The Patient Education Forum: Quit Smoking
Smoking is the single most preventable cause of disease and death in the US. Smoking causes about 300,000 people over the age of 65 to die each year. Since smoking is so dangerous, Medicare will soon cover counseling to help people quit.
Q. I’ve been smoking for many years and am healthy, why should I quit?.
A. Even if you think of yourself as being very healthy, after you’ve stopped smoking you will likely notice that you have more energy. You will also find that you are less prone to colds and the flu. You will save money. For example, if you smoke 1 pack every day, you will save about $1000.00 a year. Also, since the risk for fires is decreased, you may save on your home or car insurance. You and your home will smell much nicer to those around you and stay cleaner. Your self-esteem will improve when that harmful substance no longer controls you.
Q. I would like to quit, but I’ve tried several times and end up starting again. Can I quit?.
A. Yes you can. Quitting takes practice. In the past, many people tried to quit by “going cold turkey”. This method is very uncomfortable and usually does not work. Nowadays, we have scientifically proven treatments that are safe and provide the help you need to quit for good. Most people who have quit for good had tried to quit several times before they were actually able to quit for good.
Q. What will happen if I stop? I’ve heard that I’ll gain weight and that the withdrawal is severe!
A. Some people do gain a few pounds. Many do not. Some lose weight. Weight change is mainly the result of food intake and activity levels. The symptoms of withdrawal can be uncomfortable, but are usually not unbearable and typically last for only a few minutes each time they are experienced. After about 2 weeks, the physical withdrawal is finished and the mental desire for a smoke begins to get less. That mental desire to smoke decreases more as the days go by. Nicotine replacement medications can reduce the physical withdrawal. Techniques such as deep breathing and drinking more fluids can also decrease the desire to smoke. (Attend a smoking cessation program for more suggestions.)
Q. What about nicotine replacement medications? Do they help? Are they safe?
A. They are very helpful for most people and are quite safe when used as directed. Consult with your health care provider to be sure they are safe for you and to determine the specific product and dose.
Q. If I decide I want to quit, how can I prepare myself?
A. First, decide on a day that is far enough away so you have time to mentally prepare. Then, begin to make your plan. Decide what you will do for those times when you want to smoke. This is one of the key factors in people who successfully quit smoking, and is one important way in which a good Quit Smoking program can help you. When you do the things you normally do while smoking, you will automatically want a cigarette. Eliminate the ones you can. Alter the ones you can’t (or don’t want) to avoid. Chewing gum, sucking a mint, brushing your teeth, or finding other things to do with your hands are also successful. Just remember, as Mark Twain once said, “We don’t throw old habits out the window – we walk them down the stairs very slowly”.
Q. I’ve smoked for a very long time and am old. Is there any point to quitting now?
A. Yes. Regardless of how long you have smoked, or what your age when you quit, there are important health benefits to quitting. Some benefits are reduced risk for heart problems, lung problems, cancer, improved ability to breathe, and increased energy levels.
Q. Can I switch to another form of nicotine like snuff, pipes, cigars or chewing tobacco?
A. No, all of these are as risky or more so. They may, in fact, increase your chance of cancer of the mouth, lips, larynx, and esophagus.
Q. How long after I stop can I expect to see a benefit?
A. You will benefit physically within 20 minutes!!! That’s how long it takes for your heart rate to slow down, putting less strain on your heart! Then, every day, more and more good things happen in your body. Within 2-3 weeks, your blood flow will improve and your lungs will function better. In a month or more, you will notice your coughing and shortness of breath are less. By one year, your risk of coronary heart disease is half that of when you were smoking! After 15 years, it is the same as if you had never smoked. After 5-15 years, your risk for a stroke has reduced to what it would be if you never smoked! After 10 years, your risk for tobacco related cancers has reduced to one half what it would be if you continued to smoke. – And this is true NO MATTER WHAT YOUR AGE WHEN YOU STOP SMOKING!
Q. Where can I go to get help?
A. Your doctor will know what support and programs to help you quit smoking are available in your area. You can also call the national Quit Line at 1-800-QUITNOW (1-800-784-8669)
The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging The Empire State Building 350 Fifth Avenue, Suite 801 New York, NY 10118 212-755-6810 (ph); 212-832-8646 (f) www.healthinaging.org