06 Mar 2011
Any time is the right time to stop smoking. A host of stop-smoking aids can boost your odds of success.
In the old days, when smoking was just a bad habit, willpower was the only way to shuck it. But sheer willpower didn’t work well then, and it doesn’t work any better today, even when almost everyone knows the health hazards of smoking.
Fortunately, there’s no need to go it alone. Smokers who want to quit can now choose from a variety of tools that double or triple their chances of succeeding. The best approach uses medication to quell cravings for nicotine along with some sort of support or counseling to break the patterns that make a smoker reach for a cigarette.
Know the enemy
Smokers tend to underestimate the hazards of smoking, the benefits of quitting, and the barriers to quitting, says Dr. Nancy A. Rigotti, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Tobacco Research and Treatment Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Hazards: Most people know that smoking increases the chances of developing lung cancer. But many aren’t fully aware it’s also a key cause of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. Smoking also contributes to many types of cancer besides lung cancer, as well as emphysema and other breathing problems, tooth and bone loss, ulcers and acid reflux, sleeping problems, and a host of other ills.
Benefits: Quitting improves the chances of living longer, reduces the odds of developing the problems listed above, and slows the spread of tobacco-related diseases. These benefits hold true even if you stop smoking after age 65 or if you’ve already developed a smoking-related illness. For example, smokers who quit after having a heart attack tend to live longer than those who keep smoking.
Barriers: Many things get in the way of stopping smoking. The two biggest barriers are the physical addiction to nicotine and the psychological addiction to the habit of smoking. Others include stress, a mistaken belief that it’s too late to stop, and the influence of other smokers.
(This article was first printed in the October 2003 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter. For more information or to order, please go to www.health.harvard.edu/heart.)
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