Taking the First Steps to Quit Smoking & Ways to Help You Succeed
There is no easy way to quit smoking, and the best way to stop smoking really depends on each individual. UnityPoint Health Smoking Cessation Coordinator, DaRae Coughlin, APNP, is providing tips to quit smoking, which could help smokers get on a path toward becoming tobacco-free.
Quit Smoking Tips
“When someone smokes, the nicotine floods receptors in the brain, releasing a chemical that plays a key role in the reward and pleasure centers,” Coughlin says.
The first step toward dropping the habit is deciding to quit, which isn’t easy. Many people opt to stop smoking for three main reasons.
- Improved health. Many times, the decision to quit comes right after a health scare, like a cardiac event or cancer diagnosis.
- Due to a new baby. Some parents also opt to quit when their kids are old enough to recognize their parents smoking.
- Finances. It’s expensive to smoke.
After making the decision, smokers must pick a path toward their goal and set a quit date. Selecting the most effective way to quit smoking can be difficult. There are several different options to consider, all of which first require you to reach out for help.
- Medication. Varenicline and bupropion are two types of FDA-approved medications. Chantix (varenicline) and Zyban (bupropion) are available by prescription only.
- Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). These are also FDA-approved and come in the form of patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers and nasal sprays. Coughlin suggests these products as a good place to start for those who have never tried to quit smoking before. Smokers can consider taking two types of NRT at the same time, one with short-term effects and one with long-term effect. For example, using the patch for long-term effect and having the gum to handle short-term cravings. However, Coughlin warns insurers won’t always cover two products. The success rate of both NRT and medication is between 10-30 percent.
- Hypnosis. Not an evidence-based method to quit smoking. In Coughlin’s experience, patients who’ve tried it have seen short-term success only.
- Financial incentives. Sometimes, insurers will offer to make reimbursement for things like smoking cessation classes. Coughlin says studies have been done that suggest financial incentives can be helpful to some individuals.
- Cold turkey. Most smokers try quitting cold turkey for their first attempt. However, the success rate is only around five percent. Cold turkey quitting means dropping the habit without the assistance of medications or behavioral modification strategies.
- E-cigarettes. Coughlin says the jury is still out on the e-cigarettes, with conflicting studies in scientific literature. Some providers will recommend them because they are considered less harmful than cigarettes; however, many providers are waiting for more research. There is concern that little is known about the chemicals, besides nicotine, that e-cigarette users inhale.
- Behavioral modification. Counseling, behavioral modification programs and mindfulness training have proven to be beneficial in helping people quit and avoid relapse, with some success rates at nearly 50 percent or higher. These types of programs encourage users to identify triggers, urges, addictive thoughts, and emotions associated with smoking. There are several apps that can help with this, including Stop, Breathe & Think, Headspace and iMindfulness.
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again
“Most people I see have tried and failed several different methods. Recently an article suggested the average smoker tries to quit 30 times before he/she is successful. It’s not uncommon for people to try several different methods,” Coughlin says.
After a relapse, Coughlin says she’ll review the smoking history with her patient focusing on what strategies have been successful or unsuccessful in the past. Then, she’ll suggest new options keeping in mind the patient’s interests, schedule and his/her financial resources.
“What I see as a common theme from people who quit smoking successfully is they address the behavioral links associated with smoking, not just the nicotine dependence. Smokers must address why they smoke and their triggers. For example, if you go to the same gas station every week, go inside to pay and buy cigarettes, be prepared to change that habit. One suggestion would be to pay at the pump or go to a different gas station temporarily, until you break the association between the two behaviors,” Coughlin says.