Tips to Help Make the Decision to Quit Smoking Permanent
Quitters Always Win
It’s been proven over and over again: Smoking is an addiction that is extremely harmful to your health. Smokers run two to four times the risk of heart disease or stroke compared to non-smokers. And male smokers are 23 times more likely to incur lung cancer. But quitting is not as easy as it sounds — especially for those who have smoked heavily for a long time.
Cigarettes weave their way into our brain chemistry, habits and social interactions. Between the withdrawal and countless associations that can trigger a relapse, it’s no wonder it usually takes seven to eight attempts to quit successfully. Fortunately, quitters today have more tools and knowledge at their disposal than ever.
The first step to quitting successfully is to acknowledge the addiction, according to Penny Eubanks, assistant director of the West Florida Area Health Education Center (AHEC). “It’s an addiction, not a habit,” she says firmly.
Additionally, it’s important to be ready and committed to quit. Pulmonologist Dr. John C. Chaney with White-Wilson Medical Center advises, “The patient has to have decided in their mind that they’re ready to quit. Because of the strength of the addiction, the person has to be really committed.”
Once the decision has been made, the key is to develop a plan and gather the appropriate resources. At the outset, Chaney suggests removing all ashtrays, cigarettes and cigarette butts from the house. Additionally, he points out that thoroughly cleaning to remove the smell of smoke from the house, and even rearranging the furniture for a fresh start, can be very helpful.
After getting rid of any cigarettes and associated accoutrements in the house, it’s all about the game plan. Eubanks explained that the West Florida AHEC employs a combination of counseling and nicotine replacement therapy.
“One of the things that our program really stresses is the group counseling,” she explains. “You have that camaraderie of people in the same situation. They get support from each other.”
The nicotine replacement therapy helps quitters by alleviating the physical addiction, supplying nicotine through things like gum and patches. E-cigarettes are one of the newer nicotine replacement therapy options, and Chaney emphasized their utility, as they allow smokers to mimic smoking without ingesting any harmful substances. The familiarity of the action for the hands, especially, Chaney points out, can make a huge difference.
The psychological component of smoking addiction can be just as difficult to overcome as the physical withdrawal.
“When I’m consulting my patients about quitting, we always talk about those two (components) independently,” Chaney notes. The hardest part of quitting can often be navigating a world full of situations associated with smoking. Waking up, driving, going out in the evening … any situation once associated with smoking can become a trigger.
“It’s hard to do those things without the desire to smoke,” Chaney admits. Half the battle is often won by avoiding those situations or coming up with a plan to manage the urge to smoke when encountering them. Eubanks added, “You need to put yourself in situations where you can manage your addiction. You may just have to avoid things sometimes.”
For this reason, AHEC provides additional support, helping quitters work on stress management (as smoking is often used as a source of stress relief or sometimes even self-medication), good nutrition to support the body as it acclimates and additional counseling to see what other lifestyle changes might be helpful.
The most crucial thing to remember is to stay positive, approaching each day optimistically. “Concentrate on the good things that are happening — not your loss,” advises Eubanks.
Your Quitting Arsenal
November 15 is the 37th annual Great American Smokeout. Here are some suggested weapons of choice in one of the few fights that has us rooting for the quitter.
▪ Nicotine replacement treatments like gum and patches help quell the withdrawal without having to smoke.
▪ E-cigarettes mimic the experience of smoking, but with water vapor instead of smoke.
▪ Flavored toothpicks — and especially cinnamon sticks — are two popular tools for those who miss the familiar oral action of smoking. Cinnamon sticks even allow quitters to inhale through them.
▪ Chantix is a non-nicotine prescription medicine specifically developed to help adults 18 and over quit smoking.
▪ A stress ball can help release tension and allows quitters to keep their hands busy.
▪ A piggy bank (or just a money jar) is a great way to keep track of the money saved by not smoking; treat yourself to small rewards with the money you save.