2014: How to become a former smoker

Mark Twain once said that giving up smoking is the "easiest thing in the world."

"I know," he said, "because I've done it thousands of times."

Why is it hard to quit smoking? And why is it even harder to remain smoke free? The reason is nicotine, a drug that naturally occurs in tobacco. It is as addictive as cocaine or heroin.

For many people, 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.

The Surgeon General says:

• Quitting smoking has major and rather immediate health benefits for men and women of all ages.

• Benefits apply to people with and without smoking-related disease.

• Former smokers live longer than continuing smokers.

• Quitting smoking decreases the risk of lung cancer, other cancers, heart attack, stroke, and chronic lung disease.

• Women who stop smoking before pregnancy or during the first three to four months of pregnancy reduce their risk of having a low birth weight baby to that of women who never smoked.

• The health benefits of quitting smoking far exceed any risks from the less than 10-pound weight gain or any adverse psychological effects that may follow quitting.

Benefits of quitting smoking:

• Twenty minutes after quitting: Heart rate and blood pressure decreases. Temperature of hands and feet normalize.

• Eight hours after quitting: Carbon monoxide level in the blood normalizes.

• Two weeks to three months after quitting: Blood 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.

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

• Ten years after quitting: Lung cancer death rate is about half that of a continuing smoker; 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.

Help Is Available

Tobacco dependence involves both a psychological and a physical component. For some people, the best way to quit smoking is some combination of medicine, a change of 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?

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

• Deciding when to quit and choosing a plan to quit

• Dealing with withdrawal

• Maintaining a smoke-free life

Dealing With Withdrawal

Withdrawal from nicotine has two components: physical and psychological. Physical symptoms are not life threatening. Nicotine replacement can help decrease many of these physical symptoms. The mental part of quitting is the bigger challenge that most smokers face.

Staying smoke-free

Remember the quotation by Mark Twain? Maybe you also have quit smoking on various occasions. 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. Look into the future and consider the times when you may be tempted to smoke. Now think of other ways to cope with these situations.

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

• 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.

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

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

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

• Pick the date and mark it on your calendar.

• Tell family and friends about your plan to stop smoking and your quit date.

• 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.

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

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

On your quit day follow these suggestions:

• 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.

• Do not smoke.

• Reduce or avoid alcohol.

Smoking habits are oftentimes linked directly to daily activities. Waking up in the morning, eating, drinking coffee, drinking alcohol, taking a break at work, leaving work for the day, etc. It will take time to de-link smoking to these activities. Use these ideas to help you keep your commitment to quitting:

• Avoid. 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 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.

A Word About

Quitting Success Rates

As with other programs that treat addictions, programs to help people stop smoking oftentimes have a fairly minimal success rate.

But that does not mean they are not worthwhile, or that you should be discouraged. Your own resolve in quitting is what really counts. Only your resolve 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.

Free help available for smokers who are ready to quit

If you are ready to become smoke-free, Yavapai Tobacco-Free Partnership offers tobacco cessation classes to the Prescott and Verde Valley communities. Julie "Rocky" Higgins facilitates the classes at YRMC in Prescott. Having taught tobacco cessation for the past 12 years, Higgins has received awards locally and nationally from the American Lung Association. Higgins is one of the most successful cessation facilitators in Arizona.

Linda Ann Stewart facilitates the cessation classes at the Sedona Medical Center and the Verde Valley Medical Center in Cottonwood. Due to her dedication and passion for helping people free themselves from tobacco, Stewart has had great success helping people quit tobacco use.

For more 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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