Friday, February 20, 2009
•A: Truth be told, kicking a nicotine habit is never easy. Nicotine is arguably the most addictive substance known, aside from air and water. That said, it comes as no surprise that people often come to my office asking for advice to make the job easier. So what do I tell them?
I tell them what I see every week. What it takes to quit is a firm commitment. I don’t mean, “I know I should quit” or “My husband/wife is really getting on my case to quit.” The people that quit – and struggle the least doing so – proclaim “Today I am a NON-SMOKER.” That commitment often comes after they develop a smoking-related illness, or watch a loved one die of lung cancer or a heart attack. Luckily, it does not have to reach these extreme consequences. To start the quitting process, all you have to do is commit to the mantra “I am a non-smoker.”
Once you make that decision, there are options to make the process easier. First, I recommend joining a tobacco cessation group. These often include support, advice, and stress management strategies. All local hospitals offer these groups regularly. Roper Saint Francis offers a group every 2 months. They meet 3 Tuesday nights during the month. The cost of the group is $25 (to cover the cost of a quitting manual, a relaxation CD, and a fake cigarette). For more information or to sign up, call 843-402-CARE (843-402-2273). A tobacco cessation group is well worth the money when you consider that some of these groups report a 50% quit rate.
The second thing that can help is medication. Nicotine replacement medications are available over the counter in the form of patches and gum. There are two prescription medications, Zyban (aka Wellbutrin or Buproprion) and Chantix (aka varenicline). All of these medications increase your chances of quitting substantially over the “cold turkey” approach. Before using any of these medications – even the over the counter medications – you should talk to your doctor.
Kicking a tobacco habit is hard, but it is the best thing you can do for your health. It takes a commitment, and with help it can be easier than the “cold turkey” approach. The best advice is to make the commitment, and get help, whether it is your family, a quitting group, or your doctor. Do not struggle alone.
Glen Quattlebaum, MD, MPH
Shem Creek Family Medicine