In many neighborhoods, it’s easier to buy cigarettes or vape products than fresh vegetables. With cigarettes so close at hand and with fellow smokers more likely at home and in public, quitting the habit is more difficult. However, a smoking cessation program can help even older adults who have tried before to succeed at snuffing out the tobacco addiction and feeling immediate benefits.
In addition to heart disease and other related conditions, smokers are more likely to have the worst cases of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking is also wrapped up in the health disparities faced by people of color, from the stress of money problems to discrimination and violence. Black cigarette smokers tend to start later in life, yet are more likely to develop related health problems such as high blood pressure. About 85% of Black adult smokers use menthol cigarettes, which are as dangerous as other flavors and harder to quit.
Smoking Cessation Adds Years to Life
Even for people who have been smoking for decades, research shows that quitting improves well-being. The World Health Organization says that people who quit at about age 60 gain three years of life expectancy. Smokers develop not only heart and lung problems but also cataracts, diabetes, erectile dysfunction or osteoporosis. They can tire more easily and develop crow’s feet and dry or sagging skin. The benefits of quitting come quickly: Heart rate and blood pressure drop within minutes and breathing improves in weeks or months. People with life-threatening illness improve see rapid improvements in their condition.
Smokers can struggle for years to quit. Being around other smokers and having cigarettes behind so many convenience store counters are constant temptations. Smoking addiction brings cigarette cravings, makes smokers grumpy or depressed and interferes with their sleep and concentration. However. these effects fade over time. The nicotine and other harmful chemicals in vape products make e-cigarettes an unsafe substitute. Still, smokers need ways to ease the withdrawal symptoms.
Smoking addiction can be controlled by working with a primary care physician, in much the same way that a doctor’s advice can manage asthma, diabetes or other long-term health issues. First, doctors test physical conditions such as lung function. Because smoking is connected to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a doctor will ask patients to breathe into devices to test lung function or detect the presence of carbon monoxide. The physician may also recommend a low-dose X-ray or CT scan to screen for lung cancer.
When quitting cold turkey has proven too hard, nicotine patches, gum, lozenges or inhalers can help people taper their nicotine exposure over time. People who once needed a cigarette break to relax find they’re calmer once they don’t need a nicotine fix. Doctors also can prescribe drugs to manage cigarette cravings or block the nicotine receptors in the brain
Breaking a Tobacco Addiction
But overcoming nicotine addiction is only one part of quitting. There’s still the stress that drives smokers to light up. A smoking cessation program gets to the heart of why someone uses tobacco and works on those underlying reasons. Tobacco use counseling is a Medicare benefit, with coaching sessions available to help participants discover their smoking triggers and better ways to deal with them.
To try and try again to quit is frustrating, but a guilt-free, one-on-one approach can make a difference. Smoking cessation programs are tailored to each smoker’s situation, most often with a combination of medication and behavior change. Counselors may suggest better ways to relax, ways to avoid a smoking relapse and new approaches to dealing with cigarette cravings or making lifestyle changes. Mobile apps, text messages and online support can help quitters stick with the program.
For more ideas and support to break free of your smoking addiction, call the National Cancer Institute Quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848) or find your state’s quit line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).