Ask anyone who has tried to stop smoking or using other tobacco products, and they will tell you: Quitting is tough.
Studies suggest that someone who smokes might try to quit 10 to 30 times before they are successful. Because it is so difficult to do, it is important that people trying to quit using tobacco products find support.
In health care, the term for quitting tobacco products such as cigarettes, chewing tobacco, pipes and snuff is “tobacco cessation.” Reasons to quit include improving their health or the health of others; oral hygiene; smelling better; and reducing damage to clothes, furniture and other property, just to mention a few.
The health benefits of tobacco cessation are many. According to the World Health Organization:
» Within two to 12 weeks, circulation improves and lung function increases.
» After one year, the risk of coronary heart disease is cut in half.
» Stroke risk is the same as a nonsmoker after five to 15 years.
» Risk for various forms of cancer, such as lung, mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix and pancreas, decrease.
» Life expectancy increases: Quitting at age 30 adds about 10 years; quitting at age 60 adds about three years.
» Risk of having a second heart attack is reduced by 50%.
» Risk of children’s respiratory diseases and ear infections due to secondhand smoke is reduced.
To help quit smoking, studies have shown that a combination of medication and counseling is more effective than either alone. Medications include over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies such as the Nicoderm patch, sprays, gums and lozenges, and electronic cigarettes or vaping.
These therapies help relieve nicotine withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and are normally used during the earlier phases of smoking cessation. Prescription medications include Zyban, Chantix and certain antidepressants. With all medications, there are risks that should be discussed with a health care provider.
Though e-cigarettes and vaping (also known as Juuling) have become a popular smoking alternative and method to help quit traditional cigarettes, they can create additional problems. Vaping uses a battery-operated device to inhale an aerosol containing nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals.
These devices are often marketed as healthier than cigarettes, as they do not contain tar or carbon monoxide. However, research shows the amount of nicotine inhaled is often higher. The amount of nicotine varies based on the device used, the inhaling technique and the intensity of inhaling.
High levels of nicotine result in increased heart and respiratory rates, increased blood pressure, and particles and metals accumulating in the lungs. Those changes can lead to impaired lung function, changes in lung tissue, lung-tissue damage and irreversible scarring on the bronchioles known as “popcorn lung,” according to the American Lung Association.
Behavioral treatments include motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness and telephone support (quit lines).
» Motivational interviewing occurs in patient-focused sessions that allow participants to explore and resolve their uncertainties about quitting, clarify what is important to the individual, increase motivation to make healthy changes and identify inconsistencies between values and behaviors.
» Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people identify triggers associated with tobacco use and teaches relapse prevention and coping strategies to avoid smoking in high-risk situations.
» Mindfulness therapy helps participants avoid relapse by increasing awareness of thoughts and feelings and helping refocus attention proactively.
» Quit lines and telephone support are part of tobacco regulation efforts in each state. The quit lines offer quick access to counselors who provide support, information and nicotine replacement tools, such as patches or gum. The national phone number is 800-QUIT-NOW.
There are multiple benefits to quitting smoking and just as many effective methods available to help people be successful. Behavioral interventions and medication, when used together, greatly increase the success of long-term smoking cessation.
To find out more about tobacco cessation, tips and resources, visit the American Cancer Society at cancer.org and search for “quitting smoking.”