March 8 is National No Smoking Day, a day designed to reach out to friends or family members who suffer from nicotine addiction, and encourage them to quit. If you or someone you know smokes, draw inspiration from the story of former smoker Ron Aaron Eisenberg.
My name is Ron and I’m a reformed smoker. Until I quit in 1977 I was a three-pack a day smoker. Every day. All year long. That was 21,900 cigarettes a year. That’s a lot of cigarettes.
I was born in 1942. In the 1940s and ‘50s, cigarette smoking was embraced by young and old alike. People smoked in trains, planes, and automobiles. At work, in hospitals, and at home. Smoking was portrayed as sexy. It was what attractive, successful people did. At least that’s what the advertising promised.
When televisions became treasured household fixtures, smoking was featured in TV dramas, sitcoms, and talk shows. Newspaper and magazine advertisements featured celebrities puffing away. Cigarette companies even incorporated “doctors” endorsing cigarette brands as safe to smoke.
I had started smoking when I was fifteen or sixteen years old. My parents had smoked. But they quit in the early 1950’s. I remember the day. They were packing for a trip to New York to visit family. My dad was tossing packs of Chesterfield cigarettes into their suitcase. Pack after pack after pack. He suddenly stopped and turned to my mom, “Evelyn, what are we doing? We need to stop smoking.” And they did. Just like that. Cold turkey. Long before the U.S. Surgeon General, in 1964, issued his warning on the dangers of cigarette smoking.
The Surgeon General’s report and subsequent bans on advertising cigarettes on TV, began to change public perception about cigarette smoking. The link between smoking and lung cancer was well established.
By the end of 1965, the tobacco industry was required to put labels on its products and in its advertisements to warn the public of the health risks associated with smoking. Yet millions of Americans continued to smoke, including me. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimated some 400,000 people died every year as a result of cigarette smoking. That’s still true today.
So what prompted me to quit smoking in 1977? The catalyst was the pending birth of my son, Mitch. I knew, intuitively, that if I did not want him to smoke, I had to quit. Otherwise, no matter what I said, my smoking would lead to his smoking.
I found a paperback book with self-help tips on how to quit smoking. I don’t remember the title or the name of the author. I do remember the primary recommendation was to quit “one cigarette at a time.” The book detailed a mental trick to say to yourself when you had the urge for a cigarette, “I choose not to smoke this cigarette.” That’s what I did. I quit cold turkey. One cigarette at a time.
It wasn’t easy. Friends and family told me I was a grump. A real grump. But in a week or so I no longer craved cigarettes and my mood began to soften. That was in 1977. I have not had a cigarette since. But I know, without a question of a doubt, if I smoked one cigarette, I’d be right back where I was. Smoking 21,900 cigarettes and year and smelling like an old, used ashtray.
And nobody wants to smell like an ashtray.
Ron Aaron Eisenberg, M.A., J.D., co-hosts two WellMed radio shows and podcasts – Caregiver SOS on Air and Docs in a Pod. He and his wife, Gina Galaviz Eisenberg, who never smoked, live in San Antonio, Texas.
Quitting smoking reduces the risk of cancer and many other diseases, such as heart disease and COPD, caused by smoking. Data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey show that people who quit smoking, regardless of their age, are less likely to die from smoking-related illness than those who continue to smoke. Smokers who quit before age 40 reduce their chance of dying prematurely from smoking-related diseases by about 90%, and those who quit by age 45-54 reduce their chance of dying prematurely by about two-thirds.
Regardless of their age, people who quit smoking have substantial gains in life expectancy, compared with those who continue to smoke. Data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey also show that those who quit between the ages of 25 and 34 years live about 10 years longer; those who quit between ages 35 and 44 live about 9 years longer; those who quit between ages 45 and 54 live about 6 years longer; and those who quit between ages 55 and 64 live about 4 years longer.
I’ve tried to quit before and it didn’t work, what can I do differently this time?
Quitting smoking can be hard. Creating a personalized quit plan makes it easier to stay on track, get through hard times, and quit for good.
- Choose a date to quit.
- Calculate how many cigarettes you smoke per day and what you will save financially when you stop.
- Know your reasons for quitting and stay focused on the benefits.
- Know your triggers, what situations make you want to smoke and avoid them.
Understand that smoking is an addictive drug.
- Nicotine is the main addictive drug in tobacco that makes quitting so hard. Cigarettes are designed to rapidly deliver nicotine to your brain.
- Inside your brain, nicotine triggers the release of chemicals that make you feel good. As nicotine stimulates parts of your brain over and over, your brain gets used to having nicotine around.
- Over time, nicotine changes how your brain works and makes it seem like you need nicotine just to feel okay.
- When you stop smoking, your brain gets irritable. As a result, you might get anxious or upset. You might have a hard time concentrating or sleeping, have strong urges to smoke, or just feel generally uncomfortable.
- These feelings are called withdrawal. This gets better a few weeks after quitting as your brain gets used to not having nicotine around.
- Some quit-smoking medicines contain nicotine. This gives you a safe way to get used to not having so much nicotine from cigarettes in your brain.
- Nicotine replacement therapy can help you quit smoking.
What about e-cigaretes, can those help me quit?
- While e-cigarettes have the potential to benefit some people and harm others, scientists still have a lot to learn about whether e-cigarettes are effective for quitting smoking.
- E-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, and pregnant women, as well as adults who do not currently use tobacco products.
- E-cigarettes might have the potential to benefit adult smokers who are not pregnant if used as a complete substitute for regular cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products.
- If you’ve never smoked or used other tobacco products or e-cigarettes, don’t start.
- Additional research can help understand long-term health effects.
I have friends and family members who smoke, which makes it harder for me to quit, what should I do?
- If you live with a smoker, ask them not to smoke around you.
- When you get the urge to smoke, take a deep breath ...
- Keep your hands busy. ...
- Change activities that were connected to smoking. ...
- Hang out with nonsmokers or go to places that don't allow smoking, such as the movies, museums, shops, or libraries.
- Don't substitute food or sugar -based products for cigarettes.
- Call a friend who supports your goal to quit.
Any suggestions on what I can do instead of smoking to get that same good feeling?
It's always good to have something quick and easy that you can do at a moment's notice to stop cigarette cravings dead in their tracks. These alternatives for smoking don't take a lot of effort or time, making them great activities whenever you feel the urge to smoke.
- Create a budget and decide how you'll spend the money you will save by not smoking
- Start planning a vacation that will be funded by the money saved by not smoking for a year.
- Make a list of treats—no matter how small—that you'll give yourself for every day that you don't smoke.
- Chew gum
- Hold a pen or pencil in your fingers.
- Have tart sugar-free candies available.
- Exercise – run in place, jumping jacks, knee bends, etc.
- Create a list of activities you will enjoy doing when cravings strike.
Are there any medications I can take to help me quit?
Using nicotine replacement products (such as nicotine gum and nicotine patches) or FDA-approved, non-nicotine cessation medications can help reduce withdrawal symptoms and increase the likelihood that you will quit. Ask your doctor about what option is best for you. It’s more than just tossing your cigarettes out. Cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. Nearly all smokers have some feelings of nicotine withdrawal when they try to quit. Knowing this will help you deal with withdrawal symptoms that can occur, such as bad moods and really wanting to smoke.