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Quit Smoking FAQ

Question: How important is it to quit smoking?

It is very important. Tobacco use remains the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Cigarette smoking accounts for nearly one-third of all cancer deaths in this country each year. Smoking is the most common risk factor for the development of lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer death. It is also associated with many other types of cancer, including cancers of the esophagus, larynx, kidney, pancreas, and cervix. Smoking also increases the risk of other health problems, such as chronic lung disease and heart disease. Smoking during pregnancy can have adverse effects on the unborn child, such as premature delivery and low birth weight.

Question: Are there immediate benefits to quitting smoking?

The health benefits of smoking cessation (quitting) are immediate and substantial. Almost immediately, a person’s circulation begins to improve and the level of carbon monoxide in the blood begins to decline. (Carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas found in cigarette smoke, reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.) A person’s pulse rate and blood pressure, which may be abnormally high while smoking, begin to return to normal. Within a few days of quitting, a person’s sense of taste and smell return, and breathing becomes increasingly easier.

Question: What are some long term benefits of quitting smoking?

People who quit smoking live longer than those who continue to smoke. After 10 to 15 years, a previous tobacco user’s risk of premature death approaches that of a person who has never smoked. About 10 years after quitting, an ex-smoker’s risk of dying from lung cancer is 30 percent to 50 percent less than the risk for those who continue to smoke. Women who stop smoking before becoming pregnant or who quit in the first 3 months of pregnancy can reverse the risk of low birth weight for the baby and reduce other pregnancy-associated risks. Quitting also reduces the risk of other smoking-related diseases, including heart disease and chronic lung disease. There are also many benefits to smoking cessation for people who are sick or who have already developed cancer. Smoking cessation reduces the risk for developing infections, such as pneumonia, which often causes death in patients with other existing diseases.

Question: Why should you quit smoking?

By quitting smoking you will live longer and feel better. Quitting smoking will lower your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, or getting cancer. The people you live with, especially children, will be healthier. If you are pregnant, you will improve your chances of having a healthy baby. And you will have extra money to spend on things other than cigarettes.

Question: Does the risk of getting cancer change after quitting smoking?

Quitting smoking reduces the risk for developing cancer, and this benefit increases the longer a person remains “smoke free.” People who quit smoking reduce their risk of developing and dying from lung cancer. They also reduce their risk of other types of cancer. The risk of premature death and the chance of developing cancer due to cigarettes depends on the number of years of smoking, the number of cigarettes smoked per day, the age at which smoking began, and the presence or absence of illness at the time of quitting. For people who have already developed cancer, quitting smoking reduces the risk of developing another primary cancer.

Question: At age is smoking cessation the most beneficial?

Smoking cessation benefits men and women at any age. Some older adults may not perceive the benefits of quitting smoking; however, smokers who quit before age 50 have half the risk of dying in the next 16 years compared with people who continue to smoke. By age 64, their overall chance of dying is similar to that of people the same age who have never smoked. Older adults who quit smoking also have a reduced risk of dying from coronary heart disease and lung cancer. Additional, immediate benefits (such as improved circulation, and increased energy and breathing capacity) are other good reasons for older adults to become smoke free.

Question: Are there difficulties associated with quitting smoking?

Quitting smoking may cause short-term after-effects, especially for those who have smoked a large number of cigarettes for a long period of time. People who quit smoking are likely to feel anxious, irritable, hungry, more tired, and have difficulty sleeping. They may also have difficulty concentrating. Many tobacco users gain weight when they quit, but usually less than 10 pounds. These changes do subside. People who kick the habit have the opportunity for a healthier future.

Question: What is the first thing I need to do once I’ve decided to quit?

You should set a quit date-the day when you will break free of your tobacco addiction. Then, consider visiting your doctor or other health care provider before the quit date. She or he can help by providing practical advice and information on the medication that is best for you.

Question: How can health care providers help stop smoking?

Doctors and dentists can be good sources of information about the health risks of smoking and about quitting. They can tell their patients about the proper use and potential side effects of nicotine replacement therapy (see question 8), and help them find local smoking cessation programs. Doctors and dentists can also play an important role by asking patients about smoking at every office visit; advising patients to stop; assisting patients by setting a quit date, providing self-help materials, and suggesting nicotine replacement therapies (when appropriate); and arranging for follow-up visits.

Question: What is nicotine replacement therapy?

Nicotine is the drug in cigarettes and other forms of tobacco that causes addiction. Nicotine replacement products deliver small, steady doses of nicotine into the body, which helps to relieve the withdrawal symptoms often felt by people trying to quit smoking. These products, which are available in four forms (patches, gum, nasal spray, and inhaler), appear to be equally effective. There is evidence that combining the nicotine patch with nicotine gum or nicotine nasal spray increases long-term quit rates compared with using a single type of nicotine replacement therapy. Nicotine gum, in combination with nicotine patch therapy, may also reduce withdrawal symptoms better than either medication alone. Researchers recommend combining nicotine replacement therapy with advice or counseling from a doctor, dentist, pharmacist, or other health provider.

Question: What medication would work best for me?

Different people do better with different methods. You have five choices of medications that are currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

The gum and patches are available at your local pharmacy, or you can ask your health care provider to write you a prescription for one of the other medications. The good news is that all five medications have been shown to be effective in helping smokers who are motivated to quit.

Question: How will I feel when I quit smoking? Will I gain weight?

Many smokers gain weight when they quit, but it is usually less than 10 pounds. Eat a healthy diet, stay active, and try not to let weight gain distract you from your main goal—quitting smoking. Some of the medications to help you quit may help delay weight gain.

Question: Some of my friends and family are smokers. What should I do when I’m with them?

Tell them that you are quitting, and ask them to assist you in this effort. Specifically, ask them not to smoke or leave cigarettes around you.

Question: What kinds of activities can I do when I feel the urge to smoke?

Talk with someone, go for a walk, drink water, or get busy with a task. Reduce your stress by taking a hot bath, exercising, or reading a book.

Question: How can I change my daily routine, which includes smoking a cigarette with my breakfast?

When you first try to quit, change your routine. Eat breakfast in a different place, and drink tea instead of coffee. Take a different route to work.

Question: I like to smoke when I have a drink. Do I have to give up both?

It’s best to avoid drinking alcohol for the first 3 months after quitting because drinking lowers your chances of success at quitting. It helps to drink a lot of water and other nonalcoholic drinks when you are trying to quit.

Question: I’ve tried to quit before and it didn’t work. What can I do?

Remember that most people have to try to quit at least 2 or 3 times before they are successful. Review your past attempts to quit. Think about what worked—and what didn’t—and try to use your most successful strategies again.

Question: What should I do if I need more help?

Get individual, group, or telephone counseling. The more counseling you get, the better your chances are of quitting for good. Programs are given at local hospitals and health centers. Call your local health department for information about programs in your area. Also, talk with your doctor or other health care provider.

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