Most tobacco users have probably already heard about the importance of quitting tobacco use, whether from their healthcare provider or loved ones concerned about having them around for a long and healthy life.
Tobacco use contributes to disease, disability, and harms every function of the body, including mental health. Quitting improves all of that AND it is never too late to quit. When you stop using tobacco, within 20 minutes your heart rate and blood pressure drop. Within 3 months your circulation and lung function increase. If you do not resume tobacco use, your risk of heart attack and cancers such as mouth, throat, and lung cancer decrease by half. The risk for every type of cancer is made worse by tobacco use. For someone who has Type 2 diabetes, tobacco use can be devastating due to the negative impact nicotine has on insulin response and circulation.
These are all excellent reasons to choose a healthier path and quit tobacco use. Additional benefits to quitting tobacco use include saving money, your breath, hair, clothes, and home will all smell better, your sense of taste will return, and you don’t have to brave the weather to satisfy your addiction.
With all that said, quitting can be hard! It IS an addiction. Much of the toxicity of tobacco use is related to other components of the tobacco (for example, chemicals and heavy metals in tobacco, cigarette filters, and vape juice), but nicotine works on the brain and creates addiction to tobacco. The chemistry is complicated, but basically nicotine causes the release of dopamine which signals a pleasurable experience. With repeated exposure, the brain develops tolerance and then it takes more nicotine to create that good feeling. Withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable and we naturally want to experience pleasure and avoid discomfort. Therefore quitting takes a commitment to your health and longevity.
You don’t have to do this alone! There are steps to take and supports to utilize to make your quitting journey easier and more successful.
Make the decision. Think about why you want to quit: for example, are you worried about tobacco related disease? Are you already experiencing negative health effects that you want to reverse? Is there a family event you want to be healthy enough to attend?
Set the date. Pick a date within the next month: you need to prepare for the process, but you don’t want to give yourself so much time that you lose momentum. You can pick a date that is personal to you, random – or you can use November 16, 2023, this year’s Great American Smokeout and take advantage of a national day devoted to quitting tobacco! You can start now to cut back on how much and how often you use tobacco to get ready for that day!
Make the plan. There are a variety of support systems that can help and it may take more than one type to get you through the withdrawal process.
Tell your family and friends why it is important to you to quit tobacco and ask for their encouragement. Ask tobacco users to respect your commitment and not use tobacco around you or offer it to you.
Read about nicotine replacement therapy (NRT – gum, patches, lozenges, etc.) that eases physical withdrawal symptoms and cravings while you work on the other factors that contribute to your tobacco use.
Talk to your healthcare provider about whether prescription drugs are appropriate for you, how to use them, when to start, and whether you can also use other methods like NRT at the same time.
Consider activities that you can do to take your mind off smoking.
Plan to reward yourself using the money you saved from not using tobacco for a specified amount of time. For example, using the minimum price of a pack of cigarettes in Colorado of $7 and a 2-pack-a-day habit, at the end of 3 months, you will have $1260 to spend on a special trip or a treat.
Recognize your triggers. Do you typically use tobacco in certain environments or at certain times of day? Plan what alternatives you will do with that time or in those situations.
Prepare for your Quit Day. Get rid of all the tobacco you have and any accessories (ashtrays, lighters, vape pens, etc.). Stock up on oral substitutes like sugar-free chewing gum, and nicotine replacement therapy products if you are going to use that. Take prescriptions as directed. Practice saying, “No thank you, I don’t use tobacco.” If you have tried to quit before – try to figure out what worked and what didn’t.
Quitting is hard. Many former tobacco users had to try more than once or try more than one method to finally quit. When you have a strong urge, try the 4D’s:
Delay – for 10 minutes and repeat if needed.
Deep breathe – take slow, deep breaths, think about how clean your lungs are becoming by breathing fresh air!
Drink water – sip slowly.
Do something else – if an activity is triggering a craving, get up, move around, find an alternative for your hands, chew sugar-free gum.
The Great American Smokeout is sponsored by the American Cancer Society on the third Thursday of November every year. NCHD also has resources for quitting tobacco through our Tobacco Cessation Program. Please check the page nchd.org/tobacco, or call Talya about our services and resources – she can be reached at 970-522-3741 ext. 1236.
You don’t have to stop using tobacco in one day. Start with day one.