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November 14, 2016

The Stop-Smoking Moves that Really Work

by Amanda MacMillan

Quick: What’s the leading preventable cause of death in the world?

The answer, of course, is tobacco use. It raises blood pressure, damages the heart, and (as you know) causes cancer. Which is why this Thursday, the Great American Smokeout, is the perfect time for you to smoke your last cigarette or cigar or make a plan to do so.

Quitting can be hard -- really hard – but research shows that two specific steps increase your chances of putting down your pack for good, says Pat Folan, DNP, director of Northwell Health’s Center for Tobacco Control. To cut your cancer risk and raise your odds of a long and healthy life:

1. Get support from a professional. “People are more likely to quit if they get advice from their doctor or health care provider,” says Folan. Talking with your primary care physician or calling a free quitline (like 866-NY-QUITS) is one way to start. You can also find counseling sessions and support groups at the Center for Tobacco Control.

“A lot of smokers feel really isolated, especially if they’re the only one of their friends and family who still smokes,” says Folan. “Here, they can talk to nurses and nurse practitioners who know what they’re going through, and they can meet other smokers who are in the same boat.”

Along with providing moral support, counselors can also help you identify your triggers -- like driving past the store where you used to buy your cigarettes -- so you can either avoid them or deal with them in a healthy way. Those changes can lower your risk of relapsing.

2. Use a smoking-cessation medication. Quitting smoking is about more than just being mentally strong. Nicotine is physically addictive, and that’s why medications are so important: They reduce cravings and the physical effects of withdrawal. “You’re a lot less likely to relapse if you can quit comfortably,” says Folan.

There are several types of medications available for people who want to quit, including nicotine patches, gums, lozenges, inhalers and nasal sprays. There are also two non-nicotine pills that have been shown to reduce withdrawal symptoms and the urge to smoke.

“Treatment isn’t one-size-fits-all,” says Folan. “We talk with each person about which option might work best for him or her.” And if they do relapse? “We encourage them to keep coming back until we find something that sticks.”

The effort is worth it, she says. After all, the benefits last a lifetime.