MD Anderson is a leader in tobacco control, nationwide. We provide services directly to smokers who want to quit, to schools so they can make sure children never start, and to health care providers who want to eliminate tobacco use in their communities. MD Anderson also collaborates with institutions and policy makers across the United States in a movement to end tobacco use, once and for all.
MD Anderson can help you quit smoking
Stopping smoking is the most important thing you can do for your health. Quitting at any age reduces your risk for health problems including cancer, heart disease and stroke. MD Anderson offers services proven to help you stop.
Tobacco Research and Treatment Program
If you are a cancer patient, quitting smoking improves your chances of surviving cancer. MD Anderson's Tobacco Research and Treatment Program (TRTP) offers free tobacco cessation services to patients and includes in-person, phone and video counseling. Patients also have access to several tobacco cessation medications.
Tobacco Research Program
MD Anderson has studies available for people who smoke and are interested in quitting, as well as for people who may not be ready to stop smoking yet. Our studies aim to learn more about why people smoke and the best ways to quit.
Tobacco resources for educators
MD Anderson offers several programs for school-age children, teens and young adults.
ASPIRE (A Smoking Prevention Interactive Experience)
ASPIRE is a free online program for teens that tackles the big issues about tobacco, including e-cigarettes, hookah, JUUL and synthetic marijuana.
This is Quitting
In collaboration with the nationally renowned Truth Initiative, MD Anderson offers a text-based service to help young people ages 13 to 24 quit vaping. Young people can receive free, anonymous, 24/7 support through this program. Parents will receive messages with tips and advice to help their loved one.
Tobacco education presentations
MD Anderson health educators visit schools, either in-person or virtually, to arm young people with the facts on tobacco and vaping and provide tools to resist peer pressure. A puppet show is available for younger audiences, which breaks down this complex subject in a fun and entertaining way for kids in kindergarten through 4th grade.
Did You Know?
Protect your kids from tobacco
MD Anderson can help you keep your child away from tobacco. Find out what to know about vaping, e-cigarettes and other forms of tobacco, plus information on support services available to you and your children.Learn more to help your family stay tobacco free
Tobacco training programs and resources for health care providers
MD Anderson has training available to help you support your patients on their journey to becoming tobacco free.
Project ECHO TEACH is a telementoring service that provides tobacco education, consulting and cessation strategies to clinical providers across the United States.
Certified Tobacco Treatment Training Program. If you want to become a certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist, join MD Anderson’s five-day intensive training program, certified by the Council for Tobacco Treatment Training Programs.
Tobacco Outreach Education Program. MD Anderson offers free continuing medical education materials to help physicians counsel patients on the benefits of smoking prevention and cessation.
Quitline. If you are a Federally Qualified Health Center, collaborate with us to connect your patients to the MD Anderson Quitline. This enhanced service offers patients free access to one-on-one counseling and extended nicotine replacement therapy.
MD Anderson drives tobacco control policy
At MD Anderson, we know that tobacco control policies are key to eliminating tobacco use. Smoke-free laws and tobacco-free policies not only reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, but also motivate and help tobacco users quit and prevent initiation of tobacco use.
Americans die from smoking each year
teens report using e-cigarettes in the last 30 days
non-smoking Americans exposed to secondhand smoke
I was just 11 when I started smoking in the 1980s. Finding cigarettes was easy. My mom was a smoker, and when she reached the end of a pack, she’d send me with a dollar to the corner store to buy more. Back then, there were no laws against selling tobacco products to kids, so the store clerk thought nothing of it.
Sometimes, I’d sneak cigarettes from my mom’s supply. Other times, I’d get them from the “cool” kids at school who let me join their clandestine smoking sessions.
By the time I graduated from college, I was smoking a pack a day.
Children motivated me to quit smoking
I wanted to quit, but my job as a social worker for abused and neglected children often left me emotionally drained. Cigarettes helped ease the stress. I tried several times to quit cold turkey, but those attempts never lasted.
That changed when I got married and had children. During both of my pregnancies, I quit smoking. It wasn’t that difficult – it was as though my mind instructed my body to protect my babies. But as soon as my sons were born, I started smoking again to de-stress from the pressures of motherhood and my job.
Working with so many children in the foster care system sometimes made me sad and frustrated. They didn’t deserve to be in this position. As a social worker, I did what I could to help, but I wanted to do more.
Then I had an epiphany. I could apply to become a foster parent. One of the rules of fostering is that you’re not permitted to smoke around children. I quit again, and for the next eight years, I fostered a succession of children in my smoke-free home. I adopted two little girls – one with special needs – whose chances of finding a family were slim.
Weight gain and nicotine addiction
As my family grew, my marriage crumbled. I tried hard to balance everything, but it was a challenge. Since cigarettes were off-limits, I used food as a de-stressor. I’d always been heavy, even as a child. But now I weighed more than 350 pounds. I was exhausted, depressed and overwhelmed.
Then one magical day, I said “enough.” I was tired of feeling tired. I got on the treadmill. I started eating healthy foods. I lost over 200 pounds. And I filed for divorce. I’m a redhead, and my dad always said redheads are stubborn as mules. I lost the weight and got my life back on track out of sheer determination.
Losing so much weight left me with saggy, excess skin. My doctor said surgery was the only way to get rid of it, so I underwent a full-body lift. During the 17-hour operation, plastic surgeons worked on my neck, breasts, stomach, arms, legs … everything.
My recovery was very painful. One day, when I was hurting worse than usual, my mother handed me a cigarette and said, “Here, this will help.” I took one long puff, and BAM! I was hooked again. Nicotine addiction is powerful.
I was disappointed to resume smoking, but in the back of my mind, I rationalized that smoking would help me keep off the weight I’d fought so hard to lose. I conveniently “forgot” that cigarettes could harm my body and take years off my life.
A new start
With my divorce finalized, I decided to leave my home state of Illinois for a fresh start in Texas. I packed up my children and headed to Houston, where I was hired as a social worker for difficult-to-place foster children with advanced needs.
I carry a case load of 30 kids, and I view them all as my kids. My goal is to place each one in a loving foster family or permanent home. When that happens, there’s no greater joy. But getting to that point can be very stressful.
Sometimes my days are intense. When I first arrived in Houston with no family or friends to turn to, cigarettes once again became my way to de-stress. I hated them, but I needed them.
Participating in a smoking cessation study
That changed one day when a radio advertisement caught my attention. “Are you tired of smoking?” the announcer asked. I yelled “YES,” though I was alone in the room. The ad was recruiting smokers for an MD Anderson tobacco-cessation clinical trial called PISCES, which stands for “Precision-Implemented Smoking Cessation Evaluation Study.”
The program was free of charge, the ad said. I didn’t believe it. I thought surely there must be a program fee, or I’d have to reimburse MD Anderson if I failed to stop smoking during the study. I decided to call anyway, and I’m glad I did.
The research coordinator explained that, unlike many other tobacco-cessation studies, PISCES is conducted remotely. I’d never have to go in person for a single visit. Everything would be done by phone and with video visits over the computer. That sounded great to me, especially since I live an hour away from MD Anderson.
During the study, I would be asked to collect my saliva and urine samples at home, and submit them to MD Anderson by courier. These, along with samples from other PISCES participants, would be analyzed for genetic markers which could potentially be used to tailor smoking cessation treatments for people based on their genetics.
I was eager to quit smoking and happy to contribute to the research, so I joined the study.
How I quit smoking
My plan was simple to follow. I took a daily oral medication named varenicline for 12 weeks. The medicine was mailed to my home. It was so convenient. Other participants received nicotine replacement therapy in the form of a patch, gum or lozenges. The study was randomized, meaning neither the researchers nor the participants chose who would receive which treatment.
Counselors and doctors regularly checked in with me by phone or over the computer. I got lots of support.
Anyone who failed to stop smoking after 12 weeks was switched to a different therapy or higher dose. That’s the beauty of MD Anderson – they don’t give up on you.
Today, I’m proud to call myself a nonsmoker. I haven’t touched a cigarette in over a year, and my cravings have disappeared.
I’ve learned that all those years of “self-medicating” with cigarettes to ease stress were actually causing more stress. The program taught me that while smoking makes you temporarily feel calmer by releasing a chemical into your brain, it wears off quickly and you feel worse than before you lit up. Today, I handle stress in healthier ways, like walking my dog, watching a movie or exercising.
I'm in a much better place now, in so many ways. If you want to quit, but you're afraid to try, contact MD Anderson. If it worked for me, it can work for you.
As a child, researcher Surendranath Shastri, M.D., D.Ph., worshiped his dad. “He was a lifetime smoker, so I thought it was cool to smoke,” says Shastri. “I started smoking around age 18, about the same time I started medical school.”
By his early 20s, Shastri was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. He lived in India, where smoking was a big part of the culture. Shastri recalls cigarettes were given as a party favor to guests at his wedding.
He knew smoking was dangerous to his own health, but that wasn’t enough to motivate him to quit, despite pleas from his wife. At the time, scientific evidence was still being gathered on the harms of secondhand smoke exposure, and that’s what finally convinced Shastri to quit.
“When my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child, the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘I must do everything I can to take care of this baby,’” Shastri recalls. “My wife asked me to start by giving up smoking.”
Thinking about the potential effects on their unborn daughter provided strong enough motivation for him to permanently quit smoking at age 26. His daughter is now a doctor with her own children. Shastri is a physician and researcher studying health disparities in cancer, including tobacco use.
Secondhand smoke is harmful
The same year that Shastri quit smoking, the first Surgeon General’s Report dedicated to the health effects of secondhand smoke was released. We now know that secondhand smoke exposure, which includes the smoke directly from a burning cigarette as well as the smoke exhaled by someone smoking, can cause serious health problems in non-smokers, including lung cancer.
“It’s a big myth that secondhand smoke exposure is not as harmful as smoking,” Shastri says. “Secondhand smoke exposure is equally harmful, particularly for young children whose respiratory systems are not as developed and for women who are pregnant.”
According to the Surgeon General, 2.5 million non-smokers have died due to secondhand smoke exposure since 1964. Secondhand smoke exposure can cause heart disease, stroke and sudden infant death syndrome. More than 7,300 nonsmokers die each year from lung cancer caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.
Disparities in secondhand smoke exposure
“The science shows that the health effects from secondhand smoke exposure are long-lasting,” Shastri says. “Although we’ve made progress in the US in reducing secondhand smoke exposure, that progress has stalled over the last decade, and disparities persist.”
From 1988 to 2012, secondhand smoke exposure among non-smokers declined from 87.5% to 25.3%. The latest available data shows the rates have barely decreased since then, to 24.6% in 2018. Shastri and Sanjay Shete, Ph.D., recently published a study in JAMA Internal Medicine that analyzed data on secondhand smoke from 2011-2018 to determine how common the problem is currently.
“We found very clear disparities in terms of who is exposed to secondhand smoke,” Shastri says. “There are significantly higher rates of secondhand smoke exposure in children ages 3 to 11, non-Hispanic Black individuals, and people living below the poverty line, in rental housing or without a high school education.”
Strategies to reduce secondhand smoke exposure
After beginning his career in internal medicine, Shastri was recruited to establish and lead the Preventive Oncology department at one of India’s largest cancer hospitals. In this role, he created the Smokefree Mumbai Campaign and implemented tobacco cessation clinics at cancer centers throughout the country. He’s continued to work on tobacco control projects since joining MD Anderson’s Health Disparities Research team in 2018.
Shastri’s team is currently working on a pilot project to address secondhand smoke exposure among public housing residents in Houston. The project will begin with a blood test to measure the baseline secondhand smoke exposure levels among non-smoking residents, followed by a series of interventions to identify and fill gaps in existing resources designed to help residents and property managers comply with the 2017 Smoke-Free Public Housing Rule. The project will also offer free, onsite tobacco cessation therapy to residents who smoke. After one year, the team will measure secondhand smoke exposure levels among non-smoking residents again to see if the interventions made a difference.
“It’s critical that we prioritize strategies to reduce secondhand smoke exposure among the groups who are disproportionally affected and may have long-term health issues as a result,” Shastri says. “I can’t think of a more powerful motivation to quit smoking than the health of your loved ones.”
MD Anderson offers resources for individuals who want to quit smoking, including smoking cessation studies for Texas residents and Tobacco Treatment Program for MD Anderson patients and employees. Anyone can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit smokefree.gov to be connected to free quitting resources in their state.
Tobacco Cessation Resources
Find additional resources and support for quitting tobacco use.