Your Health Questions Answered

How to Quit Smoking

Local sources like Sarasota Memorial Hospital and Gulfcoast South Area Health Education Center have free classes and nicotine replacement therapies that can help kickstart your recovery.

By Allison Forsyth June 1, 2022

smoking cessation program

Image: Kari Perrin

Want to quit smoking? You're not alone. In 2015, more than 70 percent of adult smokers in the United States said they wanted to quit—and now, the United States has more former than current smokers.

Smoking is the single largest cause of preventable death and disease in the United States. It kills more than 48,000 people per year and leaves thousands more with debilitating diseases. Plus, the tobacco industry is wreaking havoc on our environment, polluting our oceans and ozone with toxic chemicals and plastic from cigarettes, filter and other tobacco products. The World Health Organization has also reported 600 million trees are chopped down every year worldwide to make room for tobacco farming.

May 31 was World No Tobacco Day, but that doesn't mean you can't start your journey to a tobacco-free life now. The day was instituted by the World Health Organization in 1987 with the goal of highlighting the dangers of tobacco use and what people can do for the betterment of their health.

Luckily, you don't have to search very far to find resources to help you quit.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital has a smoking cessation program, and Sarasota's Gulfcoast South Area Health Education Center offers free classes and tools to help you quit. Here a few things to consider as you start your journey to quitting.

What are the negative effects of smoking?

Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease, diabetes and COPD. It can also increase your risk for tuberculosis, eye disease and immune dysfunction. It can cause a chronic, persistent cough, also known as smoker's cough, that can impair lung function.

Secondhand smoke is also concern when smoking around others. The exposure to smoke contributes to more than 40,000 deaths among nonsmoking adults. Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke are also at risk for sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory diseases and myriad developmental disorders.

Can you reverse lung damage by quitting?

Turns out, you can. When you quit smoking, your health starts to improve shortly after your last cigarette. The American Cancer Society reports that after 20 minutes of quitting smoking, your heart rate and blood pressure drop and after a few days, carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal.

By three months, your circulation and lung function will have improved. In five to 10 years, risk for cancer is cut in half, and after 15 years without smoking, your risk of coronary heart disease is close to that of a nonsmoker.

This is encouraging news for those who believe they've already caused irreversible damage. Your body can heal over time.

So, you want to quit. Where do you start?

The Gulfcoast South Area Health Education Center says that planning a quit date will help reduce feelings of anxiety about quitting. Once you have your quit date planned, you can prepare.

You can join a free, 90-minute Tools to Quit class and 60-minute Quit Smoking Now class at Sarasota Memorial Hospital or the Gulfcoast South Area Health Education Center. Certified facilitators will help identify your reasons for quitting, barriers and triggers, and how to cope with withdrawals.

Just like quitting drugs or alcohol, smoking cessation may require support in the form of group therapy or peer-to-peer support. Find an accountability partner who has quit successfully and meet with them often.

How do you deal with withdrawals?

Because nicotine is an addictive substance, your body can go through physical withdrawals when quitting. You may experience headaches, fatigue, dizziness, coughing, anxiety and irritability. While these symptoms should only last a few weeks, there are nicotine replacement products and medications that can also help.

While these medicines contain trace amounts of nicotine, they do not cause death and disease like cigarettes do, because most of the danger of smoking is because of the smoke's toxic chemicals, not the nicotine itself.

If you choose to use lozenges, take one every one to two hours in the first six weeks of treatment. In weeks seven through nine, take one every two to four hours. By week 10, you'll only need one lozenge every four to eight hours.

There are also some FDA-approved medications your doctor may prescribe to help with withdrawals. They work by blocking some of the chemicals in your brain that react to nicotine and can also help fight the urge to overeat while trying to quit.

How can you fight off cravings to smoke?

Once physical withdrawals are handled, many times keeping the mouth and mind busy is all it takes to ride out cravings. Keep your mouth busy by chewing sugar-free gum or crunching on healthy food like celery or carrot sticks. Go for a walk or complete some quick exercises when a craving occurs.

The Mayo Clinic also advises trying to spend time in smoke-free locations or calling up your accountability partner or friend when in need of support. Even taking deep breaths, or having a meditation or relaxation practice can help.

When you feel a craving, tell yourself you'll wait 10 minutes until you "give in." Then, go a practice one of the above options. After 10 minutes, you may find the craving has subsided. Sarasota Memorial's program also offers a free workbook and journal that you can use when a craving hits.

What if you relapse?

It is very normal to relapse when in the recovery process, so don't beat yourself up. If you do, doctors suggest continuing to stay on medications that are helping you quit, and to continue to engage in smoking cessation programs where you receive mental health support.

Try to stay away from triggering environments like locations where smokers gather and reduce stressors as much as possible. Since you are not a smoker any longer, you need to find another way to cope.

Remember you are not alone.

Thanks the Tobacco Control Act, current regulations and campaigns from the Ad Council and Tobacco Free Florida, there are many other people who've decided to quit and are on the road to recovery, too.

For more information about Sarasota Memorial Hospital's smoking cessation program, click here or call (941) 917-5864.

For more information about Gulfcoast South Area Health Education Center, click here or call (941) 361-6602. The center is located at 2201 Cantu Court, Suit 220, Sarasota.

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