The Easiest Ways To Quit Smoking

An x-ray of a smoker's lungsSmoking-related diseases claim the lives of 430,700 Americans each year; of these 430,700 Americans, 45,000 are Black. African Americans continue to suffer disproportionately from chronic and preventable diseases compared to White Americans.

Of the three leading causes of death in African Americans — heart disease, cancer, and stroke — smoking and other tobacco use are major contributors to these illnesses. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), if current patterns continue, an estimated 1.6 million African Americans who are now under the age of 18 will become regular smokers. About 500,000 of those smokers will die of a smoking-related disease.

If you are a smoker, it’s time to quit. If you’re not a smoker, but you know someone who is, it’s time to urge him or her to quit. It won’t be easy. If it were, you probably would have already quit or convinced your loved one to do so. The difficulties of quitting this lethal habit are minimal in comparison to the health benefits. Use the following guidelines as a starting point to help you convert from smoker to nonsmoker:

1) Get mentally prepared. Think long and hard about all of the benefits of quitting. Imagine being free from the health risks, feeling fresh and having extra money to spend. Use these thoughts to gain motivation and confidence.

2) Devise a strategy. Pick a date to go smoke free and stick to it. Prepare for temptations. When do you smoke the most? What makes you want a cigarette? Either try to avoid situations that will manipulate you into smoking or think of healthy alternatives to smoking, like chewing gum. Also, try to gain the support of the people around you. Tell your co-workers that you are quitting, so they will stop inviting you on “cigarette breaks.”

3) Go smoke free! Throw away all of your cigarettes. Do not keep them around “just in case.” This will be too tempting. Be prepared for the withdrawal symptoms. The first few weeks are the worst. After awhile the symptoms will subside. Withdrawal symptoms are signs that your body is starting to recover. Here are a few of the withdrawal symptoms and ways to overcome them:

· Cravings – your brain is missing the nicotine fix, this should get better after a few weeks.
· Coughing – your lungs are clearing out tar. Try having a warm drink to soothe your cough.
· Hunger, diarrhoea or constipation – your body is just returning to normal, try to eat healthy snacks instead of junk food.
· Dizziness – your brain is getting used to having a normal amount of oxygen. Don’t worry, this should only last a few days.
· Trouble sleeping, bad moods – these are signs of nicotine withdrawal and shouldn’t last more than two or three weeks.

4) Don’t give up. Don’t fall victim to the “just one cigarette won’t hurt” theory. The idea is to quit completely, not quit just a little bit. You should be proud of yourself during every step of your journey. You are taking control of your life and your health. Remember you are in control, not nicotine.

No Ifs, Ands Or Butts About It

black hand holding a lit cigaretteIf you’re a smoker, chances are you’ve already tried to quit. So you know from experience that it’s not easy. Many ex-smokers say quitting was one of the hardest things they’ve ever done. But many do succeed in the end. And the health benefits they gain make quitting worth the effort.

There’s no question about the harm smoking can do. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death nationwide. If you smoke, you’re up to 6 times more likely to suffer a heart attack than non-smokers, and the risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked. Tobacco is also one of the strongest cancer-causing agents. Up to 90% of lung cancer deaths are attributed to smoking.

The good news is, as soon as you stop smoking, your lungs, heart and blood vessels start getting better. When you quit, you greatly reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and early death. Within a year of quitting, you’ll have cut your risk of developing heart disease by nearly half. You’ll feel more energetic and breathe more easily. And you’ll be protecting the health of the people around you. Quitting can even save you money. If you smoke a pack a day, quitting could save you up to $150 a month.

Although you know that quitting is a smart thing to do, chances are you’ll still find it tough. “If you have trouble quitting, or if you’ve had trouble in the past, you’re in the majority,” says Dr. Glen D. Morgan, a scientist at NIH’s National Cancer Institute (NCI). “We know that the more attempts that people make to quit, and the more they try, the greater their chances of success in the long run. People can capitalize on their previous efforts to quit, and they can learn from them.”

Why is it so hard to stop smoking? After months and years of lighting up, smoking may be part of your daily routine. “Maybe you’ve developed certain patterns of smoking, like having a cigarette after a cup of coffee or when you’re talking on the phone,” says Morgan. “Or maybe you smoke when you’re stressed, or when you get into the car or put on your makeup.” You may light up without even thinking about it.

You might even feel uncomfortable not smoking at times or in places where you usually have a cigarette. These times and places are called “triggers” because they trigger, or turn on, cigarette cravings. For many smokers, breaking these habits is the hardest part of quitting.

Your biology can also play a role. You may be addicted to nicotine, a chemical found in all tobacco products. Nicotine can make you feel calm and satisfied, or alert and focused.

The more you smoke, though, the more nicotine you’ll need to feel good. If you become dependent on nicotine, you may not feel normal without it. And when you try to quit smoking, you may feel dull, tense and not yourself while your body gets used to life without nicotine. Called “nicotine withdrawal,” this feeling usually lasts for only a few weeks, but it leads many to return to their cigarettes to feel normal again.

Several research teams have also found that genes can affect how hard or easy it is for you to quit. Last year, Dr. Caryn Lerman of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and her colleagues reported that they’d found variations in genes that seem to influence whether a smoker has a better chance of quitting using nicotine replacement therapies or a drug called bupropion, or Zyban. “But these studies are still in their early stages,” says Lerman. “More research is needed before we can translate the findings into a genetic test that can help smokers quit by personalizing therapy to their individual needs.”

Some find that a combination of medication and support from friends or counselors helps them to quit, but others have had success without medication. “We know that there are many effective ways to quit smoking. There’s no single ‘right’ way,” says Morgan. “The key is that you need to be motivated, and you need to be prepared. You need to develop a plan, and put the plan into motion.”

The first step, many experts suggest, is to set a quit date. Think about choosing a special day—maybe your birthday or wedding anniversary or World No Tobacco Day on May 31.

Next, tell others about your plan. It’s easier to stop smoking if you have support from your friends, family and co-workers. Last year, an NIH-funded study found that changes in smoking behavior can spread through a social group. In many cases, spouses, friends, siblings and co-workers decided to start smoking or quit for good around the same time. Try asking your spouse or friends to quit with you, or at least not to smoke around you.

You should also be ready to face difficult moments. Most people who go back to smoking do it within the first 3 months. Plan for how to deal with the smoking urge before it hits. Throw away all your cigarettes and matches. And get rid of all the things that remind you of smoking in your home, in your car and at work.

For additional help, you can get over-the-counter medicines—like the nicotine patch, nicotine gum or nicotine lozenge—from your grocery store or pharmacy. For other medicines, you’ll need a prescription. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about medications that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help you quit.

For example, Lerman says, “The newest drug on the market is called varenicline, or Chantix. It reduces levels of nicotine withdrawal and craving.”

It takes time to break the smoking habit. Don’t give up too soon. You may need more than one try to quit for good. But others have succeeded, and so can you.