Need help to quit smoking?
It’s no secret that smoking is dangerous for your health. Not only does it increase your risk of lung cancer, it’s also a leading cause of heart attacks.
“Smoking is the No. 1 reversible risk factor in terms of decreasing heart attacks in the future. That’s because everybody has small blockages (buildups of fat and cholesterol) inside their body. They grow much faster in a person who is smoking,” said Tamir Baman, MD, a cardiologist with OSF HealthCare Cardiovascular Institute.
But quitting is very difficult for many smokers. Not only are the chemicals in cigarettes addictive, smoking becomes part of a person’s routine that’s difficult to stop. The addiction is social, hormonal and chemical.
With the right support, quitting is possible. These are Dr. Baman’s tips to quit smoking and protect your heart and body.
Commit to quitting
Many people will try to quit, sometimes many times, before they are finally successful.
Evidence shows that the people who are most successful are the ones who are fully committed to quitting for their own reasons, rather than to please someone else.
“The first thing is deciding, ‘I need to do this for my overall health. I need to do this to protect my lungs, to prevent a heart attack,’” Dr. Baman said. “If you’re doing it because your family member wants you to stop smoking, researchers have determined that’s not as successful as if you decide for yourself.”
Find a partner
Having someone who will support you and hold you accountable can help you stick it out when things get tough.
That can be another person going through the same thing who also wants to quit smoking, or someone who is committed to encouraging you.
Work with your primary care provider
Medications are available to help combat the hormonal need for nicotine. They work by targeting the nicotine receptors in your body to dull the chemical’s effect.
Talk with your primary care provider, who may prescribe these medications.
“You can start the medications prior to stopping smoking, so that when you stop smoking, those receptors are blunted and you don’t have as many side effects,” Dr. Baman said.
Pick a start date – and stick to it
The decision to quit smoking doesn’t demand an instant response.
If you’re struggling to stop smoking, pick a date in the future that will be the first day of your smoke-free life.
“It can be in two months from now, but it gives you a goal and a process to get where you want to be on a certain date,” Dr. Baman said.
Nicotine alternatives can help – but pick a safe one
Nicotine gum, patches and lozenges can safely help reduce the urge to smoke.
“What we don’t recommend is switching to an electronic cigarette,” Dr. Baman said.
“We don’t know what the chemicals do in the long term. People often think that’s a safe approach, when in reality it may not be any better than smoking. We need more data on what is in those electronic cigarettes.”
Keep trying until you succeed
None of these approaches is a magic bullet to quitting smoking.
Use any combination of these strategies to find the path forward that allows you to be successful. And know that if you experience a setback, you can keep trying.
Overcoming a nicotine addiction is difficult, but it’s never too late to set yourself on a path for a healthier life.
“The people who have the mental fortitude can overcome it, but it can be difficult. It’s something you have to persevere toward. Failing once is OK. You have to try again and again,” Dr. Baman said.