Dear Doc: Tools to help smokers quit " for good |

Dear Doc: Tools to help smokers quit " for good

Dr. Drew Werner
Eagle County CO, Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Tobacco. What images does that simple word conjure in your mind? Best friend, the great calmer, a quick pick me up, or perhaps cancer stick, bringer of death, a room full of air, but not enough to breathe? Unfortunately they are all true, and all at the same time. Equally tragic, by the time one learns the first three are merely tricks played to deepen the addiction, the last three rear their ugly heads.

Dear Doc,

I’m finally ready. I know I need to do it. What can you do to help me quit smoking?

” Sick of being sick in Eagle

Dear Sick of being sick,

Lung cancer accounts for 12 percent of all new cancer cases. Tragically, lung cancer is also responsible for 29 percent of all cancer deaths. More people die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer. The bad news does not stop there. While most people associate smoking with lung cancer, smoking actually increases the risk of all forms of cancer. At the same time, smoking is also a major cause of heart disease, the single most common cause of death in the United States. When I counsel patients on the benefits of quitting smoking however, I often focus more on how devastating it is on an individual’s quality of life than how much it will likely shorten their life. This simple wisdom is all too often true; long time smokers watch their grandchildren play ball. Non-smokers, or those who have quit, play ball with their grandchildren.

The benefits of quitting smoking are enormous. Consider these facts from the American Cancer Society:

– Within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, blood pressure and pulse drop significantly and the temperature of your hands and feet increase to normal.

– Within eight hours, smoker’s breath disappears and carbon monoxide levels in your blood drop to near normal levels.

– Within 24 hours, your chance of heart attack actually decreases.

– Within three days, your breathing becomes easier.

– By two to three months, your circulation improves and walking becomes less tiring as lung function increases up to 30 percent.

– Within one to nine months, coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue and shortness of breath all decrease. At that time the cilia that sweep debris from your lungs grows back increasing your ability to handle mucus, clean your lungs and reduce your risk of infection. Not surprisingly, you will have more energy and endurance.

– By the time a year has passed, your risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker!

– Within five years, your risk of dying from lung cancer is half that of a pack per day smoker.

– Ten yeas after quitting, lung cancer death rates drop to those of a person who never smoked.

If you want to look at the costs of smoking, log onto:

This simple calculator will astonish you. It showed me that a one pack per day smoker of 20 years has spent $25,550 on cigarettes if he or she had been buying them at $3.50 per pack.

There are many ways to quit, but no matter which you choose, remember that sooner or later there has to be a last cigarette. Since it is inevitable, that is why most programs recommend setting a quit date. Once you have made that serious commitment, next comes developing a plan to change behaviors and habits. Try brushing your teeth after meals if that is when you smoke. Rearrange your furniture or sit at a different spot on the couch or at the dinner table if that is your smoking spot. Do what ever works to avoid putting yourself in the same place and same situation that is a trigger to smoke.

Smoking for many is an excuse to take a stress break, so take a break but do something besides lighting up. Go for a short walk, play a quick game on the computer, put a piece in a puzzle or anything that just distracts you for a bit. Now that you are ready to change your routine, tell everyone. It helps to make your commitment public. Write it down. Tell your smoking friends, and ask them not to offer you a smoke. Finally, there is the nicotine addition.

While it only lasts days to two weeks after the last cigarette is smoked, it can be pretty rough getting through nicotine addiction. The right thing for you is the help that works.

There are a variety of over-the-counter products geared to help change habits, calm the addiction and help you focus on something other than cigarettes. Prescription medications come in three flavors. There are a variety of nicotine replacement products, Zyban (an antidepressant) and the new medication Chantix.

The nicotine patches help and increase your chances of quitting to 30 percent or more. The gum is especially good for people who chew tobacco. It is used by parking (like chew) between the cheek and gum and chewing it after the nicotine flavor disappears. There are nicotine inhalers, which work well for those with a need to keep the hands busy. With all of the nicotine replacement products, it is important to stop smoking before using them. Smoking in addition to using some form of nicotine replacement can actually lead to an overdose!

Zyban is actually the same medication as the anti-depressant Wellbutrin. It helps reduce stress and relieves the nicotine triggers in the brain. People who use it have a 30 to 40 percent chance of quitting, which is actually pretty good considering how difficult it is.

Finally, there is Chantix, which works by blocking the nicotine receptors in the brain. One study showed that it is even more effective than Zyban. Both of these medications are used for 1 to 2 weeks before your quit date to allow them to become established in your system. Likewise, each must be continued for several weeks or even months after you have successfully quit in order to avoid rebounding and reaching for a smoke.

Some new data, however, shows that people using Chantix actually have a greater risk of depression. While the same study showed a rise in depression in all people who were attempting to quit smoking as compared to non smokers, Chantix users seemed to fair worse. The message is that if you are already feeling depressed, Chantix may not be the right choice for you. Talk to your doctor about Zyban or other options. If you decide medication is best, follow up with your doctor to be sure all is truly well. Acupuncture and hypnosis have been shown to work as well, so look at all your options.

A terrific program from National Jewish Medical and Research Center and the Department of Public Health and Environment, enrolled tobacco users in counseling services through Colorado’s QUITLINE. They are six to seven times more likely to kick the habit than those who try to quit all on their own. The Colorado QUITLINE phone number is 1-800-639-QUIT. Often times more than one option can be used at once, and you never need to go it alone.

Perhaps most importantly is the idea that if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

Remember your health is your responsibility! Health is our greatest asset and it doesn’t happen by accident. If something doesn’t seem right, or questions are left unanswered, don’t wait, call your doctor. Write to me with your questions care of

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