Tobacco-Free for Life: Take the Next Step

March 3, 2009 9:24 pm

woman walking up a hillThe idea that tobacco use is harmful to our health is nothing new to many of us. From anti-smoking advertisements to the passing of clean indoor air laws, most of us are well aware of the dangers that tobacco poses to its users and those around them.

As the number one most preventable cause of death and disease in the United States, tobacco use is responsible for over 440,000 deaths each year. But did you know that nearly 44% of all cigarettes consumed in the US are by individuals with an addiction or mental illness?[1] And that tobacco use among those struggling with mental illness is responsible for a 26 year reduction in lifespan?[2]

Given all of the information we have about the dangers of tobacco, you might wonder why anyone would continue to use it. But it is important to be aware that tobacco use is not simply just a “lifestyle choice”.

The nicotine in tobacco is rewarding. From the moment that a person smokes their first cigarette or chews their first pouch, the rewards of nicotine are present. Nicotine can decrease appetite, improve cognition, improve mood and may even decrease fatigue and other difficult symptoms of mental illness.

Nicotine is addictive, period. One in three people who try just one cigarette will go on to become dependent on nicotine. Compare that to opiate use which addicts one in four individuals.[3]

What are the benefits of quitting?

In spite of some temporary rewards derived from tobacco use, the long term health benefits of quitting are far greater. Below are just some of the many benefits:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased stamina
  • Improved taste and smell
  • Decreased incidence of respiratory infections
  • Reduction of heart attack risk after 1 year
  • Reduced risk of cancer after 10 years

I’m ready to quit, now what?

As with any attempt to end an addiction, it is important to check with your doctor and your psychologist first. He or she may want to help you develop a plan that makes sense for your individual circumstances. When you are ready, consider the following suggestions:

  1. Write a list of the reasons why you want to quit. Keep this list close for support and motivation.
  2. Get rid of any tobacco products in your home, car, office, etc. They can distract you from your efforts to remain tobacco-free.
  3. Tell your friends and family about your plans to quit. Your efforts will be much easier if others can support your decision.
  4. Schedule a quit day. Put it on your calendar and commit to it.
  5. Consider using Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). There are several options available including patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers and nose sprays. These will significantly improve your chances of success.
  6. Take advantage of counseling resources. Many states have Quit Lines or websites dedicated to helping people just like you.
  7. Change your daily routine. If you used to go outside with your friends or co-workers for a smoke break, you may want to stop. Find alternative ways of connecting with others that do not revolve around smoking.
  8. Get active and drink lots of water. It’s important to stay as healthy as possible while your body is working to rid itself of the toxic effects of tobacco.
  9. Try meditation or yoga to help relax your body and mind.
  10. If you feel the urge to smoke, wait at least 10 minutes. Often, the immediate urge will dissipate with time.

Don’t get discouraged

Be prepared for relapse. If you do slip up you’ll be ready with a game plan. Think about what you can learn from the situation: What helped you? What didn’t work? It may be necessary to revise your quit plan and increase your support network before starting again. Consider joining a smoking cessation group at your local hospital or attending a 12-step group like Nicotine Anonymous.

Remember, each attempt at quitting will bring you one step closer to success. Nearly half of all people who have ever smoked are now tobacco- free. You could be one of them.


American Cancer Society


American Legacy Foundation

Great Start (for pregnant women)

American Lung Association

National Cancer Institute

Nicotine Anonymous

Pennsylvania Quit Line
1-877-228-4327 (Hearing Impaired)

[1] Masry, MD, A., & Seward ,MSHCA, G. (2008, January) Why Address Tobacco in Mental Health Treatment. Presented at the Bucks County Tobacco Cessation Training.
[2] Masry, MD, A., & Seward, MSHCA, G. (2008, January) Why Address Tobacco in Mental Health Treatment. Presented at the Bucks County Tobacco Cessation Training.
[3] Masry, MD, A., & Seward, MSHCA, G. (2008, January) Why Address Tobacco in Mental Health Treatment, Presented at the Bucks County Tobacco Cessation Training.

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