Tips for Quitting Smoking
Last updated: July 2019
Smoking is the most common, though not the only, cause of COPD.1 One of the best first steps someone with COPD should do once they are diagnosed is to quit smoking. Avoiding secondhand smoke from others is also very important.
Quitting smoking is difficult
Unfortunately quitting smoking can be hard, especially if it's a lifelong habit. Smoking is both a psychological and a physical addiction. It's a chemical called nicotine in the tobacco that people are actually addicted to. And the Centers for Disease Control (CDC for short) reports that this dependency can be as addictive as heroin, cocaine, or alcohol.2
Most smokers who try to quit don't succeed on their first try.3 So, if you've tried and failed before, you're not alone. There are reasons why quitting smoking is so hard to make stick:4
- Uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms such as feeling irritable, having trouble thinking and constant craving of tobacco
- Stress and emotional turmoil
- Gaining weight from a more active appetite
The good news is that there are many helpful treatments and support resources to help you quit. And many smokers can and do quit smoking successfully in the end. In fact, according to the CDC5, there are now more former smokers in the U.S. than there are current smokers.
So, don't lose hope. You can do it too!
Reasons to quit smoking
Here's the truth: Even if you already have COPD, it's never too late to quit smoking. Quitting won't cure your disease. It won't even keep it from progressing over time. But it will slow down that progression and prevent ongoing lung damage.
Sure, you can probably think of a few reasons to keep smoking, such as:
- You really enjoy it, including the social aspects.
- It seems like the withdrawal symptoms and effects from quitting are harder to live with than the COPD symptoms you're currently having (especially in early COPD).
- Smoking is a coping mechanism for stress.
- You feel like it's too late since you already have COPD.
All of these excuses are just that, though, excuses. Yes, you may be giving up a pleasurable activity or one that helps you cope with everyday life, but it's not too late and you can find substitutes. And the benefits of quitting truly do outweigh the reasons to keep smoking.
- Less risk of developing lung or other types of cancer
- Lower risk of heart & circulatory disease, including stroke
- Improvement in your breathing symptoms and prevention of COPD flare-ups
How to quit smoking
Some people quit cold turkey. They simply make up their minds not to smoke any longer and they stop. My grandmother did that. When her sister, whom lived with her, was hospitalized with a broken hip and forced not to smoke while there, my grandma decided she might as well quit right then too and she did. She'd been smoking a pack or more a day for over 50 years at the time!
On the other hand, most people cannot quit that easily. My parents are prime examples. Both of them tried many times to quit for good. My dad never accomplished it before he died from complications of COPD. My mother quit once for two years and then went back to it harder than ever, only quitting for good when she was put on oxygen.
You're more likely to succeed, even if it takes a few tries, if you do it with some type of support. This support falls into two main categories:6
Many people will benefit from one or the other, but your greatest chance of success may lie in combining these methods. Also, there is no shame in using these methods. The important thing is quitting for good.
There are various types of counseling available to people who want to stop smoking. You might look into individual counseling, or group support might be more your thing, often available from your local hospital or your area Lung Association chapter. There are even alternative therapies like hypnotism or acupuncture that some former smokers have found to be helpful. You can also find support groups online.
A couple of different types of medication may prove helpful in your quest to quit. In fact, medications may double your chances of quitting for good.7
- Nicotine replacement products, such as the patch, gum, nasal spray or certain types of e-cigarettes
- Non-nicotine prescription medications such as bupropion SR and varenicline
The prescription medicines can ease withdrawal symptoms, but they can also have side effects in some people, so they won't be right for everyone. Talk with your doctor to see if one or more of these might be a good fit for you.
More tips for quitting smoking
Here are a few more tips that may help you as you work to quit smoking.
- If you quit, really quit. Don't just try to cut down or to switch to a low-tar, low-nicotine brand. People who do these things usually revert to smoking before long.
- If you use nicotine replacement therapy, be sure you gradually wean yourself off nicotine. Work closely with your doctor. You don't want to simply replace one kind of nicotine addiction for another.
- Identify your barriers to quitting and work to overcome them. If smoking is a social activity or a habit associated with meals or work breaks, etc., find a substitute, so that you don't fall back into old habits. For example, instead of stepping outside for a smoke break at work, perhaps you'll take a walk around the block instead. Or, you might need to make a conscious effort to stop hanging out with other smokers. Reduce your temptation.
- Pick a motivation for quitting that goes beyond just being healthier. You need to decide what will motivate you. Perhaps you want to be able to play with your grandchildren again. Or you want to participate in some kind of athletic event. Maybe there's some kind of reward such as a vacation you've been wanting to take. Only you can identify what will have meaning for you.
- Find resources that can help. For example, smokefree.gov has a number of online tools, apps and information geared to different groups like women, men, veterans, seniors and Spanish speakers.
Quitting smoking isn't ever easy and it may take a few tries to really achieve your goal. But the benefits and the improvements in your quality of life will be so worth it.
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