The benefits of quitting smoking
The average smoker makes several quit attempts before they successfully beat the addiction. MD Anderson tackles the barriers to cessation at an individual and population level. Those barriers include access to cessation services, cost and knowledge gaps among health care providers on treating tobacco addiction.
Clinical and community-based services include adult cessation programs that include pharmacotherapy, counseling and quit-lines that offer follow-up. Community-based cessation services meet the patient where they are so that they can discuss their options to quitting, create a quit plan and take steps to quit.
The Tobacco Treatment Program offers tobacco-cessation services, including in-person behavioral counseling, telephone counseling, web-cam counseling and several tobacco-cessation medication treatments. These services are available at no cost to MD Anderson cancer patients who are current tobacco users.
MD Anderson’s Certified Tobacco Treatment Training Program offers a training for health care providers to treat tobacco dependence.
Through Project ECHO: TEACH, MD Anderson engages with over 250 healthcare providers in Texas, the U.S. and around the world to increase provider knowledge and skills to treat tobacco and nicotine addiction among the patients and community they serve. An article describing how we TEACH was used in its early statges, throughout Texas local mental health authorities can be found here: Cogent Medicine.
Patients who wish to quit smoking can get free phone and text support through the Quitline by calling 800-784-8669 or text QUIT to 47848. Visit www.SmokeFree.gov for more information.
I have always heard people say, “Now is not a good time to quit!” There is always a time when you are less stressed, less busy or maybe more devoted to becoming healthier. I am here to tell you not to listen to those people.
When I started working at MD Anderson in January 2000, I was smoking two packs a day, and had been smoking since I was very young. In 2002, I transferred to Laboratory Informatics, where we support several clinical and research areas around MD Anderson. After talking to some of the doctors and seeing the inner workings of the hospital, I made the decision to quit smoking.
However, I was under so much stress when I made that decision. My mother was moving to Texas, and I was going through a bad divorce.
Getting help from the Tobacco Treatment Program
One of my co-workers recommended that I reach out to Bill Baun, program manager for MD Anderson’s employee wellness program.
Making that call was very hard, but I realized I had nothing to lose. Mr. Baun came to our support room, talked with me and made me comfortable and secure in my decision to quit smoking.
He put me in contact with Tobacco Treatment Program, which provides tobacco cessation counseling and support to MD Anderson patients and employees. That was the beginning of my new life.
Although it was not a good time to quit, I learned that there is no such thing. As a nurse explained to me, quitting smoking is harder than some illegal drugs. When I asked why, she explained that tobacco is easier to get than drugs, and that makes it that much harder to quit.
How I learned to cope when I quit smoking
I am not going to lie. It was hard to quit smoking. But the support from the counselors was outstanding and made the transition to quitting smoking so smooth. I feel like they not only gave me my life back; they gave me a better one. To this day, I still have urges for cigarettes from time to time, but every day it gets easier to deal with.
I saved the money I used to buy my cigarettes and used the money to buy a motorcycle. It’s funny, the money I spent on cigarettes in one month paid for the bike. Every time I wanted a smoke, I went for a ride to remind me that I did not need it.
If I could give one person advice to quit smoking it would be this: There is no great time to quit, you just have to make up your mind and want to quit. A little change of lifestyle can start a domino effect, and your decision to quit could help others decide to do the same. However, you have to start by being honest with yourself. I did it, and so can everyone that wants to.
Life after tobacco
I have been smoke-free since 2002, and have not looked back. Although I no longer have the motorcycle, I have had some big life changes. I now coach three sports for the Special Olympics and am part of a group that provides support and raises funds for families living with autism. I also am part of a support group for fathers of special needs kids. It is a great little group.
Every time I see Mr. Baun, I make sure I thank him for putting me in contact with the Tobacco Treatment Program. I would love to personally thank the group that helped me quit. I had support from friends and family and all the support here at MD Anderson. I could not have done it without them.
The Tobacco Treatment Program offers tobacco cessation services, including in-person behavioral counseling and medications, to MD Anderson patients, employees and dependents at no cost. Patients and caregivers should ask your their Anderson doctor or nurse for a referral.
If you’ve quit smoking, you should be proud. You’ve taken huge steps to improve your health and lower your cancer risk. The benefits of quitting smoking start right away and continue for decades. Within just 20 minutes of quitting your blood pressure drops. And after 10 years you’re 50% less likely to die of lung cancer.
But how do you make sure you stay tobacco-free and avoid drifting into old behaviors and addictions? We talked to Maher Karam-Hage, professor of Behavioral Science and Tobacco Treatment Program director at MD Anderson Cancer Center, for tips on how to avoid smoking setbacks.
You are going to face challenges – and possibly failures – on your journey to living smoke-free. Taking advantage of support programs can help you avoid slips and recover from them faster.
“The best way to quit is with counseling and medication,” Karam-Hage says.
Counselors and psychologists can help you determine what triggers your cravings and how to resist them. Medications would help you mitigate cravings, withdrawal and other symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
You can get free phone and online support to help you quit.
- Call 800-784-8669 (800-QUIT NOW)
- Text Quit to 47848
- Visit www.smokefree.gov
Curb cravings with nicotine replacement
Research shows you’ll be less likely slip up and reach for a cigarette if you ease your nicotine cravings with medications.
Several products, including pills, inhalers and gum, replace the nicotine you crave in decreasing amounts, which can help you resist temptation.
These products may be prescription or over-the-counter. Talk to your medical care provider about what product may be best for you.
Karam-Hage recommends using medications for up to six months or longer if needed.
“Many people think of it as an antibiotic that you just take for a little while, then stop it in few days once you feel better,” he says. “But these medications need to be taken for several months for the brain to get adapted again to be without nicotine and minimize risk of relapse. There’s no shame in taking them as long as you need them.”
Karam-Hage says your doctor or counselor can help you determine how long you need to use medications and nicotine products.
Plan for challenges
Support and medication will go a long way in reducing your chances of a smoking relapse. Karam-Hage also recommends using the phrase “ACE” to help you stay strong in your commitment to quitting.
- Avoid - Avoid smokers who might tempt you (directly or indirectly) to smoke. Also avoid situations or locations where you will be tempted to smoke. If you used to smoke with a friend, try suggesting a different activity to do now, like exercising or eating at a smoke-free restaurant. Avoid places where you used to smoke as well. If you used to drive to work while smoking a cigarette, try a different route. Breaking the habit can help keep temptation out of mind.
- Cope - If you have to be in a situation in which you’re likely to smoke, like a stressful day at work, be prepared to deal with it. Write the reason why you quit smoking on a card to keep with you. When you want to get a cigarette, reach for your card instead.
- Escape -It’s OK to leave a situation that makes you want to start smoking again.
What to do if you slip
If you do slip and have a cigarette, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, get back on track as soon as you can. The longer it goes the harder it may be to quit again.
“Avoid negative self-talk,” Karam-Hage says. “It doesn’t help anything, and it often leads to more smoking.”
Instead, let it go, get help and focus on quitting again.