Kevin Lutz, MD, FACP
Apr 1 2019

According to the Surgeon General, quitting smoking is the single most important step a smoker can take to improve the length and quality of his or her life.

Heart HealthMen’s HealthWomen’s Health

Why it is so important to stop smoking cigarettes?

According to the Surgeon General, quitting smoking is the single most important step a smoker can take to improve the length and quality of his or her life. Tobacco use, namely cigarette smoking, remains the leading preventable risk factor for cancers and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, leading to 480,000 deaths each year across the United States.                      

An important thing to know is that it is NEVER too late to quit. Health benefits can start right away. 12 minutes after quitting, your heart rate drops to a normal level. 12 to 24 hours after quitting, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal and the risk of heart attack is significantly reduced. 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting, the risk of having a heart attack begins to drop and lung function begins to improve. 1 year after quitting, your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker. 10 years after quitting, your risk of dying from lung cancer and getting bladder cancer is about half that of a smoker. 15 years after quitting, your risk of coronary heart disease is the same as that of a nonsmoker.

Not to belabor the point, but tobacco use and smoking have been linked to much more than lung cancer. Lung  cancer tops the list, naturally, but other types include head & neck, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder and cervical cancer.

How to quit smoking cigarettes?

There is no one way to quit that works for everyone. However, there are several prevention and cessation programs that are available to break the tobacco addiction for good. Setting a plan for this goal will help start the process.

  • Pick a date to stop smoking and then get ready for it.
  • Record when and why you smoke. You will learn what triggers your urge to smoke.
  • Record what you do when you smoke. As you plan to stop, try smoking at different times and places to break the connections between smoking and those activities.
  • List your reasons for quitting. Read over the list before and after you quit. Then read it again. And again.
  • Find activities to replace smoking. Be ready to do something else when you want to smoke.
  • Talk to your doctor! There are different medications and nicotine replacement therapies that help and can be very beneficial to cut the addiction.

What are the different smoking cessation medicines that can help?

As mentioned above, there are a several medications. These medications can help with the craving for tobacco, the withdrawal symptoms that come along with quitting and can keep you from starting to use tobacco again. Smoking cessation medications work best when they are part of a program that includes making a clear decision to quit, a firm quit date and support from your doctor, a counselor, a support group plus family & friends.

Bupropion (Zyban) is a pill that may cut down your craving for tobacco. Bupropion is also used for people with depression. It helps with quitting tobacco even if you do not have problems with depression. Varenicline (Chantix) is another medication that helps with the craving for nicotine along with withdrawal symptoms. It works in the brain to reduce the physical effects of nicotine. This means that even if you start smoking again after quitting, you will not get as much pleasure from it when you are taking this drug.                            

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) replaces the nicotine you were getting from tobacco with a pure form of medical nicotine that is much safer than tobacco products. You can use more than one form of NRT to match the amount of nicotine you get from tobacco, and slowly reduce how much nicotine you use over time. Using NRT when you quit can lessen cravings and withdrawal symptoms. NRT’s include nicotine patch, gum, lozenge, nasal spray and inhaler.

What to do after quitting?

On the day you picked to quit, start that morning without a cigarette and don’t focus on what you are missing; instead think about what you are gaining. Tell yourself you are a great person for quitting and be sure to remind yourself of this when you want a smoke. Keep your hands busy by doodling, playing a sport, knitting or getting work done on a computer.                                

It is also important to change activities and the lifestyle that were connected to smoking. Take a walk or read a book instead of taking a cigarette break; don’t carry a lighter, matches or cigarettes. Try going to places that don’t allow smoking, such as museums and libraries.                      

Eat low-calorie, healthy foods if the urge to smoke comes on. Carrot and celery sticks, and fresh fruits are good options. Cut down on alcohol and caffeine, they can trigger urges to smoke. Select water, herbal teas, caffeine-free soft drinks and juices instead.                     

Exercising will help you relax and socializing with non-smokers can be very beneficial. Most important, be proud of yourself. Tell others about your milestones with pride. Remember, as soon as you quit, your body begins to repair the damage caused by smoking and continues to repair itself for many years.

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