A newly released U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking Cessation offers a big shot of support for individuals and healthcare systems seeking to curb smoking. That’s great, because the well-known facts about the harm smoking wreaks on individuals, society, and our economy, requires a strong public health response.
- Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S., killing some 480,000 people every year, including 41,000 deaths attributable to secondhand smoke.
- Lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and COPD are just some of the serious illnesses caused by smoking. About 16 million Americans live with smoking-related diseases that diminish quality of life and cost $170 billion for direct medical care every year.
- Smoking accounts for about 1 out of every 5 cardiovascular deaths.
- Cigarettes contain more than 4,000 chemicals of varying toxicity, including 43 known cancer-causing ones.
“I enjoy kissing more. …
“Another good thing was feeling energized…
“… the money that I’m saving by not smoking is absolutely great. … I’ve saved so much money. …
“I have more time to get more accomplished now that I’m not smoking.”
Smoking wreaked tremendous sadness and hardship in Tiffany’s life even before she started to smoke. Her mother died of lung cancer when Tiffany was 16, but even that didn’t keep her from picking up the habit at the age of 19. Finally, Tiffany quit smoking after 14 years when she realized she couldn’t bear the thought of missing out on any part of her own 16-year-old daughter’s life.
Tiffany quit, and she’s not alone. Since smoking reached its peak in 1965 when 42 percent of Americans smoked, the numbers have steadily come down to about 14 percent now. It’s especially encouraging to note that smoking rates among young adults (18-24 years) have declined to about 10 percent, down from 13 percent in 2016.
But 34 million Americans still smoke.
Quitting – a difficult but worthwhile challenge
If you or someone you know smokes – QUIT! It may prove to be one of the most difficult personal challenges you’ll undertake, but much easier than the challenge of dealing with the major diseases smoking can cause. And it’s never too late to quit. Even people who have smoked for decades have been able to quit for good and reverse the ill health effects of smoking. For example, after quitting for just eight hours, carbon monoxide levels in the blood return to normal and oxygen levels increase. After a year of not smoking, the risk of heart disease is cut in half.
Plan to succeed
Many successful former smokers say that thinking through, and even better, writing down their quitting plan, helped keep them on track when hit by cravings to smoke. A plan will provide guidance and motivation throughout the quitting process. Think about including these elements in your plan:
- Pick the date you’ll quit. Mark it on your calendar and let family and friends know about it. Choose a date that is no more than a week or so away. This’ll give you time to prepare, yet not too much time to lose your zeal.
- Get rid of cigarettes, ashtrays, and any items you associate with smoking. Freshen your house and car to remove lingering cigarette smell.
- Identify your personal reasons to quit smoking. Identifying the reasons that are most important to you can give you a boost to get past cravings. Make your reasons specific and personal. If you’re tired of spending money on cigarettes, calculate how many weeks of not smoking it will take to save for a special treat for you or your family, such as tickets to a concert or sporting event. You could actually use a jar to collect the money you’d have spent on cigarettes. If you want to be healthy for your kids’ sake, visualize dancing at their wedding, or how proud you’ll feel at their school graduation.
- Identify situations you associate with smoking and list some alternatives. If, for example, you’ve regularly smoked on the drive to work, have gum or hard candies at the ready. If going out socially with friends was a time you were used to lighting up, you can choose to: avoid those specific situations for a few months; ask a friend to distract you away from the smoking area; or try going to a new place that you won’t associate with smoking.
- Identify where you can get support and answers to questions that arise as you are quitting. Plenty of free resources, some as simple as signing up for free text messages, are available to help. See the resources listed in the Get support section below and choose what works for you.
Coping with cravings
Craving to smoke while you’re in the process of quitting is normal. Your body is used to nicotine, the addictive ingredient in cigarettes, and for a while your body will crave it. Urges to smoke are generally strongest in the first 10 to 14 days of quitting, and gradually taper off. Remember: cravings are temporary. With practice, you can devise ways to get past each craving when it arises. When you get the urge to smoke:
- Stay busy
- Keep hands and mouth occupied. Doodle with a pencil or keep a crossword or other puzzle nearby. Chew gum or hard candies.
- Change up whatever you’re doing at the moment a smoking urge strikes. Walk into a different room, go brush your teeth – switch to another activity to distract yourself from smoking.
- Take slow, deep breaths. Inhale through your nose, hold for ten seconds and slowly exhale through your mouth. Repeat until you’re relaxed and the urge isn’t so strong.
- Avoid places, people, and situations where you’ve smoked in the past. Do go to places that are smoke-free such as the movies, a store, or museum.
- Review your reasons for quitting. Mentally focus on the reasons listed in your quitting plan about why this is so important to you. If you wrote down the reasons, revisit the list in black and white. Take a few moments to picture how those reasons will make your life better. If having more energy is one of your reasons, imagine yourself doing some of the things you’re looking forward to with that newfound energy.
- Get support
- Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1.800.784.8669) to speak confidentially with a trained quitting coach at no cost. Get help and encouragement with your plan, quitting tips, and information about quit-smoking programs and medications.
- Go to www.smokefree.gov for free resources you can access by text, on social media, or apps for your tablet or phone.
- Reach out to friends and family members for support. Learn about the best ways to approach people to get the help you need by clicking here.
Medicines and treatment to assist quitting
Ask your doctor about what specific type of product or treatment may be best for you. For example, some products help curb cravings for nicotine, but the mental stress of quitting might be better addressed through behavioral therapy or prescription medicine. Your doctor may also recommend a combination of medicine and treatment for more effective results.
- Nicotine replacements such as lozenges, gum, or the patch are non-prescription products that provide small amounts of nicotine while you kick the smoking habit. Nicotine nasal sprays and inhalers require a prescription. Do not use nicotine replacement products until you’ve completely stopped smoking, and carefully follow all the instructions. Once you’ve stopped smoking, you may need nicotine replacements for two to three months.
- Prescription drugs such as bupropion (Zyban) or varenicline (Chantix) can help curb cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of these medications.
- Behavioral therapy involves counseling to navigate through the physical and mental challenges of stopping smoking.
What about weight gain?
Weight gain is often a concern when it comes to quitting cigarettes. Many people do gain weight, but you don’t have to.
- Watch what you eat. Crunch on carrots or stock up on favorite cut-up veggies instead of reaching for candy to keep your mouth busy.
- Exercise! Not only will you avoid weight gain, but exercise can help burn off tensions associated with quitting. Exercise increases your metabolism, which burns more calories even while you rest. People who exercise are twice as likely to succeed at quitting.
- Drink plenty of water. Being well hydrated boosts metabolism, burning more calories. It’s also a good distraction when you want to smoke. Carry a water bottle throughout the day and take a drink instead of a cigarette.
What about vaping?
While vaping is in itself a separate topic, the recent spike in news about its dangers should serve as a warning to not substitute a vaping product for cigarettes. The liquids in vaping products expose the lungs to a variety of chemicals, some of which have proven deadly. Toxic metals such as lead, chromium and nickel may be released when the coils inside the device heat the liquid. Breathing this toxic “soup” is linked to lung, liver, immune system and brain damage, as well as several cancers.
What if I don’t succeed at quitting?
A positive mental attitude about quitting is an essential ingredient for success. Think of yourself as a nonsmoker, and if you slip up and have a cigarette, try to learn from the mistake. What made you reach for that cigarette and how can you avoid doing it again? Most smokers quit three times before they are successful. Don’t give up! The more you quit, the greater your chance of ultimate success, including enjoying kissing more!