Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. It causes more deaths that the combined total of deaths from breast, colorectal and prostate cancers. In this year alone, 2,610 Arkansans will be diagnosed with lung and bronchus (large air passages in the lungs) cancer; an estimated 2,190 Arkansans will die from these cancers.
In Arkansas, almost 40 percent of cancer deaths among men and 26 percent of cancer deaths among women, were caused by cigarette smoking, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Besides lung and many other types of cancer, smoking causes heart damage, including heart attacks, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Smoking raises “bad” cholesterol and lowers “good” cholesterol levels. Second-hand smoke from burning tobacco and the smoke breathed out by a smoker increase the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, asthma, respiratory infections and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). And, new research says that for every year you continue to smoke a pack a day, the DNA in every cell in your lungs acquires about 150 new mutations. The more mutations there are, the greater the risk that one or more of them will cause cancer.
If you’re among the 70 percent of adult smokers who say they want to quit, here are the top 10 tips to help you. They reflect what has worked best for former smokers who have successfully quit and stayed off tobacco.
- List your most important reasons for quitting.
You won’t be successful in quitting until YOU are ready. If you are quitting to please your spouse or because your doctor told you to, that’s not a strong enough motivator. You cannot change until you are ready and motivated to change.
AFMC’s Wellness Leader Toni Naramore explains motivation: “You have to get to the point where you’re so unhappy with where you are that you do something about it. No one can do it for you. No one can make your life less stressful so you don’t smoke. Just you. You have to be ready to make the change and willing to confront the challenges that come with it. You have to believe the work will be worth the reward of being tobacco-free. Just wake up every day and tell yourself this day you will be tobacco-free.”
Next, list how your life will be different once you quit. Other former smokers have included these reasons for quitting: “Setting bad example for my grandkids;” “I want to be healthier;” “I’m tired of being a slave to nicotine.” Other benefits of being tobacco-free include having more money, being able to taste food again, clothes/house/car smell better, breathe easier and cough less, teeth and fingernails won’t be stained and have more energy to enjoy life.
As you think about why you want to quit, it might be helpful to ask yourself these questions: What do I dislike about smoking? What do I miss out on when I smoke? How does smoking effect my health? How will my life be better when I quit?
- Develop a quit plan.
Write down the strategies that will keep you focused on quitting. This will help keep you motivated, focused and confident. The plan should include your personal challenges and ways to overcome them.
Tell your family, friends and co-workers of your plan to quit. Focus on and surround yourself with people who want you to succeed and can provide specific support when you need it. At least for a while, you may need to avoid friends or family members who smoke.
- Identify sources of support.
Identify where you can get support to remain tobacco-free. List the names of family, friends, co-workers, counselors, doctors or nurses who can help support your quitting efforts. List what each one can do to help you. For example, your doctor can prescribe nicotine-replacement methods, you can call your best friend when you crave a cigarette, or your neighbor will walk with you five mornings a week.
- Pick a quit date.
Pick a date that’s comfortable and convenient for you within the next two weeks. There is no perfect date but try to choose a time when stress will be low.
To commit to your quit date, write it on your calendar, share it with family and friends, post reminders in your home, office and car. A written commitment to quit is an important psychological boost. If we commit to something, we feel an obligation to honor our commitment.
A specific quit date also gives you time to mentally prepare, find resources and get your environment ready for a non-smoker. Remove and dispose of all reminders of smoking: cigarettes, pipes or chewing tobacco; matches, lighters and ashtrays. Deep clean the areas where you smoke in your home, car, porch or yard. Even the smell of nicotine smoke can trigger a craving.
Jot down what will change on your quit date. For example, “I won’t reach for a cigarette when I first wake up;” or “I will pop a piece of Nicorette gum after lunch and dinner.” Do a countdown to your quit date – try 10 days before.
- Choose “tools” to help you quit.
Research has shown that a combination of counseling and medication will triple your chances of successfully quitting and staying tobacco-free. Talk to your doctor about nicotine-replacement methods such as Nicorette gum or lozenges and nicotine skin patches. Stock up on these before your quit date. If you’ve tried these in the past and they haven’t worked well, ask your doctor about prescription medications.
Prescriptions can be more successful than over-the-counter nicotine-replacement methods. Prescriptions have proven to double your chances of quitting successfully. They work by blocking chemicals in the brain and reducing cravings and feelings of withdrawal. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved seven medications to help people quit smoking, including Wellbutrin (now available as a generic), Zyban and Chantix.
Other tools include counselors, support groups, mobile apps and telephone hotlines.
- National Cancer Institute’s free quit line at 1-877-44U-QUIT offers confidential information from smoking cessation counselors – especially helpful when you’re fighting a craving; available weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- Arkansas Department of Health’s free Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-784-8669 offers more resources and answers to your questions
- cancer.gov has free online counselors
- 1-800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) is a free quit line
- 1-855-DEJELO-YA (855-335-3569) is a free Spanish-language quit line
- quitSTART is a free mobile app that takes the information you provide about your smoking history and gives you tailored tips, inspirational messages and challenges to become smoke-free
- SmokefreeTXT provides 24/7 encouragement with text messages
Kicking the habit is easier and more fun when you have a support group – either in-person or online groups. The encouragement and tips you receive (and give) from people going through the same challenges can be a powerful motivator. They understand what you’re going through better than anyone else.
Another successful strategy is to use some mind and body practices such as mindfulness meditation-based therapies. These include yoga, tai chi, guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation.
- Identify smoking “triggers.”
Make a list of the situations, activities, people or places that make you want to smoke or that trigger a craving. Beside each, list how you will avoid them and what you will do to overcome cravings. Keep this list handy so you’ll know exactly what to do when a craving hits. You’ll want to update it as new situations come up and you find good solutions.
Effective ways to manage triggers or cravings include: call a friend, review your reasons for quitting, calculate what you’re saving by not buying tobacco, keep your mouth busy with gum or hard candy, drink water, stop what you’re doing and do something else, go for a walk, breathe deep, go to a smoke-free zone or use your nicotine-replacement products.
- Set your rewards.
After 24 hours, one week, one month, six months and one year of being smoke-free, you deserve a reward. List specific healthy rewards that you know will motivate you for each benchmark. Calculate what you would have spent on tobacco and spend that amount on something memorable. You’ve earned it!
- Be patient with yourself.
Be patient with your progress, especially if this is the first, or even third or fourth attempt to quit. Studies show that it takes many smokers five to seven serious attempts to quit. Of course, some people quit the first time and that’s great. But, if you slip up and smoke a cigarette or two, don’t be discouraged. This is only a minor setback and it does not mean you have failed overall. Don’t be too hard on yourself, this happens in the best cessation plans. Also, don’t be too easy on yourself. Figure out why you slipped up and redouble your strategies to avoid cravings. Ask for help from your support network or friends.
Be aware that women tend to have less success than men in quitting smoking. In trials of nicotine-replacement therapies, women benefitted less than men. Women who are trying to quit should address other issues that often emerge, including weight gain, restrictions on medication use by pregnant smokers and nicotine withdrawn during a menstrual cycle. Women are generally most susceptible to environmental cues that can trigger a craving.
- Participate in the Great American Smokeout.
Every year on the third Thursday of November –Nov. 17, 2016 – smokers across the nation take part in the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout. By quitting, even for one day, smokers will be taking an important step toward a healthier life and reducing their cancer risk. Quitting smoking has immediate and long-term benefits no matter at what age you quit.
The Great American Smokeout incorporates several of the most important suggestions described above – listing your reasons for quitting, developing a quit plan, letting others know you plan to quit, the importance of social support, selecting proven quit techniques and others. More information on the Smokeout here.
- Just do it!
You know you want to quit. Most smokers do. You’re got great reasons to quit, that are individual to you. You’ve got your support system set up and an assortment of tools to help. Fear of failure is no excuse. Take it one day at a time and good luck!
Here’s how your body will benefit once you quit:
- Heart rate and blood pressure begin to drop immediately.
- Carbon monoxide, which reduces blood’s ability to carry oxygen, begins to decline within a few hours of quitting.
- Your sense of smell improves and food starts tasting better within a few weeks.
- Blood circulation improves, your lungs produce less phlegm and coughing and wheezing ease up within a couple of weeks.
- Lung function substantially improves with a couple of months.
- Within a few years of quitting, your risk of getting cancer, heart disease, COPD and other chronic diseases drops.
- You’ll live longer. People who quit smoking are less likely to die from smoking-related illness. Smokers who quit before age 40 will reduce their chance of dying prematurely from smoking-related diseases by about 90 percent. Those who quit by age 34 will live about 10 years longer; by age 44 will live about nine years longer; by age 54, six years longer.