Employee & Community Health

Smoke out tips to help you quit

11/10/2016 by Dr. Jon Ebbert

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Nearly 500,000 Americans and 6 million people worldwide die from tobacco each year. Two-thirds of all tobacco users eventually die of a tobacco-related illness. Yet smoking is the number-one preventable cause of death in the world. 

Anyone who has tried to quit knows it's not easy. Smoking often is associated with meals, driving in a car, drinking a cup of coffee, or feeling happy or bored, tired or depressed. These strong links make it very hard to quit, but quitting is essential for reducing smoking's potentially deadly effects on your health. Smoking packs a two-pronged wallop: 

  • Nicotine in cigarettes hooks you on smoking and keeps you smoking. 
  • Tobacco is the real danger to your health. Tobacco and tobacco smoke contain chemicals that cause lung cancer and cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and larynx, as well as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. 

You may spend a lot of time thinking about quitting smoking before you're ready to actually do it. But when you decide to stub out your smoking habit, here are some tips that can help make your efforts more likely to succeed: 

Make a quit plan. Creating a quit-smoking plan may improve your changes of stopping for good. A plan helps prepare you for coping with the physical and emotional issues that often arise when you stop smoking, such as nicotine withdrawal and strong urges to smoke. 

Pick a quit day. With your plan at the ready, pick a quit day. Don't set one too far in the future, or you may find it hard to follow through. Pick a random day or one that holds special meaning or a day of the week that's usually less stressful. Or join other Americans who are quitting on "The Great American Smokeout," which is held every year on the third Thursday of November. If you decide to quit on the spur of the moment, go for it, but follow your quit plan. 

Prepare for your quit day:

  • Mark your calendar. Make a big notation. It's an important day, so treat it like one. 
  • Talk to your health care provider. Ask about stop-smoking counseling and medications. You can buy nicotine gum, patches and lozenges without a prescription. Nicotine nasal spray and nicotine inhalers are available with a prescription. Your care team also can help you with behavioral therapy that involves replacing old behaviors with new routines that aren't associated with smoking. 
  • Tell people. Let family, friends and co-workers know about your quit day. Make them your allies. They can provide moral support, but let them know what would be helpful, not just nagging. 
  • Clean house. Get rid of any smoking or tobacco supplies in your home, car, office and other places. Have your teeth professionally cleaned. 
  • Stock up. Have items on hand that can substitute for a cigarette: sugarless gum, hard candy, cinnamon sticks and crunchy vegetables. 
  • Join up. The more support you have, the more likely you are to stop smoking successfully. Find local quit-smoking support groups.
  • Reflect. If you've tried to quit in the past, think about what you can do differently this time. Make a list of your triggers and how you will deal with them. Keep a journal to monitor feelings and situations that ignite your smoking urges. 

How to handle quit day: 

  • Don't smoke, not even "just one."
  • Use nicotine replacement therapy, if you've chosen that method. 
  • Remind yourself of your reasons to stop smoking. 
  • Drink plenty of water or juice.
  • Keep physically active. 
  • Avoid situations and people that trigger your urge to smoke. 
  • Attend a support group, counseling session or stop-smoking class. 
  • Practice stress management and relaxation techniques. 
  • Keep your hands busy by typing, writing, squeezing a ball or knitting. 

Stay quit. You'll improve your chances of success when you enlist the help of your health care team. Mayo Clinic and Employee and Community Health (ECH) provide top-quality, evidence-based care in a nonjudgmental and supportive manner to help you stop smoking. Your treatment team will work with you to develop and stick to an effective stop-smoking plan. And remember - the health benefits of not smoking are substantial, and they start accumulating almost immediately after you quit. 

Jon Ebbert, MD, is a physician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Primary Care Internal Medicine (PCIM). He also works with Mayo Clinic's Nicotine Dependence Center in Rochester