A pulmonologist’s advice for finally quitting for good.
Quitting smoking is never easy, but it is probably one of the best steps you can take to protect your health and dramatically cut the risk of disease and disability down the road. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but here are a few strategies that can get you off to a good start:
1. Set a “quit” date. Whether you decide to quit cold turkey or kick the habit gradually, it is a good idea to set your goal and try your best to stick to it. When it comes to smoking, the sooner the better, as research has shown that quitting before the age of 40 reduces your chance of dying prematurely from a smoking-related disease by 90% and quitting by age 54 reduces it by two-thirds. If you are on the fence about the best strategy, it’s worth mentioning that one clinical paper on smoking cessation found that smokers who went cold turkey had better luck quitting at four and six months, compared to those who paired back on cigarettes over two weeks.
2. Say no to e-cigarettes. Patients often ask about vaping as both an alternative to smoking as well as a cessation strategy – but this is not something I recommend in either case. There is a lot of information circulating lately about electronic devices being less risky, but there is no science to back that assertion up. Vaping products are frequented marketed as an anti-smoking aid, but e-cigarettes have not received FDA approve as a smoking cessation device. Plenty of young patients are coming into my office with interstitial lung injury due to inhaling the vaporized chemicals (often toxic or containing contaminants) found in these products. Health issues aside, they can also be just as addictive as real cigarettes and are best avoided at all costs.
3. Consider medications to help you quit. You have probably heard of nicotine infused patches, gum and candy that can help you avoid withdrawal on the path to smoke-free. But the FDA has also approved two medications without nicotine to help people quit smoking – and they can actually double your chances of succeeding. These medications work on the pleasure centers of the brain. Stopping smoking is difficult and you should talk to your physician about using these therapies to provide help.
Your physician can also suggest support groups, resource material and potentially some natural therapies that may also be able to help with this important step toward better health.
Lastly, make sure you get screened! Breaking the chains of smoking and nictotine dependence does not mean you don't have to worry about developing lung cancer. Low-dose CT scanning is recommended as a screening test for lung cancer in people ages 50 to 80 who have a 20-pack year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years.