The Benefits of Quitting & Expert Strategies for Becoming Smoke-Free

Smoking Costs & Cessation

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Smoking is bad for you: That's no surprise. But have you thought about what smoking does to your wallet? The financial burden goes well beyond just the cost of cigarettes themselves—smokers also pay higher health insurance premiums, bear higher medical and dental costs, and can't take advantage of homeowners' insurance credit. Take a closer look at both the financial costs and health risks of smoking, and get expert advice and resources on how to kick this expensive addiction.

Why Quit?: The Financial Costs of Smoking

When it comes to quitting, most people do it for health reasons. While that is a good enough reason to quit, the financial costs of smoking can also be a strong motivator. Take a look at some of the common costs smokers have to pay - you may be surprised to see just how much you could be saving if you stopped smoking.

Financial Costs

Why Quit?: The Health Risks of Smoking

Smoking can lead to many different health issues. For example, most people know it can cause lung cancer, but that isn't the only concern.

Health Risks of Smoking

The Health Benefits of Quitting

In addition to saving money, quitting can result in several health benefits, even just within the first half hour. Ex-smokers can look forward to the following health rewards:

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    15 years

    Your risk of coronary heart disease decreases to that of a nonsmoker's

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    10 years

    Your lung cancer death rate is approximately half that of a smoker's. Your risk of other cancers (mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney and pancreas) decreases

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    5 to 15 years

    Your risk of stroke decreases and is comparable to a nonsmoker's

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    1 to 9 months

    Coughing and shortness of breath decrease

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    2 weeks to 3 months

    Your risk of heart attack decreases. Your lung function starts to improve

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    12 hours

    The carbon monoxide level in your blood becomes normal

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    20 minutes

    Your heart rate and blood pressure decrease

Expert Q&A: Tips on How to Successfully Quit

You're probably convinced that quitting smoking is a good move for your health and your finances, and you may even be motivated to quit. But before you stop—whether gradually or cold turkey—it's beneficial to look at what strategies can help you successfully stop smoking for good. In the following section, experts share proven strategies and advice for kicking the habit permanently. (All excerpts are taken from phone and email interviews; in some cases, the questions have been paraphrased or added after the interview to provide context.)

How to Prepare

Many resources and apps for people trying to quit devote entire sections to just getting ready. Some people count down to their quit day, while others plan how to tell others they are quitting. According to Dr. Clara Bradizza, "Usually, people have to make multiple quit attempts before they're successful." That's where proper preparation comes in. The difference between successfully quitting and just stopping temporarily begins before you put out your last cigarette.

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"Usually, people have to make multiple quit attempts before they're successful."

Once someone is ready to quit, what are some tips or strategies for preparing?

Dr. Simon Rego:

It's always good to set a quit date, usually a few weeks ahead, so you can prepare for it. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based approach that teaches people skills to help with quitting and works very well, especially when done in conjunction with certain medications. For example, in CBT, we have people monitor their triggers (i.e., thoughts, emotions, situations) so they can be more aware of what seems to generate the urge to smoke. We also have people start 'nicotine fading' by gradually decreasing the number of cigarettes smoked per day over a course of a few weeks leading to the quit date. In addition, we have people switch brands to ones with lower nicotine amounts and to flavors they find less appealing. We also have people begin to limit where they smoke, and to remove all smoking-related paraphernalia. Finally, we teach people new ways to cope with emotions (e.g., muscle relaxation, deep breathing) and also to start building a support network.

What are things to keep in mind to mentally prepare for this challenge?

Dr. Simon Rego:

It's very important to learn to catch your thoughts and find ways to challenge them. We call these automatic negative thoughts, because they can occur without us consciously being aware of them, but can influence our moods and behaviors. We need to learn to identify them (e.g., you can have just one puff, you'll never make it) and combat them (e.g., one puff will lead to another, just take it one day at a time). It's important to note that while often these thoughts are initially intense, they do diminish over time and become progressively easier to dismiss. You can also focus on the benefits of quitting.

How else can people prepare?

Melissa Charbonneau:

Smokers really need to tell their family and friends that they're going to quit, and explain that they need their support. Smokers should have people in their support systems check in from time to time, and they should ask for extra understanding (e.g., 'please understand if I'm in a bad mood because I'm trying to quit,' and 'I'm having these cravings; please don't take it personally.').

Conquering 'Quit Day'

The ultimate challenge begins on "Quit Day," when smokers must resolve to keep their willpower up for weeks, even months. This involves the use of multiple strategies and a shift in lifestyle in order to break old habits and instill new ones. Quitting, however, isn't always a linear process, and sometimes people slip. Rather than using that as an invitation to give up, Dr. Rego reminds quitters to stay positive: "Treat slips as learning opportunities and get back on track as soon as possible."

What are some strategies people should use when they want to quit smoking?

Dr. Clara Bradizza:

What's helpful for a lot of individuals is getting a nicotine replacement — a pharmacal therapy. For most people that's a patch. A nicotine patch provides longer-term, slow-release nicotine. And individuals who supplement that with a slower-acting nicotine like the gum, the lozenge, or the nasal spray — people who combine those two forms of pharmacal therapy — have a much better chance of quitting than people who go without any assistance.

What should people do if that doesn't work?

Dr. Clara Bradizza:

I think once people have tried that and not been successful, it's really important to see your doctor and consider a different kind of pharmacal therapy. The two most popular ones are Chantix (Varenicline) and also Bupropion. Those two have the greatest evidence of being able to assist people with stopping smoking, particularly when they're combined with some form of behavioral counseling.

Once a smoker has started the process, what can s/he do to stay on track?

Melissa Charbonneau:

One thing we give [support group members] is a 'pack wrap.' It's a log that goes around their cigarette pack, and every time they either have an urge or they actually light up a cigarette, they're supposed to record what they were doing and why they felt they got the urge. We hope they can look back at that log and reach conclusions as to 'Why did I get that urge?' and 'What could I do differently to change that routine?' So, if they decide they want to have a cigarette every time they talk on the phone, maybe they could get a pen and draw pictures instead—something to break the association of having that cigarette and that hand-to-mouth behavior.

Does quitting smoking lead to depression?

Dr. Clara Bradizza:

Quitting can raise negative feelings — anger, frustration, upset, irritability — but it's not necessarily full-blown depression. When we think of depression, it's a diagnosis [in which] people need to meet a lot of different criteria. But smokers should prepare themselves to deal with those negative effects when they quit. That's where the nicotine replacement and the medications can help. They reduce the negative emotion around quitting so people can have a chance to be more successful.

How can support groups help people trying to quit smoking?

Melissa Charbonneau:

They give encouragement and support from people who are going through the same thing, so people know they're not alone, and that what they're feeling really isn't 'just me.' They know that other people are also going to have those urges and are going to have relapses. We're hoping they can develop friendships with each other that can potentially be an additional form of support.

What else can people do to succeed?

Melissa Charbonneau:

You want to change your routine. You want to exercise. You want to eat healthy. If you want to try to relax more, maybe join a yoga class. You're getting the benefits of the exercise and the stretching, and you also have the benefit that you've changed up your routine. You're staying busy.

Staying Smoke-Free

Being smoke-free over the long term can be difficult, and there's no telling when the urge to smoke might strike. "A lot of people relapse in response to negative emotions — frustration, anger, sadness," says Dr. Bradizza. "Learning to manage those emotions, learning to manage those cravings and learning effective coping strategies are all very important." To help you stay on the right track, try the following coping mechanisms:

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    Keep track of your triggers

    Specific locations, situations or even the time of day can trigger a craving. Being aware of these things can help you avoid or at least limit the urge to smoke. Create a list of potential triggers and any time you feel like smoking, make a note of how you were feeling and why you wanted to smoke. Understanding such feelings and what causes them can help you better manage emotions so that you can stay strong.

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    Fight your cravings

    Ms. Charbonneau teaches her patients what she calls the 4 D's: deep breaths, drink water, do something and delay. "Usually, a craving will last between 10 and 20 minutes," she says, "so if you delay having that cigarette and let that craving pass, then you're good to go until you get the next craving."

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    Stay busy

    For some, relaxing may just increase the urge. If that's the case, stay busy - pick up a new hobby, exercise, or spend more quality time with friends and family to keep your mind off smoking. Keeping your hands busy can also help. If the "feeling" of smoking is your thing, try keeping items nearby that can replace the feeling of having a cigarette in your hand, such as a pen or a healthy snack like carrots.

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    Get organized

    As a way to stay busy, you might want to try getting organized. Tackle an organization project that you might have been putting off, such cleaning out your closet, garage or office space. This way you're keeping yourself distracted and being productive at the same time.

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    Find ways to stay positive

    Quitting isn't going to be easy and accepting that early on can help you keep a positive attitude. There will definitely be days that are harder than others and even days when it seems impossible, but don't let that discourage you. Give yourself a pep talk when things are tough and if that doesn't work, reach out to a friend or family member for some positive reinforcement.

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    Recognize and celebrate the small victories

    Quitting is the ultimate goal, but there are several smaller goals along the way. Don't forget to celebrate those small victories because each one is a step closer to becoming an ex-smoker. For example, if you've been smoke-free for one week, use the money you saved by not buying cigarettes to buy yourself a small treat or set aside some time to do something you really love or that makes you feel good. Rewarding yourself also helps you stay motivated to keep going.

The Facts About E-Cigarettes and Quitting

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, simulate the act of tobacco smoking by heating up a liquid mixed with nicotine and other flavors that is then inhaled as a vapor. The use of e-cigarettes has increased significantly in recent years, primarily because they have been marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes and also as a way to quit conventional smoking. These claims, however, have yet to be scientifically proven. Take a look at some of the common beliefs about e-cigarettes and quitting and get the real facts.

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"It's going to take more research evidence to determine whether it is in fact helpful."

Belief: E-cigarettes don't have nicotine

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THE TRUTH

E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, but almost all e-cigarettes contain nicotine from tobacco plants; the exact amount, however, has yet to be confirmed. The American Lung Association noted that a 2014 study found wide-ranging levels of the addictive substance in e-cigarettes.

Belief: E-cigarettes are safer

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THE TRUTH

According to the American Lung Association, there are nearly 500 different brands of e-cigarettes on the market today and none of them have been thoroughly evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, which means it's difficult to say what's in them. Some studies have found carcinogens and toxic elements such formaldehyde and acetaldehyde and even toxic metal nanoparticles, notes the National Institute on Drug Abuse. E-cigarettes have also gone unregulated for a long time, which means there aren't any requirements about ingredient use and disclosure. In May 2016, however, the FDA announced a final decision that would begin regulating the sale of e-cigarettes, a rule that's been more than two years in the making. In addition to banning sales to minors, restrictions mandate that e-cigarettes must have a warning that they contain nicotine, which is addictive.

Belief: E-cigarettes can help people quit smoking

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THE TRUTH

E-cigarettes are often promoted as a way to stop smoking. In fact, in April 2016, BBC reported that UK doctors presented "resounding evidence" that e-cigarettes can be an effective tool for smoking cessation. Debates over this argument still continue in the U.S., however, and currently, the FDA has not approved e-cigarettes for cessation.

Belief: Those who use e-cigars use them the same way as normal cigars

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THE TRUTH

According to 2015 research conducted by UC Riverside cell biology professor Prue Talbot, e-cigarette smokers tended to take longer and more frequent puffs than traditional cigarette smokers, which means these smokers inhale a larger puff volume.

Many experts point out that research results are inconclusive: some have demonstrated a benefit between e-cigarettes and quitting, while others have demonstrated no benefit at all. Additionally, there are thousands of different flavors of e-cigarettes, which make them more appealing. In fact, according to NPR, some experts have expressed concerns that e-cigarettes may be creating a new generation of smoking addicts. Dr. Bradizza notes, "It's going to take more research evidence to determine whether it is in fact helpful."

Tips from Real Smokers

Emily McComb is a Seattle-based art historian and mother of two. She explains the choice she made to quit smoking before trying to get pregnant.

Rachel, who prefers not to use her last name, is a small business owner. She shares why she quit smoking over 14 years ago.

Jason Malone is an actor and comedian. He has been smoking for nine years. He explains his recent decision to quit.

  1. When did you decide to quit and why?
  2. What was the hardest thing about quitting for you?
  3. Did you have any failed quit attempts?
  4. What advice would you give smokers who are thinking about quitting and/or trying to quit?
  5. When did you start smoking and why?
Emily McComb
Emily McComb

Art Historian

Rachel
Rachel

Business Owner

Jason Malone
Jason Malone

Actor and Comedian

Resources and Support

SMOKING & CESSATION RESOURCES

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The CDC's comprehensive "Quit Guide" is broken into 14 sections, including depression, medications and cravings. Information is organized so that users can easily find the specific information they're looking for

Pathways to Freedom
African Americans have been specifically targeted by cigarette companies for years. This guide, produced with the guidance of black community groups, lays out the reasons for quitting and offers tactics for staying smoke-free.

Truth Initiative
This nonprofit launched in 1998 after a massive settlement agreement with cigarette manufacturers, and is aimed at reducing smoking in younger generations. The website offers information on current research and news about the latest cessation campaigns.

What Works?
Although no longer updated, the National Tobacco Cessation Collaborative's website includes a tool that remains useful: a comparison of different quitting methods in terms of cost, effectiveness and availability.

NATIONAL PROGRAMS & SERVICES

Become an EX
A service of Truth Initiative, Become an EX helps smokers quit by helping them create a customized plan to quit, and by putting them in touch with other people doing the same.

QuitNet
Ex-smokers and smokers at all stages of quitting can provide and receive encouragement on this social network. The online format makes it ideal for people combatting cravings, because they can get an immediate response from someone who understands the feeling. It's also available as an iPhone app.

CESSATION APPS

Get Rich or Die Smoking
This free Android app translates each cigarette not smoked into a dollar figure, and offers examples of things users can now afford. It also encourages accountability by connecting users to other people making purchasing goals.

Quit Smoking Hypnosis
This free iOS app ($2.99 to unlock advanced features) is an audio hypnosis track people can listen to for several weeks. By listening to it multiple times, the suggestions take hold and help some people fight withdrawals.

Smoke Free
A free app available for both iPhone and Android devices, Smoke Free motivates people by showing them their progress, such as how much money they've saved and specific ways their health has improved since they've quit.

You Need a Budget
Some people respond to an approach that ties smoking to their finances. This app uses an envelope system of budgeting, so that a specific amount of money is designated for cigarettes. Once it's gone, users must find money from somewhere else if they're going to continue the habit. YNAB is a Web-based application with downloads for both iOS and Android phones. It costs $5 a month or $50 for a year.

About the Author


expert-profile

Jeff Benson has been published in Via Magazine, Inspired Bali and Kampala Dispatch. He's also written and edited dozens of online guides on education and personal finance. He's currently trying to find time to finish his first novel. Find his work at serialmonography.com.