Navigating Addiction: Cigarettes & Vaping

Apart from the mix of accents and frostbite-y cold, my ‘culture shock’ while on Exchange in Manchester last year, consisted of the strong smoking-culture amongst its students.  It appeared to be a habit everyone inherited out of high school (or college, rather) – something less common in my experience studying in Sydney and Newcastle.  The first time I saw someone ‘vaping’ was also on this trip (whilst working in the Architecture studios at the university, actually!), and it took me a while to figure out that it was an electronic alternative to smoking cigarettes.

I recently spoke to Michelle Lampis – the University’s Drugs, Alcohol and Other Addictions Counsellor – to find out more.  According to Michelle, the main difference between smoking and vaping, is that smoking involves smoke and vaping does not.  However, both are potentially addictive, as they both contain nicotine – an addictive substance that increases heart-rate and blood pressure.  “Vaping is still pretty new to the market,” adds Michelle, “only having been around for about a decade or so.  There is very little regulation or research on the product.”

I was also surprised to learn from Michelle that tobacco (the plant from which nicotine is derived) is the world’s leading cause of preventable death, accounting for around 6 million deaths each year.

This led me to question why people might form smoking and vaping habits, and how these habits can affect their lives – in particular, the lives of students.  As was my guess from what I saw in the UK, one of the reasons people start smoking, is social pressure.

Quick aside: even though I have never smoked, I have experienced social pressure while at school and university – situations in which I have done things despite feeling uncomfortable doing them, just to please those around me – and I think most of us have.  I’d say that as students, it’s important for us to recognise when we may be in a situation like this.  If we feel like we’re being forced into something, or doing something just to fit in (no matter that that may be), it’s perhaps a cue for us to step back and question our intentions at that moment in time.

But this isn’t always so easy!  It’s always helpful to talk to a friend or someone else about how we’re feeling, and our general mental health, on an everyday basis.  At the University of Newcastle, we have accessible counselling services, and can speak to Michelle and her team by calling 4921 6622.  These services are part and parcel of the fees we pay as students, so remember to make the most of them!

Back to the story: other reasons for developing a smoking habit include doing it to “accompany alcohol and sometimes to deal with stress,” says Michelle.  She adds that most smokers believe smoking improves concentration, but that this improvement is likely to be due to the relief received when the withdrawal symptoms between cigarettes are finally relieved.  This means that poor concentration is one of the withdrawal symptoms of smoking.  According to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), it affects around 60 per cent of smokers and usually lasts for less than two weeks.

So, I asked Michelle about other, less-harmful ways, as compared to smoking, that concentration can be increased.  Firstly, it is important to recognise that while vaping – although perceived to be a healthier and better choice than smoking – is not necessarily so, with studies showing that using e-cigarettes leads to smoking tobacco in young people, that e-cigarette users are more than three-times more likely than non-e-cigarette users to subsequently become tobacco-smokers, and that e-cigarettes have been shown to inflame mouth cells in a way that could potentially promote gum disease, bleeding mouths and ulcers.  Sheesh!

But thankfully, there are many other things that can help us with our concentration, and actually help, rather than hinder, our health.  Michelle advises simple lifestyle changes, such as getting enough sleep (which can be hard as a student, I know, but needs to be a priority!), regular exercise (who doesn’t like a good team sport – The Forum has quite a few + a great gym!) and eating right.

But while these things may work in the long-term, they may not be great short-term solutions – especially for those facing addiction.  Michelle pointed out to me that smoking can quickly become connected with specific feelings and situations, and that is can be this emotional attachment to cigarettes that can be hard to break.

However, there are many things that can help, and many ways in which the University can help.  In terms of physical aids, products such as patches, gum, lozenges, mouth spray and inhalators are approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration as quitting aids, whereas e-cigarettes are not.  Michelle doesn’t recommend turning to vaping to kick a smoking addiction, saying, “if you’re a smoker, the best thing you can do for your health is to stop.”

To help you stop, you can start by talking to your GP or a counsellor about what options might suit you best.  Breaking a smoking (or vaping) habit involves managing the physical withdrawal of the nicotine but also understanding the psychological/emotional/social role of smoking in your life, and health professionals can help you navigate these.

Michelle’s advice on how to best seek help:

  • You may want to use nicotine replacement products such as gums or patches or prescription medications to help you stop smoking. Research shows that you can double your chances of quitting successfully when used appropriately.The medications work by reducing withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, irritability, mood swings and anxiety. However, it’s important to remember that they usually don’t stop withdrawal symptoms altogether.
  • There are some great online resources to support you to quit including apps and coaching sessions:–methods

– Apps:

  • For someone to talk to, call the Quitline on 13 7848 between 8am and 8pm Monday to Friday.
  • You can also see someone at the University counselling service to support you through the quitting journey.
  • Michelle Lampis is the Alcohol, Drug and other Addictions counsellor at the University and is happy to provide support and information in person or over the phone. To make an appointment, call student support on 49 21 6622.

And remember – no matter where on journey you are, or what difficulties you may be facing (smoking-related or not), there is always help at hand!  Importantly, you can also be that help and support to those around you.  So, don’t be afraid to reach out for support or provide it for someone you know!  You never know the impact it could have.

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