangerous because you don’t inhale.
Truth: All cigars, whether or not you inhale, directly expose your lips, mouth, tongue, throat and larynx to smoke and its toxic and cancer-causing chemicals. Cigar smokers are 10 times more likely than nonsmokers to die from oral, larynx and esophageal cancers. And, they have the same risks of developing these cancers as cigarette smokers. In other words, there’s no safe tobacco product.
“Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but with knowledge and the right tools, you can be successful,” Prokhorov says. “Plus, it’s important to know there are ways to manage any side effects, like weight gain, stress or depression, which may be stopping you from trying to quit.”
If you’re ready to quit smoking, there are free resources to help. So, don’t delay. Kicking your smoking habit is one of the best things you can do to help you live longer.
To help you quit, call the Quitline at 1-800-QUIT NOW or text QUIT to 47848 to get smoke-free text messages. If you’re an MD Anderson patient, employee or family member, join our Tobacco Treatment Program. Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.