One of the most difficult topics to address with patients is one that seems to be a no-brainer: quitting smoking. For years, many governmental agencies have pushed public service campaigns aimed at stemming the tide of tobacco use. And to some extent, these attempts have been successful: in the last 50 years, adult smoking rates have fallen from 43% to 18% of the population, and lung cancer rates are steadily declining.
But tobacco use and related illnesses remain the No. 1 cause of mortality in the United States. And between the years 2000-2004, cigarette smoking caused nearly $200 billion in health care related financial losses.
It is a fact that nicotine is addictive. And it is also a fact that tobacco companies do not want smokers to quit – they spent $24 million a day in 2011 advertising their products. Finally, it is a fact that quitting can be extremely difficult, with most smokers requiring multiple attempts prior to successfully quitting.
So, why should you quit? There are a million reasons, but they all boil down to one: smoking cessation will greatly improve your health and quality of life. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people who quit smoking:
- Decrease their risk of all types of cancer, especially those of the lung, mouth, throat, and bladder;
- Decrease the likelihood of developing heart and vascular disease, or suffering a stroke;
- Have reduced coughing and wheezing and slower decline in lung function;
- Decrease the likelihood of developing COPD, a chronic lung disease that can lead to recurrent respiratory infections and hospitalizations;
- Reduce their risk of infertility. Women who quit smoking during pregnancy improve the health of their child and lower the risk of having a low birth-weight baby. Men who smoke are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction.
With so many reasons to quit, why not make 2014 the year that you stop smoking? There are a few prescription, as well as over-the-counter smoking cessation aids available; counseling has also been found to increase success. You should talk to your family doctor about which method(s) are most appropriate for you.
Here are some methods I often suggest in my practice to help patients in their attempts to quit smoking.
- First, choose a quit date. Some people use a birthday or anniversary; you can also choose a random day, but once you’ve chosen, stick to it. This sets a point in time after which you will no longer be smoking, and helps your brain begin to prepare for life without cigarettes.
- Second, start identifying times or situations that make you more likely to smoke. For some people, it’s after breakfast; for others, it’s in the car, driving. Whatever your “trigger,” come up with a way to alleviate the inevitable craving. I advise patients to drink a large glass of water after breakfast, or go for a walk to put off the need for a cigarette. I also advise drivers to keep silly putty in the car and mold it while driving to satisfy the need to have an object in hand. Toothpicks, straws or sugar free candy or gum can all help with oral cravings.
- Third, remove environmental triggers: empty the ashtray in your car and have the interior detailed to eliminate that smoky smell. Toss out the ashtrays and lighters in your home or wherever you smoke. Rearrange your furniture to create a bit of unfamiliarity for your brain and remove that “force of habit.”
- Finally, QUIT! The evening before your quit date, tell yourself that this is your last cigarette and throw out the pack and your lighter. Upon waking, remind yourself that this is the first day of your journey; every hour that you go without a cigarette is an achievement!
And if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Your health - and that of those around you – depends on it.
Dr. Jacqueline Riedel is a Family Medicine physician and a member of the Kennedy Health Alliance. She practices in West Deptford, NJ, and can be reached by calling 856/384-0210