Researcher Promotes Quitting Smoking As Achievable Process
Smokers have seen the graphic images of lungs drenched in black, tar-like substances. They know the dangers of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and emphysema. Yet health-risk awareness does not seem to prompt smokers to put out their cigarette.
"Research tells us that smokers know they shouldn't smoke because of the health aspects," said John Lowe, Dr.P.H., professor and head of community and behavioral health in the University of Iowa College of Public Health. "We need to focus smoking cessation efforts on improving the quality of their lives."
In particular, smoking cessation should emphasize the immediate benefits of quitting, such as living to enjoy life and the lives of families and friends, regaining a good sense of taste and smell, and losing the smell of smoke that clings to hair and clothes.
"Getting someone to quit is a process," Lowe said. "It is not like switching off a light, where suddenly individuals simply shut off their smoking habit."
Successful cessation programs provide smokers with strategies to tackle the physical and psychological addiction of tobacco and the habitual nature of the product.
Nicotine is physically addicting, and it can take an average pack-a-day smoker three to five days to rid their system of the substance. Lowe suggests smokers use nicotine replacement aids, such as nicotine patches or gums, to help ease the process.
"Although physical addiction is an important issue to overcome, people can also use the nicotine replacement aids while they are overcoming the biggest problem, which is psychological addiction," said Lowe, who also is a member of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI.
Psychological addiction includes how smokers learn to handle life by using cigarettes, as opposed to coping with emotions and situations in a different way. Lowe said smokers need to re-learn ways to cope with stress, frustrations and other emotions that do not involve smoking.
"For some smokers, everything in their lives revolves around the cigarette," he said. "The younger people are when they start smoking, the more difficult it is for them to quit because they have not developed any life skills to fall back on."
The last aspect of the smoking cessation process is overcoming the ritualistic and repetitive nature of smoking.
"Smokers are used to puffing on the cigarette, tapping the cigarette and holding it in a certain way," Lowe said. "Breaking the habitual nature of smoking can be very difficult."
Quitline Iowa is a successful smoking cessation program that is accessible to all Iowans toll free at 866-U-CAN-TRY (866-822-6879). Quitline offers callers state-of-the-art smoking cessation services over the phone. The service, staffed by trained counselors from the Iowa Tobacco Research Center (ITRC), is available 8 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. Callers can also request free materials to be sent in the mail, or referrals to smoking cessation resources in their community, including support groups, clinics and consultants.
Lowe noted that 70 percent of smokers who call Quitline Iowa quit.
Smokers also can and do quit on their own. Lowe said that 70 percent of smokers report quitting on their own. But, he added, it may take between three to seven serious attempts at quitting to be successful.
"The encouragement is to try. The good news is that each serious quit attempt increases the probability that the next attempt will be successful," he said. "Even when you have failed at quitting, keep trying because you will be successful."
While Lowe acknowledges that quitting is hard, he emphasizes that doing so results in invaluable health and lifestyle benefits.
"The payoffs to smoking cessation are tremendous. Five years post cessation we consider your relative risk of developing cancer equal to that of a non-smoker," he said.
The crucial time in maintaining smoking cessation is between the first six weeks to two years. In order to maintain smoking cessation, Lowe recommends smokers to focus on what tempts them to smoke and have a plan of action when they are tempted.
"The best method to maintain smoking cessation is to prepare yourself for what to do when you are tempted, not just to convince yourself it will not happen, because the stressors in our lives that trigger smoking do not go away," he said.