In the United States, an estimated 14% of adults currently smoke cigarettes, and is the leading cause of preventable death and disease. Smoking takes over 480,000 lives per year and creates monstrous medical bills for smokers and their caregivers totaling to $225 billion dollars when combined. Even without any medical costs, the average pack-a-day smoker spends $2,292 a year on the habit. With so many health and financial benefits at stake, why is it hard to quit smoking?
Why is quitting cigarettes difficult?
If you have ever attempted to quit smoking, you have most likely asked yourself, “Why is this so difficult?” The culprit in the addictive nature of cigarettes is nicotine. Nicotine causes an increase in adrenaline which can make you feel great while using it, but you slowly become dependent on it to feel normal. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people often report feeling sick when trying to quit smoking.
The addiction to cigarettes has set in and it is incredibly tough to get through the day without smoking or vaping. A smoking habit for most is associated with multiple facets of their day; talking with coworkers on a smoke break, having coffee, or after finishing their lunch. Not only is breaking the habit of routine hard, but the stress of change can cause someone to feel the urge to smoke. However, this task is not impossible with over 2 million smokers a year successfully quitting.
I want to quit. Where do I start?
There are many ways to start your health journey, but one recommendation by the CDC is to speak with a healthcare provider about medication. The absence of nicotine can affect your mood and even your sleep schedule so getting some help from a patch, lozenge, or gum can help with urges to smoke and can help you be more successful with quitting. Discuss with your doctor about any complications you may be having and if they have any recommendations for quitting.
Keeping cigarettes out of sight is essential, but the smell of cigarettes often stays long after it’s been extinguished. Try to wash clothes and surfaces that smell like smoke so it does not trigger the urge. When getting rid of your cigarettes or after smoking the last in that pack, throw away ashtrays and lighters from your home and car. Getting rid of your personal items attached to smoking is a big step, but it will be tempting to repurchase them and cigarettes if you go to places that sell them.
When shopping, try to avoid places that sell cigarettes like convenience stores, and avoid designated smoking areas. If you cannot avoid a place that sells tobacco products, prepare yourself beforehand and decide that you are not going to buy cigarettes. When shopping online you may be on email lists for tobacco companies, but you can unsubscribe. Ask to be taken off any physical mailing lists and opt out of texts they send you.
While you are telling tobacco companies that you are quitting, make sure to also tell your friends and family to create a support group. Social situations can tempt you to smoke, but it’s not always desired or practical to avoid them. Ask friends who still smoke if they would not smoke around you or offer you cigarettes in support of your efforts, and engage in activities that can take your mind off the cravings like talking with a friend, going to the movies, or taking a walk.
I have decided to quit, and I’m struggling.
While there are wonderful tips and tricks to help the urges and cravings, they are not entirely avoidable. The cravings can sometimes feel crippling and our natural response is to fight or give. Are those the only two options? According to the CDC, there is a third option: riding the wave.
The good news about urges is that they are temporary. If you don’t fight it or give in you can simply let it pass, but there are some things to tell yourself that can make it a bit easier to resist that temptation. Using cigarettes as a reward on a particularly bad day can led to picking up that habit again. Instead of treating yourself with a cigarette because you “deserve it” due to enduring stress, tell yourself that you deserve a break to relax from the day. It can feel easy to have a cigarette now to manage the craving, but with each cigarette it becomes increasingly difficult to stay on the health journey you are on. Choosing to ride the wave now makes quitting easier down the road.
While riding the wave it can be easier to have something that substitutes cigarettes. Currently, the NIH states there is not enough data to support that vaping will help you quit smoking. In teens that started vaping, research supports that they are more likely to use other tobacco products later in life. Some safe substitutes are cinnamon sticks, stress balls, doodling, and toothpicks. Try different methods even before you officially quit to see which one you like most. Some smokers even admit that they take a straw and pretend to smoke to trick themselves in situations where it was hard to break the habit, like riding in the car alone.
I am worried about my lung health.
Despite quitting, you have done some damage to your lungs and other organs by smoking. Remember to speak all concerns to your healthcare provider and follow up if you are not seeing improvement in your lung function even after quitting. Some symptoms you should reach out to your provider about are:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness or pain in the chest
- Thickening or lump in any part of the body
- Hoarseness or a cough that does not go away
- A hard time swallowing
If you are in the Anniston, Oxford, or Jacksonville area you can make an appointment with one of our family doctors who can help assess your health situation. Sometimes your primary care doctor will refer you to a specialist called a pulmonologist who can help if you are experiencing chronic breathing problems like a cough that persists for weeks. Some health insurances require that you get a referral, but others you can look in your insurance’s database and schedule an appointment with a pulmonologist that is in your network.
Regardless out the route you go about quitting, your quality of life can dramatically improve by choosing to not smoke. The CDC reports that almost 10 years can be added to your life expectancy, significant reduction in chances for cardiovascular disease, and lower chances of reproductive issues can all be attributed to quitting smoking. Protect yourself and those around you from tobacco smoke by choosing to quit today.