Quitting Smoking

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2015.

Why do COPD patients need to quit smoking?1

Quitting smoking is the most important thing that a person with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can do to manage the disease. Quitting smoking will not “cure” COPD or reverse the lung damage that smoking has caused. However, quitting smoking now can:

  • Improve COPD symptoms, such as breathlessness, wheezing and coughing
  • Reduce the risk of COPD flare-ups
  • Slow the progress of the disease

COPD patients who smoke can get help with quitting as part of their pulmonary rehabilitation program.

What is the process of quitting smoking?1

There are two parts of the process of quitting smoking. The first step is to break the body’s physical addiction to chemical called “nicotine” that tobacco contains. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that a person’s body becomes used to having in its system. When a person quits smoking, this addiction to nicotine can cause “withdrawal” symptoms and cravings. These symptoms usually go away gradually over 2-3 weeks.

The second step is to break the person’s emotional or mental dependence on smoking. People who smoke develop strong habits, behaviors and routines that revolve around smoking at certain times each day. These habits become stronger and stronger over the years, and they can be as difficult to break as the physical addiction to nicotine. Many people find that they need to change their routines in order to reduce cravings and improve their chances of quitting successfully.

Are there treatments or therapies that can help a person quit smoking?1,2

There are medications available that can help a person stop smoking. Nicotine replacement products deliver a small amount of nicotine that can help reduce the craving for tobacco. The amount of nicotine is tapered off over time to break the physical addiction. Nicotine replacement products include:

  • Gum
  • Lozenges or tablets
  • Skin patches
  • Nasal sprays
  • Inhalers

Other types of prescription medicines do not deliver any nicotine. Instead, they work in different ways to reduce a person’s desire to smoke. These include:

  • Chantix (varencline)
  • Wellbutrin and Zyban (both contain bupropion)
  • Pamelor (nortriptyline)

Other types of support and therapy can also make a big impact on helping a person stop smoking, such as:

  • Counseling
  • Support from family and friends
  • Advice from healthcare providers
  • Guidance and support from a pulmonary rehabilitation program
  • Support groups with other people who are in the process of quitting smoking

What other tips can help smokers quit for good?1

  • If one kind of treatment or strategy for quitting doesn’t work, don’t give up - try another kind of strategy.
  • Many people have to try several times in order to quit successfully.
  • Try to change your daily routine to avoid situations where/when you would always smoke in the past.
  • Try to avoid situations where other people are smoking.
  • Identify a reason to quit smoking beyond your COPD, such as so that you can be healthy enough to see your grandchildren grow up or so you can celebrate your 40th wedding anniversary; this will give you motivation to stick with your program.

Where can patients find other resources about how to quit smoking?

Pulmonary rehabilitation programs and healthcare providers can give patients information about local resources and support networks for help in quitting.

There are also many helpful resources available online, such as:

The American Lung Association also offers a free phone service called the Lung HelpLine and Tobacco QuitLine: 1-800-LUNGUSA (586-4872)

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