Valentine’s Day is here. What could be more special than time together — a spa day for just the two of you or a winter escape to a sunny beach? Better yet, how about health and happiness — together — by stopping smoking. No gift says “I love you” more than making an effort to be healthier so you can enjoy your time together to the utmost.
There are proven methods that can help you make your gift of quitting smoking easier. Whether you succeed depends on several factors, according to IU Simon Cancer Center tobacco cessation program director Deborah Hudson, who has spent two decades helping people succeed at breaking the tobacco habit. Hudson shares some of her tips.
Q: What do you think is the most important thing for people to do to succeed at ending a love affair with tobacco?
Hudson: Plan properly and get professional help. Many people think they can quit with sheer will power alone, but only few do. There are proven methods that increase success rates and make the process less taxing. Success rates are much better for people who use medication and who get counseling.
Q: How does counseling help?
Hudson: Everyone’s smoking habits are different and prompted by triggers specific to them. That’s not to say that many people don’t share the same triggers — such as smoking after a meal — but habits are personal, and so are the needs of the individual breaking a habit. Counseling helps a person learn motivations for habits and how to compensate.
Counseling professionals will talk with the individual to figure out personal strengths and weaknesses and the severity of the addiction. Points to consider include why he or she started smoking; when he/she smokes the most; what tobacco product is used; have there been previous attempts to quit using tobacco and what event doomed those attempts. By identifying triggers in a person’s routine, it is easier to plan strategies to counteract those triggers. Other things to consider are the individual’s medical history, other addictions and mental health history.
Q: You are a proponent of using medications to help with tobacco cessation. What are those medications and which ones are best?
Hudson: Currently there are seven FDA approved tobacco cessation products on the market. No one medication is best for everyone. Some of these medications include nicotine. It’s important to note that nicotine is not what causes the negative health effects from smoking, but it is what brings tobacco users back to these products. Some of these medications don’t contain any nicotine but instead change how the brain reacts to nicotine. Deciding which medication will be most beneficial for an individual is one of the things a professional tobacco treatment specialist can help determine as well as the most effective dosage to counter the individual’s tobacco addiction. A tobacco treatment specialist also can instruct a person on how to properly use the cessation medications. For instance, to be most beneficial, the gum products should not be chewed only, but they should be chewed until the user feels a tingling sensation and then “parked” between the gum and cheek so the nicotine can be absorbed. Another common misconception is that the nicotine inhaler should be inhaled. The inhaler is actually most effective if the vapor is held in the mouth to absorb the nicotine. The five remaining medications include the nicotine patch, nicotine lozenge, nicotine nasal spray, Bupropion (Wellbutrin or Zyban) and Varenicline (Chantix). These last two medications don’t contain nicotine and are prescription only.
Q: Are e-cigarettes a good tool for stopping smoking?
Hudson: There is much debate in the public health field today, but it is my belief that e-cigarettes are just another way to get people hooked on nicotine or a repetitive physical habit. There currently isn’t enough information to show they are a way to wean off nicotine. E-cigarettes are a tobacco industry product and are not regulated. Scientific testing showed that 74 percent to 90 percent of the e-liquid on the market that reportedly contains no nicotine actually does. The FDA only regulates the e-liquid that contains nicotine.
Q: Speaking of weaning, do you recommend quitting cold turkey or taking a period of time to reduce cigarette use?
Hudson: That is a very individual choice. Some people are better at making a plan and sticking with it. Others need to simply quit without a period of moderation. A tobacco cessation specialist can help an individual decide which would be most beneficial. If one has been successful previously with strategically cutting down, then that would be a good option. However, some people just know they can’t do that and need to set a date.
Q: What are some common triggers and ways to thwart the urge?
Hudson: Mealtime is a common trigger. Instead of lingering at the table, get up and do the dishes, brush your teeth, go for a walk or eat something containing cinnamon. Many people say cinnamon and tobacco do not go together. Driving is another common trigger. Pack a stress ball instead of cigarettes, or take a straw to chew on. Once again, enjoy a treat flavored with cinnamon.
Other tips include avoiding alcohol, avoiding social scenes you associate with smoking, substituting juice or tea for that morning cup of coffee. And remember exercise is your friend because it produces chemicals in the brain that improve moods and serves as a reminder that not smoking makes you healthier.
Q: Where can one find a smoking cessation counselor?
Hudson: Some hospitals have counselors on staff, as does our clinical partner IU Health Simon Cancer Center. Also, Indiana has a free tobacco quit line, which can be reached by dialing 1-800-Quit-Now (1-800-784-8669). Highly trained coaches will provide help to any tobacco user. Individuals on Medicaid, Medicare or who are uninsured can get two weeks of free patches or gum to begin their journey to a healthier lifestyle.
Q: Do you have any other tips to share?
Hudson: There’s no time like the present, so don’t procrastinate once you set a date to quit smoking. Don’t think about stopping as a mountain you need to climb; instead think of it as a series of short hikes. Take it one hour or one day at a time and the resolution seems much less daunting. Also,
Be more active. Exercise releases feel-good chemicals in the brain which can help you overcome mood swings that can be caused by the lack of nicotine. Be aware of one of the rewards of stopping smoking: Within as little as a week, you may notice more endurance for walks or other forms of exercise.
Set goals and focus on completing them. A goal may be as simple as resolving to walk a half-mile every morning at the time you normally reserve for coffee and a couple cigarettes.
Treat yourself: Bank the money you normally would spend on cigarettes and use it to buy something you want.
Share your story with those who will support your efforts to stop using tobacco. A strong support system can be very beneficial.
I often tell people quitting smoking is like riding a roller coaster. In the early stages, the hills are big and intense but later they get smaller and are less frequent. It’s also important for people to realize they didn’t start smoking that pack a day overnight. It took years of smoking to get where they are, and it may take multiple quit attempts to stop smoking for good as well. If one “slips” and has a cigarette, it’s important to take a close look at that situation and use that as a learning experience on how to avoid that slip next time in that same situation. Carefully analyzing what triggered the slip and planning what to do next time can help avoid future slips.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Michael Schug, an award-winning communicator, is the communications manager at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center. In this role, he promotes the impactful research generated by the center’s nearly 250 scientists and physician-scientists to both external and internal audiences.