Pocket guide to becoming a former smoker

For many, quitting smoking is one of the hardest things to do. Whether you smoke a half of a pack of cigarettes each day or three packs a day, American Cancer Society has guidelines to help you stop smoking.

"Quitting smoking is easy," Mark Twain once said. "I've done it a thousand times." Why is quitting and staying smoke-free so hard? The answer is nicotine, a drug that naturally occurs in tobacco. It is as addictive as cocaine or heroin.

Help Is Available

Tobacco addiction has both a psychological and a physical component. For most people, the best way to quit smoking is some combination of medicine, a method to change personal habits, as well as emotional support. With a wide range of counseling services, self-help materials and medicines available today, smokers have more tools than ever to help them quit successfully.

Will you use nicotine replacement therapy (the patch or gum)? Will you attend a smoking cessation class?

Help With Psychological Addiction

•Both formal and informal.

Telephone-based Help to Stop Smoking

Support of Family, Friends, and Quit Programs

What to Look for in a Stop Smoking Program

• One-on-one or group counseling, intensity of counseling and the success rate.

Help With Physical Addiction: Nicotine Replacement Therapy and Other Medicines

Which Type of Nicotine Replacement May Be Right for You?

Success Rates

The truth is, programs to help people stop smoking, like other programs that treat addictions, often have a fairly minimal success rate. But that does not mean they are not worthwhile, or that you should be discouraged. Your own success in quitting is what really counts, and that is within your control.

Between 5 percent and 16 percent of people are able to quit smoking for at least six months, without any medicine to help with withdrawal.

How to Quit

Smokers often say, "Don't tell me why to quit. Tell me how to quit." There is no one right way to quit. But there are some key elements in quitting with success. These four factors are key:

• Making the decision to quit

• Setting a date to quit and choosing a plan to quit

• Dealing with withdrawal 

• Staying smoke-free (maintenance)

Dealing With Withdrawal

Withdrawal from nicotine has two parts, the physical and the psychological. The physical symptoms, while annoying, are not life threatening. Nicotine replacement can help reduce many of these physical symptoms. But most smokers find that the bigger challenge is the mental part of quitting.

Staying smoke-free

Remember the quotation by Mark Twain? Maybe you, too, have quit many times before. So you know that staying smoke-free is the final - and most important - stage of the process. You can use the same methods to stay smoke-free as you did to help you through withdrawal. Think ahead to those times when you may be tempted to smoke, and plan on how you will use alternatives and activities to cope with these situations.

The Health Belief Model says that you will be more likely to stop smoking if you:

• Believe that you could get a smoking-related disease - and this worries you.

• Believe that you can make an honest attempt at quitting smoking.

• Believe that the benefits of quitting outweigh the appeal of continuing to smoke.

• Know of people who have had health problems as a result of their smoking.

Here are some steps to help you prepare for your quit day:

• Pick the date and mark it on your calendar.

• Tell friends and family of your quit date.

• Stock up on sugarless gum, cinnamon sticks, carrot sticks and hard candy.

• Practice saying, "No, thank you. I don't smoke."

• Set up a support system. This could be a group plan, Nicotine Anonymous, or a friend who has successfully quit and is willing to help you.

On your quit day follow these suggestions:

• Do not smoke.

• Get rid of all cigarettes, ashtrays, etc.

• Keep active. Try walking, exercising or doing other activities or hobbies.

• Drink lots of water or juice.

• Begin using the patch or gum if that is your choice.

• Attend stop smoking class or follow a self-help plan.

• Avoid high-risk situations where the urge to smoke is strong.

• Reduce or avoid alcohol.

Your smoking habits are directly linked to your daily activities. Waking up in the morning, eating, reading, watching TV, drinking coffee, etc. It will take time to "un-link" smoking from these activities.

Use these ideas to help you keep your commitment to quitting:

• Avoid. People and places where you are tempted to smoke. Later on you will be able to handle these with more confidence.

• Alter habits. Switch to soft drinks or water instead of alcohol or coffee. Take a different route to work. Take a brisk walk instead of a coffee break.

• Alternatives. Use oral substitutions such as sugar-free gum or hard candy, raw vegetables such as carrot sticks, or sunflower seeds.

• Activities. Exercise or hobbies that keep your hands busy can help distract you from the urge to smoke.

Here are the benefits of quitting smoking:

• Twenty minutes after quitting: Heart rate and blood pressure drops. Temperature of hands and feet increase to normal.

• Eight hours after quitting: Carbon monoxide level in the blood drops to normal.

• Two weeks to three months after quitting: Circulation improves; lung function increases as much as 30 percent.

• One to nine months after quitting: Coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue and shortness of breath decrease; cilia regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs and reduce infection.

• One year after quitting: Excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker's.

• Five years after quitting: Stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker 5-15 years after quitting.

• Ten years after quitting: Lung cancer death rate about half that of a continuing smoker's; risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, cervix, bladder and pancreas decrease.

Fifteen years after quitting: Risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker.

Think that you're one of the lucky ones? Maybe you are ... but then again, maybe you're not. Think about it.

Cigarettes can cause lung cancer and contributes to many other cancers, emphysema, and heart disease. About half of all smokers end up dying of a smoking related illness.

Smokers are twice as likely to die from heart attacks as nonsmokers.

Smoking also causes premature wrinkling of the skin, bad breath, bad smelling clothes and hair, and yellow fingernails and hair, yellow fingernails and an increased risk of macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of blindness in the elderly.

In 1990, the Surgeon General concluded:

Quitting smoking has major and immediate health benefits for men and women of all ages. Benefits apply to people with and without smoking-related disease.

If you are ready to say goodbye to smoking, the Yavapai Tobacco-Free Partnership offers free tobacco cessation classes in the Prescott area. The eight-session course deals with learning how to quit using different tools and techniques. Participants also learn about health and nutrition, the effects of smoking and how to deal with stress. A two-week supply of nicotine replacement gum or lozenges is also provided.

For information on the classes or just to get some help quitting, call (928) 634-6858 in the Verde Valley area, or (928) 442-5572 in the Prescott area.

Get help in your area by calling the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345 (1-800-227-2345). Another source for smokers who are trying to quit is the Arizona Smoker's Helpline at 1-800-556-6222 or visit http://www.ashline.org.

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