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Yes, you can quit smoking, and you don't need to vape to do it

(Adobe stock image)
(Adobe stock image)

For smokers, kicking the habit may seem daunting. But with the right support and a plan in place, anyone can quit smoking, experts say.

Mary Jo Henry, a nurse practitioner at UnityPoint Health in Cedar Rapids, said one of her jobs is to help people, who want to quit smoking, succeed.

“A lot of times they’ve had a health consequence — maybe a new diagnosis like a heart attack, COPD or cancer. Or sometimes someone close to them has had a health scare,” Henry said. “Another reason many people want to quit is cost. It’s expensive to smoke.”

Having a reason to quit smoking is important. But having a plan to quit is even more critical, she said.

Dr. Hassan Sajjad, who specializes in pulmonary and critical care at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, agrees that planning ahead is crucial.

“The first and most important thing is that the patient needs to be ready for smoking cessation,” Sajjad said. “First, I talk to patients about their quit date. A lot of people have a birthday or anniversary that they use as a goal.”

Once a quit date is set, both Henry and Sajjad recommend working with your doctor on the tools available to help you quit.

“I recommend using medication rather than trying to do it cold turkey,” Henry said.

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Sajjad said nicotine withdrawal can cause a variety of symptoms, including irritability, anxiety, anger, increased appetite, weight gain and gastrointestinal issues.

Two of the most commonly prescribed medications to help with those symptoms are Bupropion and Chantix.

Non-prescription nicotine replacement products — including patches, lozenges and gums — also can be effective.

“Studies suggest a combination therapy — using patches and prescription drugs — can lead to higher success rates,” Sajjad said.

While some people have turned to vaping or using e-cigarettes to quit in the past, doctors do not recommend that approach.

“Most of the e-cigarettes still have nicotine, so you’re not addressing that addiction,” Henry said.

Also, research shows many people who use them as a tool to quit smoking don’t ever quit, so they end up using both.

“We call that dual usage,” she said. “Most importantly, we still don’t know the long-term health effects of vaping and e-cigarettes.”

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As of Jan. 14, 2,668 Americans have been hospitalized with lung injuries related to vaping, with 60 deaths reported. Most of the cases — 82 percent — have been linked to products containing THC, the psychoactive part of marijuana, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The remaining cases involved vaping products containing nicotine.

Iowa has seen 56 vaping-related hospitalizations, with 43 of them linked to THC. A new bill that could ban vaping in public places began to advance through the state legislature this week.

So, at this point, public health officials and doctors say medication and other techniques are still the best bet for most smokers who want to quit. Henry said smokers also need to look at the bigger picture of how smoking influences their daily activities.

“We use medicine to deal with the nicotine addiction,” she said. “But there’s also a habit portion of addiction, so we have to deal with the behaviors that surround smoking.

“One thing I always suggest is that if they’re smoking in their home, stop doing that. Right there, that can result in a big reduction of smoking and improves their own health along with anyone else in the home.”

Switching up a daily routine can help, too.

“If they go to the same store each day to get cigarettes, I suggest they stop going to that store and go somewhere new to shop so they’re not tempted to do what they’ve always done,” Henry said.

To deal with both the nicotine and habit addictions, other resources are available — including 24/7 quit lines, formal support from professional counselors or physicians and enlisting support from those around you, like family, friends and co-workers.

“By using medicine and getting support in your family, it almost doubles your chance for being successful,” Henry said.

Another tip she shared is to start small if you’re intimidated.

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“If you’re not ready to quit, or if it’s too much to think about, you can start cutting down,” Henry said. “This is especially helpful for long-term smokers. Often they are able to be more successful with cutting down smoking than trying to quit all at once.”

Not every journey to being a former smoker looks the same. Some people are successful the first time. Others take longer to fully kick the habit.

But everyone can quit, Sajjad said. “People do rebound, so sometimes they need several cessation attempts to quit permanently,” he said.

No matter how old you are, or how long you’ve used cigarettes, the benefits of not smoking begin almost immediately when you quit.

“Within minutes, the heart rate slows down, and within weeks to months, coughing and shortness of breath start getting better,” Henry said. “Over the years, your risk for lung cancer and heart problems starts decreasing.

“It’s an addiction and should be treated like any other medical condition,” Henry said. “You treat it, and when there’s relapse, you re-evaluate and figure out what needs to be changed and keep working at it.

“It’s the single most important thing someone can do to improve their health.”

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