As 2020 dawns, you might feel renewed motivation to stop smoking cigarettes or vaping. But quitting is not easily done.
About two-thirds of smokers want to quit. Yet a few years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that just 1 in 10 smokers successfully dropped the habit over the course of a 12-month period.
Smoking is difficult to kick because it is almost a perfect combination of pharmacology and behavior, says Martin Raw, director of the International Centre for Tobacco Cessation.
Every time you inhale cigarette smoke, you get a shot of nicotine to the brain in mere seconds, he says.
“This is repeated from about 100 to 200 times a day for an average smoker,” Raw says. “That is an incredible amount of repetition.”
To make matters worse, smoking is associated with many situations – social gatherings, stressful moments, relaxation with alcohol or coffee – that occur every day.
“So, to overcome this addiction, the smoker needs as much support as possible,” says Raw, who is also visiting professor at the New York University College of Global Public Health.
When people try to quit, they often experience unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms that last up to a week or more. In addition, they may crave nicotine – at least occasionally – for months or even years after they stop smoking.
How to stop smoking
Despite the difficulty of quitting, millions have accomplished the feat over the years. In fact, the CDC reports that today, there are more former smokers than current smokers.
Everyone who attempts to quit smoking needs a healthy dose of willpower, Raw says. But beyond that, different techniques work for different people.
Some people find social support – from family, friends and even professionals – makes a big difference in their ability to stick to a nonsmoking lifestyle.
Meanwhile, people who are heavy smokers – lighting up within 30 minutes of waking – often find that medications help them quit, Raw says.
Nicotine patches, inhalers, nasal sprays, gums and lozenges all are available. Professional counseling also can help.
Those who quit successfully understand how difficult it is to give up cigarettes. So, they prepare themselves for the inevitable struggles they will face.
“The key is wanting to stop – and being determined to do so,” Raw says.
An inability to overcome hurdles leads to failure for others. “Many of those wanted to stop and tried to stop, but couldn’t manage it,” Raw says.
While strong motivation is the key to quitting, removing yourself from temptation also can help.
“Try to avoid places where smoking is allowed, and either avoid alcohol for a while or be very careful when you are drinking,” Raw says. This may include avoiding friends who drink and/or smoke, at least for a time, he adds.
The health benefits of quitting smoking
Finally, if you are finding it difficult to crush out that final cigarette, a rundown of the benefits of quitting might give you a little extra motivation.
According to the CDC, quitting smoking reduces:
- The risk of lung and other cancers
- The risk of heart disease – within just a year or two of quitting – as well as stroke and peripheral vascular disease
- Respiratory problems, such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath
- The risk of lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- The risk of infertility for women of childbearing age
Raw simply cites World Health Organization findings that 7 million people die prematurely every year because of their tobacco use.
“Remember always why you want to stop, why you need to stop,” he says.
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