Get a good START on giving up cigarettes permanently |

Get a good START on giving up cigarettes permanently

Jason Eberhart-Phillips, M.D.

If you smoke cigarettes, you probably want to quit. You don’t need any more convincing that smoking is bad for you. You know that tobacco causes cancer, heart disease and emphysema among other health problems, and that your smoking also is harming those around you.

You just want the cigarette monkey off your back once and for all.

Unfortunately, the mere desire to quit smoking usually isn’t enough to succeed. Your enemy is formidable. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to science.

Every year, about 40 percent of smokers attempt to kick the habit for at least one day. Most endeavors fail. It takes an average of 12 to 14 attempts before a typical smoker quits for good.

Quitting isn’t easy, but most smokers who persist eventually succeed. Former smokers in the United States now outnumber current smokers, and the gap is widening each year. More than 45 million ex-smokers across the nation provide living proof that it is possible to give up smoking and never look back.

What methods improve the odds of successful smoking cessation? What works when motivation alone isn’t sufficient?

No single way to quit smoking works for everyone, but one approach supported by the National Cancer Institute is worth a try. Your smoke-free lifestyle begins as you take five simple steps that go by the acronym START:

— S is for “set a quit date.” Pick a date that gives you time to get ready but is not so far ahead that you lose your drive to quit. Perhaps you could join thousands of others who are quitting this year on Nov. 15, the date of the Great American Smokeout.

— T is for “tell your friends.” You’re going to need lots of emotional support as you go through nicotine withdrawal. Tell your friends, family members and co-workers that you are planning to quit, and tell them exactly how they can help you succeed.

— A is for “anticipate challenges.” Think about when you smoke now and why. What are your triggers for smoking? When the cravings are strong, how will you stay away from things that tempt you to smoke? If you think in advance how you will cope with the discomfort of nicotine withdrawal, you can improve your chances of staying smoke-free.

— R is for “removing tobacco.” Throw away all the cigarettes, matches, lighters, ashtrays and other things around your home, car or workplace that remind you of smoking. Saving a secret pack of cigarettes just in case your willpower fails can doom your plan to quit and make it easy to get hooked again. Don’t do this!

— T is for “talking to your doctor.” Let your doctor in on your plans. He or she can answer your questions, give specific advice, and may suggest some medicines that can help with withdrawal. Your doctor or pharmacist may also suggest where you can find support groups or speak with someone on a toll-free quit line, such as (800) NO-BUTTS (662-8887).

Your decision to set a quit date and stick to it is the single best thing you can do to improve your health. You can do it. You can win over smoking. And you can START today.

– Jason Eberhart-Phillips, M.D., is the El Dorado County health officer. He can be reached at

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