Commentary by Dr. Mary Jean Vorwald
There’s no denying that cigarette smoking is hazardous to our health. Smoking causes multiple forms of cancer, including lung, throat, mouth, esophagus, stomach and bladder. It can result in emphysema as well. Smoking is also an expensive habit – not just in the cost of cigarettes, but in the time lost from work due to illness. If the health risks are so great, and the cost is so high, why don’t more people quit? Because quitting smoking is difficult.
I tell my patients that there are four stages of quitting smoking:
- Awareness – Understanding the health risks and accepting them
- Motivation – Deciding it’s time to quit
- Planning – Developing a strategy to quit
- Action – Quitting
In order to stop smoking, people must overcome a real addiction to nicotine. When the body is deprived of nicotine, receptors in the brain trigger cravings, which can be hard to ignore. The habit of smoking itself is also difficult to break. For many people, daily activities, such as having a cup of coffee in the morning, are triggers for smoking. Some people also use smoking to cope with stress and anxiety. Kicking the smoking habit requires that people address both of these factors – the addiction and the habit.
Tips for beating the addiction:
- Use nicotine replacement options, such as lozenges, gum or patches.
- Treat the nicotine receptors with prescription medication.
- Be patient; cravings will usually pass within a few minutes.
Tips for curbing the smoking habit:
- Identify where/when you smoke and change your routine.
- Find substitutions for smoking, such as chewing gum, drinking more water or chewing on straws or coffee stir sticks.
Your primary care doctor will gladly help you develop a plan. There are great programs to help with quitting strategies and addressing specific triggers. Check out the following websites: smokefree.gov, committedquitters.com and way2quit.com. Don’t despair if you relapse. It often takes people several attempts before they can make smoke-free living a permanent reality. You just have to decide that now is the time and believe that you can do it.