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Don’t let your health go up in smoke

Smoking accounts for almost half a million deaths in the U.S. each year, including 41,000 deaths from secondhand smoke. As if that’s not bad enough, smoking a pack a day can cost you around $2,500 a year!  

Quitting smoking has long- and short-term health benefits. But it doesn’t come easily — giving up tobacco requires a long-term commitment.

“Cigarette smoking causes about 1 in every 5 deaths in the U.S. It is the main preventable cause of death and illness nationwide. The chemicals in tobacco harm your cells.  They also can damage the function of your heart and the structure and function of your blood vessels leading to atherosclerosis,” said Mark Bernardi, DO, a cardiologist at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre. “The body, however, has an amazing ability to repair itself.”

Within 20 minutes of quitting, your blood pressure and pulse rate return to normal, Dr. Bernardi said. Within 12 hours, your blood oxygen level does, too. After 15 years of not smoking, your risk of heart disease starts to drop to that of someone who has never smoked.

“Above all, it’s important to remember that it’s never too late to quit, and anyone can do it,” Dr. Bernardi said.

But first, you need to be sure of why you want to quit. Having a clear reason to quit will help you stay focused on the goal. Think about questions like: What do you dislike about smoking? What things do you miss while smoking? How will it help your health? How will it help your family?

Here are some ways to kick the habit:

Replace the craving
Smoking is both a psychological habit and a physical addiction, so you need to replace both of these things to avoid cravings.

Using a product like a nicotine patch, lozenge or gum can replace the brain’s craving for nicotine. Make sure to use these products as directed for the best results.

Replace the psychological habit by chewing gum, nibbling on a carrot or drinking more water. These actions help keep the mouth busy, which is part of the psychological habit. Many people smoke when they’re bored, because it feels good and because it helps alleviate depression. Make sure to throw out smoking triggers like ashtrays, cigarettes and lighters to avoid temptation.

Get by with a little help from your friends (and counselors)
Quitting smoking is harder when you try to do it alone. Friends, family and counselors can create a support network for you to reach your goal.

Ask your friends and family to help by removing temptation. Ask them not to smoke around you and have them hold you accountable — especially if you relapse. 

“When you’re quitting smoking, a support network is a valuable asset,” said Dr. Bernardi. “Finding a counselor or therapist can help you get through your quitting process. These professionals can provide coping strategies, create cessation plans and offer professional advice to make your quitting journey more successful.”

Physical and virtual support groups are also available to help you connect with other people who are going through a similar experience. These support groups can boost confidence and help you see that you aren’t alone in your quitting experience. Virtual support groups can be held online and over text message.

Try medication
If you need extra support to quit, your doctor may prescribe medications that can help.

“There are two prescription medications that are approved by the FDA to aid in quitting smoking,” said Dr. Bernardi. “These medications help block the effects of nicotine on the brain. Talk to your doctor about whether these medications would be right for you. Your doctor may recommend combining multiple methods of treatment.”

Don’t give up
It’s not uncommon to relapse — especially if you’ve been smoking for a long time. But don’t get discouraged and give up. Rather than going “cold turkey,” try to reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke until you’re ready to try quitting again.

Nicotine withdrawal is at its worst for the first three months, so getting through that time is the hardest. It’s important to remember that permanently quitting is a process, not a single task, so don’t give up if you struggle.

One last piece of advice: Don’t forget to reward yourself when you meet your goals—even smaller goals like throwing away your lighters.

Mark Bernardi, DO, is medical director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre. To schedule an appointment, please call 800-275-6401.

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