The addictive properties found in tobacco make giving up
smoking a huge challenge – even for the most determined. But as
any medical expert will tell you, kicking the nicotine habit, is
the single most important thing you can do to protect your
health. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, more than 440,000 deaths in the United States are
linked to cigarette smoking. That’s why Minnesota family
physicians have taken an active role in tobacco cessation and
are encouraging patients to make their doctors part of their
“Patients who are the most
successful don’t just stop on a whim,” said Tom Scheider, M.D.,
a family physician who practices at the HealthEast Woodbury
Clinic. “Patients have a better chance of quitting for good if
they prepare ahead of time by seeking out support from family
members and their family physician.
Developing a plan with the help
of a doctor can help a smoker better understand the importance
of quitting in relation to their individual health situation,
anticipate the challenges that may arise from nicotine
withdrawal and learn about available nicotine replacement
products and medicine to help a person resist the urge to light
up. A study completed in 2000 by the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services showed that even a brief discussion during an
office visit can be an influential motivator to quitting and
improving cessation rates.
“Your doctor can help you decide
if you should try a medication and which one is best for you,”
said Dr. Scheider. “The products out there now can be very
effective in helping a smoker quit, but not every product is
right for everyone, especially if you’re pregnant or have other
Products approved by the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration for treatment of tobacco dependence
include a non-nicotine pills such as bupropion SR and
varenicline, as well as nicotine replacement therapies that come
in the form of a gum, a patch, a nasal spray, an inhaler, and a
lozenge. Inhalers and nasal sprays, as well as bupropion SR and
varenicline, are available by prescription only, but nicotine
gum, patches and lozenges can be purchased over-the-counter.
Other suggestions family doctors
have for quitting include:
- Set a quit date 2 to 4 weeks out
from the day you decide to stop smoking.
- Keep a journal of when and why
you smoke to help you avoid the things that trigger you to light
- Prepare your family and friends
and ask for their support.
- Get rid of all cigarettes,
lighters and ashtrays.
- Consult a stop-smoking program which is often available
through a local health organization.
- Avoid alcohol – it lowers your chances of success.
- Once your stop date
arrives, be prepared to quit completely. Don’t be lulled into
thinking that one cigarette here and there won’t hurt. A single
puff can cause a relapse.
- Write down the specific reasons you want to quit.
There are enormous health
benefits to quitting,” Dr. Scheider said. “Stopping smoking
will lower a person’s chance of having a heart attack or stroke
and reduce their risk of getting cancer.” According to the 2004
Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, adults who smoke
die an average of 13 to 14 years earlier than non-smokers.
The good news – researchers
continue to study tobacco addiction and are investigating new
ways to help smokers quit. On the horizon, is a vaccine that is
supposed to cause the immune system to produce anti-bodies that
bind to nicotine and prevent it from entering the brain. This
blocks the effect of nicotine that can lead to addiction. While
the NicVAX vaccine is still in the testing phase, results
demonstrating its effectiveness are expected to be released
later this year.
“It’s certainly not a reason to
delay quitting now,” Dr. Scheider added. “But it is exciting to
know such a vaccine may be a possibility in the future.”
The Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians is a professional
association of approximately 3,000 family physicians, family
medicine residents and medical students organized to assist family
physicians in providing quality medical care in Minnesota. The MAFP
is the largest medical specialty organization in Minnesota and is a
state chapter of the American Academy of Family Physicians, the
largest medical specialty organization in the United States with
more than 94,000 members.