Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in our country. In the United States each year, more than 435,000 deaths are attributable to the use of tobacco products. Despite this finding and the public’s awareness of the risks of smoking, there are approximately 45 million Americans who currently smoke.
Nicotine is a powerful drug- some researchers estimate that it is as addictive as heroin.
Nevertheless, 70% of smokers report that they want to quit.
There are many ways to quit smoking and many resources to help you quit. Although many smokers relapse after quitting, view these attempts as learning experiences rather than failures.
To help you in your decision to quit, examine personalized benefits, such as improvement of current symptoms or health concerns. Immediate reasons to stop smoking include cost of smoking, bad breath and a stained teeth, lower athletic ability, risk of second hand smoke to people around you, cough, sore throat, and raised blood pressure. Other health risks of smoking include cancers, heart disease, respiratory problems, damage to blood vessels, wrinkles, gum disease, and risk of damage to babies of pregnant women who smoke. For smokers with children, smoking sets a bad example for your child, increases the risk of respiratory disease from second-hand smoke and increases the likelihood that your child will smoke.
Hopefully, the following will help you quit and stay quit.
- Set a quit date. Once you have decided to quit, set a quit date. This should be within about 2 weeks and not on a holiday or special occasion.
- Make a diary. In the meantime, make a diary of when, where, and why you smoked that cigarette and how you felt afterwards. Identify risky times or situations. Write down your personal reasons for stopping smoking. Keep your diary with you. This is a very important step.
- Make a plan. Decide what you will do instead of smoking at those times when you are most likely to smoke. If there are other smokers in the house, encourage their willingness to quit with you or to not smoke in your presence. Inform family or friends so that they can support and encourage you in your quit attempt. Anticipate challenges to quitting, including how to handle stress. Be prepared for relapse. Consider seeing your physician for advise and medication. Think of changes in your daily routine that will help you resist the urge to smoke.
- Implement your plan. Quit smoking completely. Do not merely “cut back.” Get rid of all of your cigarettes before the quit date and clean anything that smells like smoke, such as clothes and furniture. Remove ashtrays, matches, and lighters from your home and car. If you associate smoking with drinking coffee, another beverage, such as tea, might not trigger the desire for a cigarette. The same holds true for other activities you previously associated with smoking. Consider taking a walk when feeling stressed. Give yourself rewards for stopping smoking.
Other tips to help you quit and remain quit include:
- Enroll in a smoking cessation program.
- See your health care provider for advice, including whether prescription medications would be safe and appropriate for you. First line medications include bupropion SR (one brand name: Zyban), nicotine replacements (inhaler, lozenge, nasal spray, patch, or gum), and varenicline (brand name: Chantix).
- Avoid smoke-filled settings and situations in which you are more likely to smoke.
- Try to get more exercise, as this helps relieve the urge to smoke.
- Consider hypnosis or self hypnosis, as these work for some people.
- Read about quitting benefits and strategies and talk with friends, famil or coworkers who have quit.
- Because alcohol is associated with relapsing, consider limiting or abstaining from alcohol while quitting.
What will happen when you stop smoking? This depends upon how much you smoked, how long you’ve smoked, and on individual factors. You might crave a cigarette or feel hungrier than usual. Some feel edgy or have trouble concentrating. Some notice sleep disturbances. You might notice a worsening productive cough. (This is a sign that your lungs are healing!) For most people, the symptoms are the strongest during the first few days after quitting but go away within a few weeks. Many people gain a few pounds after they stop smoking but any weight gain is a minor health risk compared to the risks of smoking. Do not try to diet because this might cause unnecessary stress. Instead, limit your weight gain by having healthy, low-fat snacks on hand and being physically active. Understanding what might happen as you quit helps alleviate anxiety if it happens to you.
Overall, once a smoking habit is established, the nicotine habit is hard to break. Nevertheless, smokers can and do quit. Don’t get discouraged if you were not able to quit smoking the first time (or even the second time). Remember that even one puff on a cigarette can cause a relapse, so don’t risk it. Quitting smoking can save your life!
The American Cancer Society’s website is an excellent resource for smokers who are trying to quit. The national quitline network (1-800-QUIT-NOW) is another resource for advice and information.
Another resource is the American Lung Association’s Freedom from Smoking online program.