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According to The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), the number of smokers in Spain has dropped from 26.4% to 24%, the lowest figure in 25 years. In spite of these percentages, experts continue to insist on the importance of giving up smoking for one’s health. In fact, the physical health benefits for a smoker begin the moment the last cigarette is put out.

 “Among these benefits in the short and medium term is the reduction of the level of nicotine in the blood and that the levels of oxygen in the blood normalize eight hours after smoking the last cigarette; the reduced risk of sudden death and the complete elimination of carbon monoxide from the blood after the first 24 hours; an increased capacity for physical activity between the first and third month; improved bronchial drainage and a reduction in the risk of infection after the first nine months, and the risk of heart attack is halved after the first year” explains Dr. Allan C. Sam, pulmonologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid. Nevertheless, to give up smoking successfully, the fact that smoking is a chronic disease cannot be ignored and it requires specific treatment in a clinical environment and has an emotional aspect. As the pulmonologist points out, “we know that giving up smoking is a very difficult decision because, although there is a physical dependency caused by nicotine, there is also a psychological and emotional dependency”. For that reason, with the aim of helping people give up smoking, MD Anderson Madrid has set up the Integral Tobacco Addiction Treatment Unit.

The unit offers a personalized clinical consultation program providing individual cognitive-behavioral and pharmacological treatment and medical supervision so that tobacco abstinence is sustained in time. “Each patient is unique because everyone is motivated to a different degree. So, during the medical consultations making up the program, the best treatment is chosen and the day the patient will stop smoking is agreed upon. From then on, regular consultations will take place and screening will be carried out for diseases generally associated with smoking, such as lung cancer and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)”, states Dr. Allan C. Sam.

Controlling the effects of tobacco abstinence and adjusting one’s expectations

To approach the disease of smoking correctly, in addition to the physical aspect, the psychological background of the patient must also be taken into account. “Smoking is an acquired behavior that becomes a habit as a result of three things: practice, behavior that becomes automatic, association of the cigarette with different activities – merely doing those activities brings about a desire to smoke, and the reinforcement obtained from smoking. For that reason, one of the aspects the work of the Integral Tobacco Addiction Treatment Unit focuses on is reducing psychological dependency by changing behavioral habits” comments Marta de la Fuente, psycho-oncologist and anxiety and stress management specialist at MD Anderson Madrid.

When changing behavioral patterns associated with smoking it is vital to control the effects of tobacco abstinence, which involves acting on different cognitive, physiological and behavioral aspects. “One of these is irritability and to do so, we work on relaxation and how to channel the anxiety caused by the desire to smoke. It is therefore important to adjust the patient’s expectations and self-tolerance”, explains the psycho-oncologist and specialist in anxiety and stress management.

For all of these reasons, and despite the fact that a patient may relapse, the Integral Tobacco Addiction Treatment Unit stresses the importance of patients avoiding self-judgment and criticism. “On occasions the patient who has started smoking again tries to justify it to him/herself. We should avoid such feelings and learn that relapse is normal and seek solutions instead. I don’t care about how many times a patient relapses, but rather how many times he/she gets up again”, De la Fuente ends.