If you are a smoker, the single most important thing you can do to improve your health and wellbeing is to quit
smoking. It is definitely not easy, but you can do it, if you decide you want to.
Why is smoking bad for you?
Most people already know that smoking is bad for them. The list of health problems that it causes is quite
remarkable for a government-regulated, legal product. Many smokers are focused on the fear of developing
lung cancer. While it is true that the risk of death from lung cancer is 12 times greater that if you do not
smoke, it turns out that your increased risk of dying from smoking is largely attributed to heart disease,
because if you smoke, your risk of dying from heart disease is 6 times greater than the relatively high risk
among non smokers.
Another major tragedy from smoking is the rate of chronic lung disease, including chronic bronchitis and
emphysema (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease , or COPD). These chronic lung conditions rob sufferers of
health and happiness, because they leave sufferers struggling to breathe, and prevent them from doing
anything active (like taking a walk). Finally, there is a host of other problems that smokers face — from
premature aging and wrinkling of the skin, to cold hands and feet caused by poor circulation, to depression, to
a series of lesser known cancers that also can kill. Sadly, the rates of mouth, throat, laryngeal, and bladder
cancers are all much higher in smokers than non smokers.
It is worth noting also that smoking is expensive, and so it is a powerful drain on your monthly budget. Have
you added up how much smoking costs you? You may be surprised.
Why it is hard to quit
There is a quote attributed to Mark Twain: "Quitting smoking is easy, I've done it hundreds of times." The fact
is that quitting smoking is very hard, because smoking is highly addictive. The Surgeon General C. Everett
Koop in 1990 famously noted that it is harder to give up cigarettes than it is to beat a cocaine habit. The
powerful drug in tobacco that addicts people to cigarettes is nicotine.
Smokers develop both a physical and a psychological addition to smoking, largely because of the nicotine. If
you want to be successful at quitting smoking, you must address this physical addiction, as well as the
Benefits of quitting
There are huge benefits to quitting smoking. They include
- Warmer hands
- Lower blood pressure
- Less or no coughing
- Improved stamina
- Greater energy
- Improved self-image
- You will feel happier
- You will stop feeling guilty
- You will enjoy your health
- You stop smelling of smoke
- You enjoy your meals more
- You will save money
If you decide you want to quit smoking, you should create a plan that addresses both your psychological
dependence, and your physical addiction.
It is hard for many smokers to break the patterns of behavior and social interactions that build up around
smoking. If you ignore these powerful patterns and triggers to smoke, you are likely to have trouble staying off
Studies have shown that the chance of success goes up sharply with intensive counseling support. It can be
one-on-one or group counseling, but it should involve regular and intensive meetings.
One approach to figuring out a plan to break your habit is to seek telephone-based guidance. The American
Cancer Society's Quitline is a tobacco cessation help line that links smokers trying to quit with trained
counselors. Try 1 (800) 227-2345. The quitline also can help you find a stop smoking program that is
convenient to you. If you are joining a group counseling program, look for a minimum 2-4 week duration that
includes sessions of at least a half hour, twice a week or more.
You are online at Wellsphere now. If you haven't already done so, check out the Quit smoking community at
http://www.wellsphere.com/viewGroup.s?id=388 , and look for tobacco cessation resources at
Creating a support network can give you additional help you need to quit and stay quit. Enlist your family,
friends, coworkers, and your doctor.
Nicotine addiction leads to withdrawal when you stop. The symptoms are unpleasant, and more to the point,
they drive you to want to smoke again. One way to taper the nicotine withdrawal is to slowly reduce the
amount of cigarettes you smoke. With gradual reductions, there are minimal symptoms of withdrawal. The
problem is that it is very difficult for a long time smoker to cut down progressively on the amount smoked.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
NRT give you the opportunity to stop smoking cold turkey, and not suffer from nicotine withdrawal at the same
time. The very best quit smoking results are among those who seek guidance, create a plan, join a counseling
program, and use NRT during the first 2 weeks after quitting.
NRT is available in multiple forms - from the continuous nicotine patch, to lozenges, gum, nasal spray, and
inhalers. Many recommend using the patch in conjunction with one of the intermittent forms for use if needed
when a craving hits.
NRT should not be used if you are continuing to smoke, as you can overdose on nicotine. Also, NRT should
not be used for more than a few weeks — once you are off the cigarettes, you can taper the dosage to
wean your body from the drug.
Finally, there are specific prescription medicines that help people get off and stay off cigarettes. Buproprion (
Zyban ) is perhaps the best known anti depressant that has demonstrated that it helps smokers to quit. A
newer medicine called varenicline (Chantix) has recently come to market, and studies suggest it has a higher
success rate than buproprion. See your doctor to discuss either of these prescription medicines, and NRT.
Other aids that people have tried to use to help quit smoking include acupuncture (but there is no good
evidence it is effective), hypnosis (which may work in selected people, but is not generally effective) and
various herbs and supplements (again, with little or no evidence of effectiveness).
How to quit
You probably already know that it can be a real challenge to quit. You should prepare yourself and learn what it
will take to succeed. Give yourself an advantage by lining up resources and help that will get you through a
challenging period. The good news is that there is lots of help available to you if you seek it out.
There are several factors that are essential for you to address
- Have you made the decision? Have you decided that it is important enough to do what it takes to quit and
stay off tobacco? You must have that firm commitment in order to succeed.
- Set a date to quit, and create a plan of action
- Manage the withdrawal
- Have a plan to stay off the tobacco
As mentioned above, get guidance, find a stop smoking plan that involves one on one or group counseling, and
talk to your doctor about possible NRT or other medications to help you quit.
Additional resources that can help, from the American Cancer Society
Wellsphere's Quit smoking community
Wellsphere's directory of tobacco cessation resources
American Heart Association & American Stroke Association
Telephone: 1-800-AHA-USA-1 or 1-800-242-8721
Telephone: 1-888-4-STROKE or 1-888-478-7653
Internet address: www.amhrt.org
Internet address: www.strokeassociation.org
American Lung Association
Telephone: 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-548-8252)
Internet address: www.lungusa.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Office on Smoking & Health
Telephone: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
Internet address: www.cdc.gov/tobacco
National Cancer Institute
Cancer Information Service
Telephone: 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237)
Internet address: www.cancer.gov
Internet address: www.nicotine-anonymous.org
(Online materials, including info on state telephone-based programs)
Telephone: 1-800-QUITNOW (1-800-784-8669)
Internet address: www.smokefree.gov
Smoking Cessation Leadership Center
Telephone: 1-800-QUITNOW or 1-800-784-8669
Internet address: http://smokingcessationleadership.ucsf.edu/