The Great American Smokeout is tomorrow. The American Cancer Society has chosen the third Thursday in November for this annual event to encourage smokers to quit. There are still an estimated 43.8 million cigarette smokers in the U.S. and several million others who use tobacco in other forms. Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in this country.
This is not surprising news. Most smokers understand this just fine. So why do people continue to smoke? There are two main reasons: nicotine is highly addictive, and quitting is really hard. The Great American Smokeout and other efforts throughout the year are really intended to give smokers a psychological boost to take steps to quit. Many tobacco users are discouraged by past, failed attempts to stop. It takes an average of seven times for users to successfully stop smoking, so it is no wonder people become reluctant to even try or try again.
On the other hand, there are techniques that have been shown to dramatically increase the likelihood of successful smoking cessation. First, pick a quit date that is good for you. Tomorrow would be great, but you should choose the best date for you. Second, make sure you have no tobacco products on that date but use some form of nicotine replacement. Patches, gum and lozenges are all effective aids to help lessen withdrawal. Third, talk ahead of your quit date with your health care provider about medications that can reduce cravings and improve quit rates. Both bupropion (Wellbutrin or Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix) have been proven to be effective. Next, include some regular exercise at those times you feel most likely to backslide. Finally, a good support system is tremendously helpful. Many resources are available to assist you, including at the American Cancer Society or Great American Smokeout and Quit Line Iowa, or call Quit Line Iowa at 1-800-784-8669.
My Dad was fond of wise sayings. He would often encourage us kids when we did not succeed at something by telling us, “Sometimes you just have to back up for a running start.” I would like to share that idea with smokers who might have tried to quit smoking in the past but failed or relapsed. Stopping for even a day is good. Reducing from a pack to half a pack of cigarettes is also good if that is the best one can do. But quitting for good is best of all.
It is my hope that every smoker who reads this gets the encouragement he or she needs to try another time to stop using tobacco. Don’t give up on yourself. Let us health care folks help where we can. Good luck, and take that running start.
Peter J. Reiter, MD, FACP, is the Medical Director at Ottumwa Regional Medical Center Cardiac Rehabilitation, Mercy Ottumwa Clinic.