We all know tobacco use carries serious health risks, but quitting a nicotine habit isn’t easy. If you’re considering a tobacco cessation program, your doctors and other resources can help set you up for success.
Long-Term Tobacco Could Shorten Your Life
Americans spend $130 billion for tobacco-related healthcare each year, and one in every five American deaths are tobacco-related. Tobacco can damage nearly every part of your body. This includes your lungs, heart, skin, bladder, eyes, immune system, and DNA. In fact, prolonged smoking can shorten your life by more than a decade.
Cigarette smoking can also harm those you love. Secondhand smoke exposure can increase your loved ones’ risk of heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. It can also contribute to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Giving Up Tobacco Can Improve Your Health and Quality of Life
Studies show that tobacco cessation can extend your life and improve your overall health and wellness.
- Within 12 hours of your last cigarette, your carbon monoxide levels return to normal.
- Your risk of a heart attack begins to decrease after three months.
- Lung function also starts to improve after three months.
- After a year, your risk of heart disease drops by 50%.
- Within ten years, your risk of dying from lung cancer or getting bladder cancer drops by 50%. You also are less likely to get other tobacco-related cancers.
- Your heart disease risk is the same as a non-smoker’s after 15 years.
- If you stop smoking by age 40, you’ll add roughly 9 years to your life expectancy.
As your body heals, your quality of life will also improve. Many ex-smokers report they are more active and feel healthier and less stressed.
Why Is Tobacco So Difficult to Quit?
Nicotine is highly addictive. When you consume tobacco, it floods your brain with dopamine — a chemical that gives the smoker a pleasant feeling. Unfortunately, the sensation is short-lived. Once your nicotine levels drop, you’re left feeling irritable and edgy. This encourages you to grab another cigarette.
Over time, your tolerance to nicotine will grow, and you’ll need more and more tobacco to get the same pleasant sensation. You’ll become increasingly physically and emotionally dependent on tobacco and nicotine.
This combined dependence is tough to beat. It can take weeks to go through severe nicotine withdrawal — although your withdrawal symptoms will decrease each day you refrain from use. You might experience symptoms such as:
- Irritability and depression
- Increased appetite and weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
- Nausea and stomach pain
- Intense tobacco cravings
The emotional challenges of quitting tobacco are also significant. Many social activities might involve smoking, like regular smoke breaks with coworkers. Giving up these routines can be very difficult.
Are You Ready to Quit? Follow These Tips for Successful Tobacco Cessation
Before you try to quit tobacco, it’s best to consult with your primary care physician (PCP)about a tobacco cessation program. Your doctor can help you identify systems that can support you during your withdrawal period and with emotional cravings. If you need help finding a PCP, search our online physician directory.
Build a Support Network
Quitting tobacco is a challenge, even with a well-formed plan. Support from your friends and family can help. For example, you might want to quit with a friend or family member and work together to hold each other accountable.
While a supportive peer network is helpful, you also need guidance from healthcare providers. This might involve a counselor, therapist, your PCP, and other professionals. Tobacco cessation is considered an essential health benefit under the Affordable Care Act, which means eligible members can get free access to four tobacco cessation counseling sessions and 90-days of FDA-approved medications.
Additionally, you can access tobacco cessation support from your health plan and the State of California. These resources include:
- California Smoker’s Helpline: Free telephone and text-based counseling services and online resources in six languages.
- Health Net: Members can get free prescription and over-the-counter tobacco cessation medications, free telephone coaching services, and participate in a free six-week online course that helps you set goals and track your progress.
- UnitedHealthcare: You can get one free cycle of prescription or over-the-counter tobacco cessation medications each year, plus free access to a wellness coach who can help you quit.
To learn more about these programs, contact your health plan carrier or the Smoker’s Helpline directly.
Find Healthy Ways to Release Your Stress
Many smokers use nicotine and tobacco as a coping mechanism when they’re stressed. To help you avoid a relapse, consciously seek out healthy activities that help you reduce your stress levels, such as exercise. Rather than grabbing a cigarette, take a hike, play outside with your kids, find a yoga session, or schedule a massage.
Avoid Activities and Places That Might Trigger a Relapse
Don’t put yourself in a situation where you’ll be tempted to pick up a cigarette. For example, don’t join your co-workers outside for their regular smoke breaks. You also might want to cut back on alcohol consumption because many people smoke when they drink, and intoxication can decrease your self-control.
Similarly, many people do a deep clean of their houses once they stop smoking. They report the smell of tobacco seemed to trigger their cravings.
Consider Using Medication
There are numerous tobacco cessation medications on the market. They include prescription medications that reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms and over-the-counter nicotine replacement systems. However, before you start one of these programs, consult with your primary care physician. Your PCP can help you choose the best program and help you avoid medications that could interact with other prescriptions or cause negative side effects.
Don’t give up if you relapse. Instead, take some time to reflect and then renew your tobacco cessation program. Ask yourself:
- What triggered my renewed tobacco use?
- Could I have avoided the relapse with increased support or treatment?
- What will I do differently next time?
Don’t be afraid to admit your relapse to your PCP or health coach. They can help you revise your cessation plan and set new goals.
Piper, M., Kenford, S., Fiore, M., Baker, T. (2011, December 10). Smoking cessation and quality of life: Changes in life satisfaction over 3 years following a quit attempt. Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (2014). The health consequences of smoking—50 years of progress: A report of the Surgeon General. Retrieved from https://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/50-years-of-progress/full-report.pdf