Kicking the Habit: Info and Tips on Quitting Smoking

Woman Breaking Cigarette

When it comes to smoking, quitting is easier said than done. Fortunately, with a little help and a lot of determination, smokers can kick the habit for good.

Approximately 38 million Americans smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), leading to a lot of serious health problems, including lung cancer. Overall, smoking accounts for more than 480,000 preventable deaths every year.

While the possible consequences of smoking are widely known, however, many people are unable to quit despite their best efforts and intentions.

“It’s so addictive and so hard to quit,” says Michael Wert, MD, director of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center and James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute’s (OSUCCC – James) Lung Cancer Screening Clinic and a member of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Division of Pulmonary Diseases.

“Nicotine withdrawal is one of the hardest things to deal with, especially for people who have been smoking for 30 or 40 years.”

While giving up cigarettes can be challenging, it’s an effort well-worth making—and one that doesn’t have to be undertaken alone. Wert and his OSUCCC – James colleagues are here to lend a hand with expert knowledge and the latest cessation methods to help smokers extinguish their habits.

It’s Never Too Late

The benefits of smoking cessation begin immediately: after 20 minutes, heart rate and blood pressure begin to drop; after a year, the risk of heart disease falls by half; after five years, the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder are cut in half; after 10 years, you’re half as likely to die from lung cancer, according to the 2010 Surgeon General’s Report on Tobacco.

“We’ll do a bronchoscopy on a patient who is a long-time smoker, and their inner airways are coated in what looks like soot—all this black tar buildup,” Wert says. “If they stop smoking and we see them a few months later, all that buildup is gone.”

After Diagnosis

Many smokers with lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases believe the damage is already done—but the dangers of smoking continue after diagnoses.

“What I tell people is, even if you’re diagnosed with a late-stage disease, every cigarette you smoke will make your disease worse and impact the effectiveness of your treatment,” Wert says.

Don’t Go Cold Turkey

“When you stop [smoking], there is irritability, some nausea and, in many cases, a lot of weight gain,” Wert says. “It’s not life threatening, like withdrawal from alcohol, but it’s very, very difficult to quit, especially if you go cold turkey.”

Instead, Wert recommends a gradual smoking cessation plan to his patients.

“If someone has been smoking two packs a day for 30 years, it’s unreasonable to go to zero immediately. What I tell people is, cut back a few cigarettes a week every few weeks. In a few months, you’ll be down to only a few a day, and then it’s easier to stop completely.”

Patches and Gum

Wert also recommends nicotine gum and patches.

“Nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes, but it’s all the tar and chemicals that are cancer-causing. The nicotine patches and gum gradually wean you off the chemical addiction of nicotine, but they don’t allow all the toxic chemicals to get into your lungs.”

The chances of success for any method can depend on the smoker, so meeting with the OSUCCC – James’ cessation experts is a great first step on the path to quitting.

Electronic Cigarettes

Manufacturers and advocates often include electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) among proven smoking cessation aids, but Wert disagrees.

“What’s scary about them is we don’t know what’s in them,” he says in reference to incomplete research about e-cigs and their effects. “We’re concerned there could be cancer-causing agents in them.”

Lung Cancer Screening Clinic

Advances in research have led to several new treatment options for lung-cancer patients, and have greatly improved outcomes.

“There are so many benefits to catching it early,” Wert says.

Early detection—which can reduce the mortality rate by 20 percent, according to national studies—is the goal of the OSUCCC – James Lung Cancer Screening Clinic, which performs screenings for at-risk patients.

At-risk patients are men and women, ages 55 to 77, who have smoked at least two packs per day for 15 years, or one pack per day for 30 years, as well as ex-smokers with similar smoking histories who have quit within the past 15 years.

Many healthcare plans cover these screenings. For those that don’t, and for people without health coverage, the OSUCCC – James has a program to help offset the costs.

“Our goal is to make lung cancer screenings as well known as mammograms and colonoscopies,” Wert says. “Screenings are so important—they save lives.”

Click here for more information on the OSUCCC – James Lung Cancer Screening Clinic. Or call: 614-293-5066 or 800-293-5066.