If you’re one of the 36 million Americans who still smoke, you probably already know all the ways it can harm you. Tobacco use is still the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the country. In 1977 the American Cancer Society began to sponsor the Great American Smokeout on the third Thursday of November to encourage Americans to quit.
If you’ve decided to quit, congratulations! Our concierge family practice doctors in Jupiter want to offer some tips on how to stop smoking for good.
Before you make the decision
The one thing you need to successfully quit smoking is your own reason or reasons. If you’re doing it because someone else wants you to, your chances of doing so permanently won’t be as successful as when you’re quitting because you really want to. That’s true whether it’s a child, a significant other, the medical community, or social pressure that is causing you to swear off nicotine.
That’s because—as with a lover who dumped you—you’ll pine for, long for, make any excuse to return to your “soul mate,” no matter how bad he or she is for you.
The key to success is to be the dump-er, not the dump-ee. You have to want to banish cigarettes from your life, not have them torn from your clinging hands. Rather than pleading like Engelbert Humperdinck (“Please release me, let me go . . .”), you need to channel your inner Gloria Gaynor: “Go on now, go, walk out the door, you’re not welcome anymore!”
Write down all the reasons you want to quit: the cost, the odor, the shortness of breath, the shortened life . . . whatever it was that made you decide to stop smoking.
At the same time, make a list of all the benefits you’ll derive from being smoke-free: better lung capacity, longer life, fresher breath and clothes, more money in your pocket . . . not to mention avoiding the diseases to which smokers are prone: heart disease, cancer, emphysema, and so on. Keep both lists handy and refer to them often.
Choose a method
Once you’ve made the decision, select a method you think will be right for you.
One tip: cold turkey—that is, stopping abruptly—beats tapering off in terms of staying off the drug. A study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that those who quit suddenly were about 25 percent more successful in being smoke-free six months later than those who gradually reduced their intake.
Fortunately, there are myriad ways to stop smoking. Here are some methods that have worked for many people.
While you’re trying to break the habits associated with smoking—lighting up, the hand-to-mouth gesture, tapping the ash, etc.—you can continue to receive nicotine through gum, skin patches, nasal sprays, lozenges, or inhalers. After a few weeks, you can begin to taper off the nicotine replacement.
Two drugs that have been approved to help with nicotine withdrawal are bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix). Though not without side effects (including nausea and insomnia), these drugs have shown a high rate of success in weaning people off nicotine.
This is another method that numerous users report has helped them stop smoking immediately and permanently. While e-cigarettes do not contain the many toxic chemicals associated with cigarettes, they do involve inhaling several foreign substances into the lungs, the effects of which have not been studied.
In addition, given the recent instances of severe, debilitating, and even deadly consequences from some e-cigarettes, it might be better to select another method, at least until researchers can pinpoint the cause behind the sudden rise of these illnesses.
Tobacco is an addictive drug, not just a “habit.” Therefore, you will experience some withdrawal symptoms. These can include depression, anxiety, irritability, anger, and a sense of loss or grief, which may last several weeks.
Counseling can help you deal with these issues, as well as helping you understand your individual triggers for smoking and ways to overcome them.
Support during this time can be critical to helping you stay smoke-free. All 50 states and the District of Columbia offer some type of free, telephone-based counseling.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a list of resources that includes government websites, phone-based services, and apps for those trying to quit.
Other possible sources of support include your workplace, area hospitals, and wellness centers.
Finally, realize that if you don’t successfully stop smoking on the first attempt, that doesn’t mean you can’t. Many people try several times before succeeding.
When you’re ready to quit, talk to our doctors. We can help you design a method that will work for you.