Tobacco use is the largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States, and about half of all Americans who smoke will die because of the habit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To quit smoking or other tobacco use is a process that takes time and requires a lot of support, says Shannon Park, who sees this firsthand every day in her role as a cancer education and outreach coordinator at Sanford Health.
“When people have been smoking for so long, it’s become part of their daily life,” says Park, who is certified in smoking cessation. “They’re addicted, and it takes a dramatic behavioral change and commitment to get them out of that routine.”
People start smoking or chewing tobacco for many reasons, most often when they’re young because of peer pressure or wanting to fit in. “They don’t think of the long-term effects, though,” Park says.
Nicotine in cigarettes makes them extremely addictive. Park says there’s a misconception that other forms of tobacco are safer because they don’t have nicotine. But in fact, all forms of tobacco — dip, cigars, cigarettes, pipe tobacco, loose tobacco — have dangerous carcinogens.
Commit to quit smoking
People of all ages and backgrounds are affected by tobacco use. Regardless of how long you’ve used tobacco, or how many times you may have tried to quit in the past, Park says it’s possible for anyone to quit, as long as you commit to changing your behavior.
Here are five tips from Park to quit using tobacco:
1. Make a plan
- Set a quit date. Give yourself some time to prepare for this change in your life. Then stick to it.
- Make a list of all the reasons you want to quit. Refer to this list often as motivation.
- Write down every time you smoke or chew—when and why do you get the urge? This can help you figure out triggers to avoid.
- Make a list of positive things you can do to distract yourself when you get the urge to smoke or chew.
- Set small milestones to strive for, and reward yourself when you reach them.
2. Get support
- Tell your friends and family about your plan to quit.
- They can encourage you, and hold you accountable if they see you slipping back into old habits.
- Call your state’s quit line at (800) QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669). For deaf and hard of hearing callers, relay 711.
- Calling this toll-free number will connect you directly to your state quit line.
- All states have quit lines in place with trained coaches who provide information and help with quitting.
- Specific services and hours of operation vary from state to state.
- Join a community support group if one’s available.
- For example, Park hosts free eight-week cessation workshops for community members with tips, resources and support on committing to live a tobacco-free life.
- Check with your local clinics, hospitals or heath care providers about support groups or workshops that may be available in your area.
- Use online resources from organizations such as:
3. Commit to changing your behavior
- Stay away from places or people that make you want to smoke or chew.
- Don’t keep tobacco near you.
- Exercise, drink a lot of water, and eat healthy foods—you’ll feel better, and likely not have cravings like you used to.
- Practice meditation or take deep breaths. Cravings typically only last a few minutes, or even a couple of seconds; some simple deep breaths can help you get past those hard times.
4. Talk to your doctor
- Tell your primary care physician that you’d like to quit smoking. They may have resources or recommendations available to you.
- Make the talk part of your yearly physical so your provider holds you accountable and checks in with your health and progress.
- Discuss if and when you should have a lung cancer screening.
- Ask if medication could help you quit. Some options include:
- Bupropion SR (Zyban) or varenicline (Chantix), which are prescription nicotine-free pills.
- Nicotine replacements, for people who are addicted to nicotine, including:
- Patch (available over the counter without a prescription)
- Gum or lozenge (available over the counter without a prescription)
- Inhaler (prescription needed)
- Nasal spray (prescription needed)
5. Don’t give up
- If you have a setback, remind yourself of all the reasons you want to quit. Use them as your motivation to stay on track.
- If you’ve tried to quit in the past without success, try a new approach this time around.
- Keep trying different techniques, avoiding triggers, figuring out how to get over your cravings, and celebrating the progress you make.
Park says to quit smoking or using other tobacco products is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Make the commitment to quit — for yourself, for your loved ones, for your future.
- Vaping illness: Sanford Health warns against e-cigarettes
- Smoking dangers and your lung health (podcast)