2020 Is a Great Year to Declare Your Independence From Smoking
This year’s Fourth of July celebration was a much more muted affair than usual. Many communities cancelled or downscaled their fireworks shows, parades and picnics out of precaution during the coronavirus outbreak. Even the Boston Fireworks and Pops Concert was replaced by a prerecorded presentation.
But there’s another way we can celebrate independence that’s extra significant this year. July is a great time to give up smoking! Why this year? Though quitting smoking offers many health benefits, in 2020 the stakes are especially high. Experts from the University of California, San Francisco recently announced that among people diagnosed with COVID-19, those who smoked had twice the rate of serious progression of the disease, and were twice as likely to pass away rather than recover.
According to the World Health Organization, “We have seen that COVID-19 fatalities are higher among people with pre-existing conditions including noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular and chronic respiratory conditions, cancer, and diabetes. And we know that tobacco use is the main common risk factor linked to all of these diseases.”
But there’s good news. No matter your age, it’s never too late to quit smoking, and over a million Americans succeed each year. Some do it alone, going “cold turkey”—but if that seems daunting, there are resources that can help:
Support groups and counseling. People who have support—from family, friends or smoking cessation groups—are more successful than those who go it alone. Even as we are social distancing, we can form an online “buddy system,” or take part in virtual quit smoking support groups and classes. Ask your doctor for a recommendation.
Nicotine replacement therapies such as nicotine gum, inhalers, nasal sprays, lozenges or patches can help control the urge to smoke. Talk to your doctor about the form that’s best for you. It is important to follow the instructions carefully for best results and to avoid side effects. Non-nicotine prescription medications may also be prescribed to cut down cravings and lessen withdrawal symptoms.
The CDC says that a combination of medication and counseling is the most effective. And sometimes we just need to change the way we think about smoking! Here are some tips from people who’ve successfully kicked the habit:
Make a list of the many benefits of quitting. Aside from lowering your risk of a host of diseases, you’ll also have more energy. Your home and clothing will smell better. Your teeth will be whiter. And you will save a lot of money—more than $4,000 per year if you give up a two-pack-a-day habit. You may even save on insurance costs. Write down a list of these benefits and keep it near smoking materials. Read it aloud before you reach for a cigarette.
Think about your loved ones. Second-hand smoke harms the health of family members and others who spend time around a smoker. And have you heard of third-hand smoke? This is smoke residue on furnishings in the home that also is harmful—especially to small children, and even pets.
Set a date to quit and get ready for it. Throw out cigarettes, ashtrays, lighters and matches, at home and in the car. Plan activities to take your mind off cravings. Tell people that you’re trying to quit; their support and understanding can help.
Know your triggers. If you always have a cigarette with your morning coffee, go for a walk instead. If someone you are sheltering with smokes, ask them to go outside so you won’t be tempted. (And, of course, invite them to be your quit smoking buddy!) Do you smoke when you’re stressed? Exercise or meditate instead.
If you slip up, start again. Many smokers have succeeded, even if not on the first try. Figure out what tempted you to have that cigarette, and learn from that.
Remember: When you quit smoking, the benefits start right away! According to the American Heart Association, after three weeks your risk of a heart attack begins to drop. After three years, the risk returns to the same as a person who never smoked. And as your lungs heal, your risk of lung cancer drops, as well. To find more online information and resources, check out www.smokefree.gov, created by the National Cancer Institute.
LifeCare Advocates offers consultation services that will guide you on the path to “aging well” and help you to feel empowered about your healthcare and life choices.