With each drag of a cigarette, a smoker breathes in 69 cancer-causing substances, raising their risk for heart disease and fatal heart attack, stroke and aneurysms. In fact, almost 500,000 people die each year from the harmful effects caused by smoking, while millions more suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which encompasses emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and literally can take your breath away.
But no matter how many years you’ve been smoking, the benefits of quitting are undeniable. “You’re never too old to quit,” says Dr. James Kiley, director of the Lung Division at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Md.
Though some lung damage may be permanent, lung function increases within three months of quitting smoking, and within nine months incidents of coughing and shortness of breath decrease. After quitting for one year, excess risk of coronary heart disease is cut by half.
Quitting, however, is not easy. Only 5 to 10 percent of attempts to quit are permanently successful. “It’s a trial to quit smoking,” says Patrick Reynolds, executive director of The Foundation for a Smokefree America, and grandson of the founder of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Smokers first have to fight the powerful nicotine addiction, and then the habit. “Just when the urge to smoke is dying down,” Reynolds says, “you’re out one night and someone lights up and you get this out-of-control urge to smoke.”
The chance for long-term success rises exponentially when smokers get help, including counseling, behavioral therapy and medications. Here are some tips to help you stop smoking for good: Stay focused. Write down your reasons for quitting and keep the list with you to help you stay determined. “You have to be mentally ready,” says Rick Lamb, a respiratory therapist at the Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mount Vernon, Mo. “That allows other tools to help you get through it. But you have to have the desire.”
Pick a quit date. “Setting a day gives it a psychological significance,” says Dr. Mark Rosen, president of the American College of Chest Physicians. The American Cancer Society recommends setting a date within the next month, giving yourself enough time to plan, but not enough time to change your mind.
Pay attention. Notice the situations that trigger you to crave a cigarette. As part of the 35-year-old SmokEnders program, smokers affix a chart to their cigarette packs to track the day and time of each cigarette. “Once people identify their own smoking profile, they can see what areas they need to work on,” says Cathy Lambert, national sales manager and a SmokEnders graduate. Learn more about the program at www.smokenders.com.
The American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking program asks smokers to note their mood at the time they smoke each cigarette. “It’s easier to knock out the ‘boredom’ cigarettes,” says Bill Blatt, manager of Tobacco Control Programs for the American Lung Association. To diminish the habit of smoking to relieve stress, the plan teaches quitters to learn to be more assertive with other people, and to exercise regularly. Learn more about the program at www.lungusa.org.
To better understand your smoking habit, take the American Cancer Society’s smoking habits quiz at www.cancer.org.
Be prepared. Plan ahead for situations that would normally trigger the need to light up. “Cravings and urges to smoke go away,” says Michael Burke, coordinator of the Nicotine Dependence Center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “If you can find ways to delay and not respond, it can help.”
“Train yourself to do other things,” says Mim Long, of Studio City, Calif., who quit her pack-and-a-half daily habit after 15 years of smoking with the help of the American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking program. “Plan that, ‘When I feel I need a cigarette, I’m going to walk outside’, or ‘I’m going to go to the bathroom’, or ‘I’m going to chew on a bar straw.’” Get support. Seek support from family, friends and coworkers, especially someone who has successfully quit smoking. It can be beneficial during tough times.
Celebrate success. Reward yourself for small victories. “It reinforces your desire to quit,” Blatt says.
Consider medications. Controlled doses of the addictive chemical nicotine can prevent withdrawal symptoms while you kick the habit. Nicotine replacement patches, gums and lozenges are available over-the-counter, while inhalers and nasal sprays require a prescription. Talk to your doctor and see if these or other medications might be right for you. One medication to consider is Bupropion (Zyban), a prescription antidepressant that cuts nicotine cravings. Begin taking the drug one week before your quit date. Another medication is Varenicline Tartrate (Chantix), a new drug that reduces the physical pleasure from smoking and mitigates withdrawal symptoms. The drug maker offers a complimentary counseling program and free medication for smokers with limited incomes. Call (877) 242-6849 to learn more.
Pick up the phone. Telephone help-lines called “quitlines” offer free phone counseling and information on local resources. Call (800) 227-2345 to speak with an American Cancer Society specialist who can help you plan to quit, offer relapse prevention or help you find a local support group. Quitline counselors also use mental imagery to help smokers imagine their trigger-situation, and picture themselves handling the situation without a cigarette, says Dawn Wiatrek, Quitline director.
To find out if your state operates a quitline, call the North American Quitline Consortium at (800) 784-8669.
Keep trying. Make up your mind to join the 46.5 million Americans who have quit smoking for good, and stay determined. “Smoking cessation is a very difficult process,” says Dr. Norman J. Edelman, chief medical officer at the American Lung Association. “Most people have to try several times before they quit.”