Thousands of people resolve to stop smoking each year. Many succeed, but many more fail. This can be the year you succeed. “Given the addictive nature of nicotine in cigarette smoke, it’s expected that most people will fail when trying to quit ‘cold turkey’— there’s only about a 5 percent success rate,” says Dr. Mario Castro, an authority on smoking and pulmonary diseases with Washington University Physicians. “The best way to succeed is to try again, combining behavioral modification with medication to assist in the attempt.”
Creating a smoking cessation plan includes setting a quit date, which should be preceded by a chat with your primary-care physician about options for prescription or over-the-counter aids. “Recent advances in medications to help people stop smoking have raised success rates to more than 40 percent,” Castro says. “Behavioral modification is best done with counseling, either in a one-on-one session with a trained counselor or through a quitline.” Castro is referring to a phone-based smoking cessation intervention in which counselors provide information, advice, support and referrals. The National Cancer Institute maintains a quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT, and state-based quitlines are at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Determination and planning also are keys to success, says Cathy Turcotte, a registered nurse who teaches smoking cessation classes and serves as education coordinator at Saint Louis University Cancer Center. “Smoking is the ritual of one’s life,” she says. “You need to change behavior and break up the automatic pattern of smoking.”
For example, someone who is accustomed to smoking while having a morning cup of coffee needs to develop a new pattern, such as drinking a different beverage or finding something else to do during a coffee break. Planning is often best accomplished with the help of a counselor or peer group. Most local hospitals offer classes and support groups that address these issues.
“People need to be ready to do the hard work,” Turcotte says. “There’s help out there, but they have to be willing to go through the process. It’s tough to get off nicotine. It’s not going to be painless, but it’s temporary, and if your reasons for quitting are strong enough and you’ve built up your determination, it can be done. Millions of people have done it.”
It’s not hard to find plenty of good reasons to quit. Almost everyone knows that smoking is a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, cancer and other serious diseases. If your own health isn’t enough to convince you, look around. “Smoking not only affects a smoker’s health. Second-hand and third-hand smoke affects those around them,” notes Heather Hoch, the tobacco- free coordinator at Mercy Hospital St. Louis.
And if that’s not enough, there are compelling financial motivations, too. “Smokers can save thousands of dollars if they no longer smoke a pack a day,” Hoch says.
Turcotte also emphasizes that exsmokers report greater life satisfaction. “People who stop are so happy,” she says. “They’re happy not to be tied to a cycle of addiction. They feel better, not just physically, but about themselves. Just build up that determination, come up with a plan and get it done.”