How and when to stop smoking for safer surgery

There are many resources which offer help and advice to people who want to stop smoking. Some of the best web sites are named in our links section.

A few general principles:

  • Think about why YOU want to quit. What specific issues are most important for you? Obviously, being as fit as possible for your surgery is one. What are the others? Are you doing it to protect your children from second hand smoke? To set an example to your teenagers? To save money? To improve your performance in sport?
  • Why do YOU smoke? Different people smoke for different reasons. If you have to have something in your hands, try doodling or knitting. If you like the sensation of having something in your mouth, get in supplies of low calorie candies, or veggie sticks. If you start smoking early in the day and chain smoke, you are probably addicted to nicotine and may need nicotine replacement for a while. If you smoke to relieve stress, try to stop at a less stressful time, and get advice on other stress-relieving techniques. If you smoke because all your friends smoke, try to persuade at least one of them to quit with you.

Every cigarette you smoke does damage to your body. So, ideally, the best time to stop is right now. If you are smoking as you read this, stub it out! If you had a cigarette two hours ago, call that your last cigarette and say that you are an ex-smoker who stopped smoking two hours ago.

Unfortunately, most smokers do not find it that easy to stop smoking without advance preparation. Most no-smoking research suggests that it is better to choose a “Quit Day” in advance and prepare for it. Make sure all your friends and relatives know. Ask your family doctor or pharmacist about medications which may help. Get in a store of chewing gum or healthy snacks. Change your routine so you don’t spend your breaks with smokers. Put a container in the kitchen and use it to collect the money you would have spent smoking. Think of little rewards – instead of a coffee and a smoke, a really good cup of coffee and no smoke.

It is easier to stop smoking if you have someone to help you. This could be a friend who quits with you or somebody who has already stopped smoking and can mentor you. It could also be a health care professional, such as your family doctor or pharmacist.

Another good source for support is the Smoker’s Helpline, a toll free call at 1 877 513-5333, where you can speak one-on-one with someone who understands what you’re going through.

How quickly do you benefit from stopping smoking?

The risk to your heart is reduced by even a few hours of non-smoking, but it takes your lungs several weeks to improve after you stop smoking. Healing after surgery is improved mainly by not smoking after surgery. Therefore we suggest the following plan:

to smoke while in the hospital, so even the shortest surgery probably keeps you away from cigarettes for four or five hours.

  • If you have more than four weeks to prepare for surgery, then choose a “Quit Day” at least four weeks before surgery, and stop smoking on that day.
  • If you do not have four weeks, then stop smoking at midnight before surgery, so you have at least 8 hours to get rid of carbon monoxide. Often you will be told not to eat or drink after this time, so stop smoking at the same time as you stop eating and drinking.
  • If you do not manage to stop smoking before your surgery, then do not start again after the operation. You will not be allowed

If you are admitted to hospital, you can ask your doctor or nurse if you can get help and advice to stop smoking while in hospital. There is less risk of withdrawal symptoms if you stop smoking in an environment in which you have no choice, such as in hospital, in the military or in jail. Many people stop smoking for a few days while in hospital, but start again as soon as they go home. You need to have a plan to stay smoke-free once you get back to your own home, work, and regular routines.

If you do not manage to stop smoking this time, think about stopping before the next time you need to go to hospital. Having any operation is a significant event in anyone’s life. It makes you realize that your body is just as liable to break down as anyone else’s. Disease and injury are not just something that happens to somebody else. You need to do whatever you can to look after your body – which has to include Stopping Smoking for Safer Surgery.