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Doc Talk Quitters are winners: The benefits of kicking the tobacco habit

  • Published Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, at 1:47 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, at 9:38 p.m.

We all know the bad news about smoking, including health risks, expense and even criticism from non-smokers. But, for many people, scare tactics are not helpful when it comes to quitting. To put a positive spin on smoking cessation, let’s look at the benefits of living tobacco-free and how to go about quitting.

The greatest benefit to kicking the habit is dramatically improving your health. According to a report from the Surgeon General, as soon as you take that last puff, your body is busy repairing itself. Just one day after stopping, the heart rate and blood pressure drop and the carbon monoxide level drops to normal. By nine months, coughing and shortness of breath decrease; lungs start to regain normal function, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs and reduce the risk of infection. At one year, the risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker, and by five years, the report says the risks of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder are cut in half. After 15 years of living smoke-free, the risk of coronary heart disease and many cancers is that of a non-smoker.

Other benefits of living nicotine-free include:

•  Feeling in charge of your actions.

•  Knowing you are not bothering others with your smoke.

•  Saving money (not to mention time looking for a place to smoke).

•  Smelling better! Your hair, clothes, breath, care, home and kids won’t smell like smoke.

•  Enjoying an increased sense of smell.

•  Having fewer worries – about health, money, having to make sure you have a cigarette supply.

•  Looking and feeling better! Your skin will look healthier.

•  Having more energy.

How to quit

Those most successful at quitting are those who make a firm commitment, have a plan and work hand in hand with their physician to tailor a program to meet their unique needs. So:

•  Make a commitment and pick a “quit day.” Mark it on your calendar, tell friends and family and seek out support systems so you will feel accountable to achieve your goal.

•  Prepare your surroundings. Get rid of cigarettes and remove smoking triggers, including inviting smoking areas.

•  Stock up on suckers and gum to satisfy oral cravings.

•  Create distractions and have plans for how you will stay busy. Make a list of friends to call.

•  Make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor can help you decide if you would benefit from anti-smoking medication or a support group.

Nicotine replacement therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy involves replacing cigarettes with other nicotine substitutes. Therapies work by delivering small and steady doses of nicotine into the body to relieve some of the withdrawal symptoms without the tars and poisonous gases found in cigarettes. This helps smokers focus on breaking their psychological addiction and learn new behaviors and coping skills.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved five types of nicotine replacement therapies: gum, lozenges and patches, which can be purchased over the counter; and nasal sprays and inhalers, which require a prescription. These products can be very helpful in the initial stages of quitting and withdrawal. However, nicotine is addictive and a person can transfer their dependence from cigarettes to the other therapy, particularly the fast delivery of nasal spray. Use only as prescribed by your doctor.

Prescription medications

These oral medications help you stop smoking by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms without the use of nicotine. Some can be used along with nicotine replacement therapies, and some must be started before your planned quit day.

Varenicline (Chantix) is a prescription medicine developed to help people stop smoking by interfering with nicotine receptors in the brain. It has a duel effect: It reduces the pleasure a person gets from smoking, and reduces the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. It is typically started before your quit date. Bupropion (Zyban) is another effective prescription smoking cessation medicine. Several studies have shown taking medication can more than double the chances of quitting compared to taking no medicines at all. Medications are most effective when used as part of a comprehensive cessation program monitored by your physician.

Alternative therapies

•  Hypnosis – Places you in a deeply relaxed state where you are open to suggestions that strengthen your resolve to quit smoking.

•  Behavioral therapy – Nicotine addiction is related to the habitual behaviors involved in smoking. Behavior therapy focuses on learning new coping skills and breaking those habits.

•  Counseling – Participating in individual or group counseling can be beneficial in the educational and motivational aspects of smoking cessation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the combination of medication and counseling is more effective for smoking cessation than either medication or counseling alone.

Kicking the habit is hard work but it can be done. With a plan tailored to your needs, you can break the addiction, manage your cravings and join the millions of people who have quit smoking for good. If you are ready to quit, talk to your physician.

Richard A. Claiborne practices in pulmonary medicine at Via Christi Clinic, 3311 E. Murdock. He may be reached at 316-689-9325.

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