Are you, or someone you love, trying to quit smoking? We’re here to help. We’ve gathered some facts, tips from esteemed medical experts, and canvassed opinion amongst Nano staffers to see how they put down cigarettes for good. You never know, after you read this, you might feel ready to tackle the addiction to nicotine and make this the first day of your new smoke-free existence.
First, the facts about smoking
According to the Centers for Disease Control, cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1 in 5 deaths. In 2017, 34.3 million (14%) of U.S. adults currently smoke and more than 16 million are living with a smoking-related disease.
While smoking has definitely declined within the adult population – down from 20% in 2005, it’s now on the rise in young people, usually via the 15,000 (and rising) flavors of vaping materials.
The use of e-cigarettes among middle and high school students reach epidemic proportions between 2017 and 2018, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, and in September 2019, California released a health advisory to help people understand the effects of vaping. This nicotine delivery system has been linked to a recent spate of severe breathing problems, lung damage, and even, in several cases, death.
The road to quitting smoking: a personal story
We spoke to one of our Nano researchers (who asked to remain anonymous). She told us how she started smoking, tried to quit, and finally did.
First Cigarette? “It all started when I was 12, that’s when I had my first cigarette, and I gradually picked it up as a habit, continuing through high school, and by the time I went to college I was smoking regularly.”
Ever tried to stop? “Not really, until I was 24, and pregnant with my first child. The idea that I was harming my unborn baby set off this physical, almost visceral, reaction that was overwhelming, so I stopped, and didn’t pick up a cigarette again until after I had stopped nursing her. And I nursed her for almost two years, so I went without a cigarette for quite awhile – about three years in total.”
Did your parents smoke? “They did. My mother smoked casually in college and my father smoked in his late teens and early twenties. He stubbed out his last cigarette before he walked into the delivery room the day I was born and never smoked again. There were many times when I was smoking, that I would think about my father quitting for me. He had made a sacrifice to save me, my lungs, from the damages of smoking and now I was throwing away the gift he gave me, ruining my health, my lungs. But the thought, while it resonated with me, ultimately wasn’t enough to make me quit – I was addicted.”
But you picked up again after nursing your first child? “Not seriously, but, yes, I started smoking again – a cigarette or two, mainly at night, because I was tired and exhausted, stressed, wanting to unwind. It was especially hard when I went out with friends who smoked. After a glass of wine, cigarette smoke would smell really good, my cravings would kick in, and I’d have a couple of cigarettes. But even then I kept thinking, I’m killing myself. I’ve been gifted with this miracle of a child and I want to be on this planet for as long as possible to see her grow up.”
Did you ever try using medication to quit? “Strangely – yes – but it was actually not intentional. I have a diagnosis of ADD and was prescribed Wellbutrin between my first and second pregnancies. I had no idea that it was also used for smoking cessation programs. But it must have done something to my physiology because every time I did smoke, after a couple of glasses of wine, nothing major, I would wake up feeling terrible. I knew it couldn’t be a hangover as I’d not drunk much at all. But there was something about the level of toxicity that obviously affected me greatly. I would become massively sick. And that remains true to this day. I get nauseous anytime I am exposed to secondhand smoke.”
So that was it? “That’s what did it. And it’s been, let’s see, probably 10 – maybe 12 – years since I last had a cigarette. Which is amazing.”
It really is. So, any advice to people reading this who are trying to quit? “Yes, find your motivation, maybe try a medication that’s designed for smoking cessation – and be aware of your tiggers, whether it’s the smell of smoke, being around other people who are smoking, movies or television shows where smoking is depicted. For instance, I’ve just been working my way through the seasons of “Mad Men” and there is a character smoking a cigarette in almost every scene. I can imagine that might be a trigger for someone who is trying to quit – I know it would have been for me. You can’t avoid triggers, but it helps to know what they are.”
Countdown to quitting
If that story inspired you, let’s make it easy for you to make today your first day without a cigarette. Ready?
The American Lung Association has a great guide to help you quit, and they suggest talking to your pharmacist about the seven FDA-approved medications (nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers, nasal sprays, varenicline (Chantix) and bupropion (Zyban). Here are some of their other practical suggestions, interwoven with ideas from our researchers at Nano who have successfully quit too.
We’ve laid this out as a countdown to quitting – starting with 3 (preparation), 2 (mid-way trigger help) and 1 (staying quit).
Let’s begin: Motivation = pick a reason for quitting.
Are you worried about wrinkles? Put a photograph of someone you admire who’s never smoked on your fridge and gain inspiration every time you look at their bright eyes and fabulous skin. Too frivolous for you? How about staying alive long enough to see your grandchildren reach college? Put their pictures where you can see them and remember that when the cravings strike. Pocket-book pressure? Work out how much you spent on cigarettes last year and put that number on the start-up screen on your phone superimposed over a photograph of a penthouse in Paris. You’ll be staying there when you’ve got a year without smoking – because you’ll have saved enough money to travel in style.
Midway tough-day alert: Know your stress triggers (and guard against them)
Stress is a big reason why people smoke. Nicotine is a drug and drugs are addictive due to their effects. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a cigarette is a very effective form of nicotine drug delivery. Someone who smokes a pack a day gets 200 “hits” to the brain, followed by a “kick” due to the drug’s stimulation of the adrenal glands which causes a discharge of epinephrine (adrenaline) resulting in increased heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. So you need a replacement for this chemical high/neurophysical reward system to release the stress. Is the spare room big enough for a punching bag? How about buying some new running shoes? Or high energy club beats (in the kitchen works if you can’t get to a club). When you feel stressed, tell someone, talk about it, write about it, deal with it – you’re no longer beholden to nicotine to “fix” (i.e. exacerbate) the problem.
Smoke-free! (Get help from friends to stay strong)
This might sound obvious – but you need to let your smoker-friends (and still-smoking family members) know that you need some distance from them for a while, or ask them to support you by not smoking around you. If you’re surrounded by people who smoke – it’s time to widen that social circle. Join a support group online when you can be accountable each day (and talk about the stuff that triggers you), and get a virtual high-five for not picking up. Perhaps try a local Nicotine Anonymous meeting, or the Freedom From Smoking® program run by the American Lung Association?
You can do this. 50 million Americans have quit smoking to date. It’s possible. You’re not alone.