Smoking, like other unhealthy habits, can be tough to quit if you feel like there are a lot of barriers standing in your way. Barriers to quitting vary from person to person, so that’s why it’s important to identify your own unique challenges in order to come up with your own unique plan to conquer them. Barriers to quitting smoking often take the form of triggers, or situations, environments, or feelings you associate with smoking. It can be hard to escape these everyday occurrences, which may include:
- Working under pressure
- Feeling blue
- Playing cards
- Drinking alcohol
- Watching TV
- Driving your car
- Drinking coffee
- Feeling bored
- Going out with friends
- Seeing someone else smoke
Taking a minute to think about your triggers is a great first step to overcoming them. If you know what your barriers to quitting are, you can avoid, work around, or at the very least, be prepared for them.
Besides identifying triggers, another way to overcome barriers is to give yourself a visual reminder of them. You can make a list of everything you think is a barrier to your success, or you can think about your barriers in a different way by making lists of pros and cons. Focus on the pros and cons of smoking, by thinking about what you like and don’t like about it. Then, think about the pros and cons of quitting – what do you think you will like about it, and what do you think you will dislike about it? You’ll know you’re ready to quit if your list of “Cons” of smoking is much longer than your list of “Pros,” and your list of “Pros” to quitting is much longer than your list of “Cons.”
Quitting smoking is not an easy or quick process, but being aware of your barriers will make you much more prepared for all that the process entails.
November is often the month during which smoking cessation is most heavily promoted – the Great American Smokeout, held annually on the third Thursday of that month, challenges smokers to use that day to quit, or at least set a quit date. November has come and gone, and many smokers are still trying to quit. There is nothing wrong with picking a random day to kick your habit, so why not choose a day in March? If you choose to quit smoking, or other bad habits such as drinking too much, challenge yourself to take smalls steps toward doing so. Small, realistic goals are easier to keep and stick with, so you’re less likely to feel defeated and give up your quest to quit if you choose something that’s easily achievable. Try and complete at least one of these goals every day this month, and you may find that you’ve become a successful “quitter” before April 1:
- I left my lighter or matches at home.
- I drank a full, 8-ounce glass of water in between each cocktail.
- I called a cab at the end of an event to get a safe ride home.
- I had juice, soda, water, or coffee instead of alcohol at an event.
- I wore or brought and used my NRT product today.
- I chose to only consume the legal limit of alcohol and no more.
- I made sure my cocktail was served on ice, had no more than 1 shot of liquor in it, and was mixed with a juice, water, or soda.
- I only drank 1 or 2 low-alcohol beers (3.2% or less) instead of regular beer.
- I made sure to eat a full meal before I started drinking.
- I kept myself busy by talking or dancing to be less tempted to drink or use tobacco products.
- I put my tobacco products in the trunk to make it more difficult to use them at an event or in my vehicle.
- I appointed a designated driver who was responsible.
- I brought and chewed gum when tempted to use tobacco.
- I kept my hands busy by playing cards or eating a healthy snack instead of picking up a cocktail or cigarette.
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, seem to be everywhere nowadays – you see people “smoking” them on subway platforms and at restaurants, and they can even be purchased for around $20 at your local 7-Eleven. But with the ubiquitous presence of this new smoking cessation method comes several important questions: Are e-cigarettes effective? And more importantly, are they safe?
E-cigarettes are so new, as far as smoking cessation therapies are concerned, that there have been no definitive studies on their effectiveness, or safety. However, a 2011 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine http://download.journals.elsevierhealth.com/pdfs/journals/0749-3797/PIIS0749379710007920.pdf found that, in a small sample of users, over the course of 6 months e-cigarettes led to complete abstinence from smoking in 31% of those sampled. Loosely translated, this means that e-cigarettes are effective in quitting smoking about 1/3 of the time. Almost as important, if not more so, the study also showed that e-cigarettes reduced the number of regular cigarettes smoked in almost 70% of users.
The fact that e-cigarettes led to users cutting down on regular cigarettes is important because e-cigarettes deliver a lower dose of harmful nicotine than their tobacco-filled counterparts. E-cigarettes work by delivering an inhalable vapor (containing nicotine and some of the other chemicals in cigarettes) via a battery-operated device. So, users are inhaling a vapor rather than smoke, and the chemicals in the vapor are found in much lower quantities than in cigarette smoke. However, there are still chemicals involved, some of which (such as various nitrosamines and the highly toxic diethylene glycol) have been shown to be harmful to humans. An FDA analysis also revealed that the amount of chemicals varies from puff to puff, so there is no surefire way to determine exactly how much nicotine is being inhaled. This finding, as well as e-cigarettes’ chemical content and a few other factors, including the absence of definitive validating studies, has resulted in e-cigarettes NOT being approved by the FDA. Users can take this for what it’s worth, as many drugs and products approved by the FDA are eventually recalled, and there may be more evidence in the future to support and approve their use as a smoking cessation therapy. For now, the bottom line is that e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes, but other smoking cessation methods, such as nicotine gum or the patch, deliver fewer chemicals and are more effective in helping users quit. E-cigarettes may be a good gateway to other means of quitting smoking, but, until their safety and efficacy have been more thoroughly studied, they should probably not be used long-term.
With the Great American Smokeout a week away, it may be time to start thinking about quitting smoking, and finding the right method to help you do so. The good news is, you have plenty of options when it comes to quitting, and the health benefits of being a quitter will be the same no matter which method you choose:
- Going cold turkey: This method involves picking a quit date on which you will stop using tobacco products completely. If you find the thought of giving up nicotine all at once a little overwhelming, then you may prefer to choose another method.
- Cutting down gradually: If you prefer not to stop the use of all tobacco products on your quit date, you can cut down gradually by smoking fewer cigarettes each day or by spacing out the time in between your cigarettes. Some people may find this method difficult to hold to during stressful situations that compel them to crave tobacco.
- Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT): Nicotine substitutes can double the success rate of trying to quit. If you choose to quit by using NRT, talk to your health care provider if you are under age 18, pregnant, nursing, smoking fewer than 18 cigarettes per day, or have a medical condition.
– Gum: Nicotine gum is available over the counter and provides oral gratification. You control how often you chew it based on your cravings.
– Patch: The nicotine patch is available by prescription or over the counter and provides a steady dose of nicotine throughout the day.
– Nasal Spray: Nicotine nasal spray delivers nicotine to the brain faster than the patch or gum, and it is available by prescription only.
– Inhaler: The nicotine inhaler delivers nicotine through the membranes of the mouth (rather than through the lungs) and provides a substitute for the hand-t0-mouth gratification previously satisfied by cigarettes.
– Lozenges: Nicotine lozenges are similar to gums in that they are available over the counter and deliver nicotine through the mouth on an as-needed basis.
- Oral medication: Oral medication has a high success rate when used in combination with NRT. It works to control chemicals in the brain to reduce nicotine cravings and ease the symptoms of withdrawal. Due to the side effects associated with oral medication, make sure to talk to your doctor before choosing this quit method.
If you receive your health insurance through the GIC, you can receive additional assistance in quitting through your health plan. No matter what your quit date or which method you decide to choose, I wish you luck on your journey to becoming a former smoker.
November 15 marks the 37th anniversary of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout. Smokers are encouraged to use this day to make an action plan to quit smoking, or to plan ahead and actually quit smoking on November 15. Quitting smoking is no easy feat, so it helps to do some research on the best quitting method for you and to have a support system in place to make the transition to becoming a non-smoker much easier. The Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program within the Department of Public Health has a wealth of resources on smoking cessation, and all GIC health plans have benefits related to smoking cessation methods and programs.
If you’ve decided to use the Great American Smokeout as the impetus to quit, your body will certainly thank you, as the health benefits of quitting smoking are many. Some benefits are immediate, and others occur after you’ve been a non-smoker for awhile, but all of them are reasons worth considering quitting tobacco for good:
- After 12 hours: The carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal
- After 24 hours: Your chance of having a heart attack decreases
- After 2-3 months: Your circulation improves and lung function increases
- After 1 to 9 months: Coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue and shortness of breath decrease
- After 1 year: Your excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s
- After 10 years: You risk of lung cancer is half that of a smoker’s
- After 15 years: Your risk of coronary heart disease is the same as a non-smoker’s
If you are thinking about giving up smoking, I encourage you to join the ranks of smokers across the nation who plan on doing so on November 15.