According to the Centers for Disease Control, among current U.S. adult cigarette smokers, almost 70 percent report that they want to quit completely. It's been 12 years since the number of former smokers began exceeding the number of current smokers. Since 2012, an estimated 18 percent (42.1 million) of U.S. adults were current cigarette smokers. Of these, more than 78 percent (33.0 million) smoked every day and almost 22 percent (9.1 million) smoked some days.
Of adult daily cigarette smokers who stopped smoking for more than a day in 2010 because they were trying to quit:
• 42.7 percent of all adult smokers
• 48.5 percent of smokers aged 18-24 years
• 46.8 percent of smokers aged 25-44 years
• 38.8 percent of smokers aged 45-64 years
• 34.6 percent of smokers aged 65 years or older
Percentage of high school cigarette smokers (one in five of all high school students) who ever tried to stop smoking in the past 12 months - more than half.
Each day, 3,200 teenagers smoke their first cigarette. Two thirds of those will go on to be daily smokers. Together with other forms of tobacco, almost one-third of teenage females and one-half of males report using more than one tobacco product in the past 30 days. Recently, Hookah water pipes have become popular. This alternative form of tobacco is aimed at 17-25-year-olds. The added flavors make them particularly attractive to youngsters and for many it is their first experience with tobacco. But it leads to a nicotine addiction.
While this struggle can be formidable, the benefits are as wide-spread as the downsides of remaining a smoker.
Tobacco smoke contains a deadly mix of more than 7,000 chemicals; hundreds are toxic, and about 70 can cause cancer. Tobacco smoking increases the risk for serious health problems, numerous diseases, and death.
People who stop smoking greatly reduce their risk for disease and premature death. Although the health benefits are greater for people who stop at earlier ages, quitting is beneficial at any age.
While every smoker's recovery is different, a few things are for certain. Physical withdrawal from nicotine, while often compared to heroin or cocaine, is actually short-lived. The worst is over within four days and completely gone within a month.
It's the mindset that needs changing. I like to ask my patients, “How would your life be different, if you weren't a smoker?” Many patients fear the answer to this question. “Will I put on weight?” “Will I be able to sleep?” “Will I get depressed?” Life for many smokers often revolves around smoking. Another roadblock is the potential for failure, or the notion that “it's too late to quit.”
To break this mindset, it's important to first identify all of your triggers and avoid and replace them with other behaviors, like staying away from things you associate with lighting up. If you smoke on the way to work, take a different route. If coffee is a trigger, try drinking tea instead. These can help you control cravings until the urge passes - and they do pass. Each time you can resist a tobacco craving, you're one step closer to quitting for good.
If nicotine replacement therapy will help you, by all means try the patch, gum or lozenges. I DO NOT recommend the electronic cigarettes now on the market, as most regulatory agencies and health experts consider them drug-delivery devices that have not been proven safe.
If you've failed at quitting before, identify what went wrong and do things differently. With a firm understanding of why you smoke along with the tools and support available, you can create a personal plan to quit. This should include exercise, support groups and relaxation techniques.
Above all, remember why you are quitting and the benefits of doing so. I'm sure you can come up with another few thousand reasons.
Lera Foster is a respiratory therapist and the Regional Director of Pulmonary Services and Sleep Centers at St. Mary's Medical Center. She can be reached 816-655-5237.