Tobacco cessation: Resource helps smokers quit

Quitting tobacco is hard. In fact, it’s common for people to relapse several times before kicking the habit completely. Whether your preference is lighting a cigarette or using a smokeless variety, stopping can be challenging but not impossible.

If you plan on making kicking the tobacco habit a New Year’s resolution, why not start today. Abstaining for 24 hours may lead to another and then another, which may put you on the path of quitting altogether before the new year.

To support those who aim to quit, the Department of Defense has relaunched Quit Tobacco-UCanQuit2’s live chat feature, which is an educational campaign on tobacco cessation for service members that began about 10 years ago. Users, including Military Health System beneficiaries and veterans, can click on the live chat bar on the web page to access personalized and private support from coaches as well as information on topics such as dealing with cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

The educational campaign also offers a text message support program for those trying to kick the habit. Sign up by texting MIL to 47848 from your mobile phone, and then answering some questions.

“Many young, healthy service members are using tobacco, and that has a huge impact on readiness,” said U.S. Public Health Service Capt. Kimberly Elenberg, director of Joint Force Fitness, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.

The potential health risks of tobacco use are well-documented.

Health risks from smoking include cancer, heart and lung diseases, and diabetes. Tobacco use also increases the risk of some eye diseases and immune system problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it can cause erectile dysfunction. On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.

The Department of Defense spends about $1.6 billion annually on tobacco-related medical care, and tobacco use remains higher in the military than in the civilian population. MHS defines tobacco-free living as avoiding all types of tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco and snuff), pipes, and hookahs, and also striving to live free from secondhand smoke exposure.

While the health risks are known, addiction for many people proves to be too powerful to break. One study found that 59 percent of smokeless tobacco users at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, tried and failed at quitting. About 77 percent of the users believed smokeless tobacco is at least as harmful as cigarettes but continued using anyway. And while half of the smokeless tobacco users came into the military with the habit, the other half picked it up during basic training or shortly afterward.

“UCanQuit2 is an outlet for tobacco users to get the support and resources to quit and live healthier lives,” Elenberg said.

The path to quitting

Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury release

Even if you are well aware of the benefits that come with quitting, you may still struggle with the idea of not smoking, Dr. Briana Todd, a clinical psychologist for the Deployment Health Clinical Center, recommends a multistep approach to quitting tobacco:

•Consider your motivation for quitting, including the negative effects tobacco use has had on you, how quitting will benefit you, and what obstacles you will face as you try to quit.

•Pick a date and time to quit. Setting a start date can help you get over procrastination about quitting.

•Visit your health care provider. A provider may help you plan out a course for quitting, or prescribe medications to help you quit.

•Decide how you’ll quit. One of the most common approaches is to gradually reduce your tobacco use. You can try lowering the frequency of your smoking or reducing the amount you smoke at one time. You may eventually reach a point where you can stop entirely.

•Identify how tobacco use affects you emotionally. What other methods could you use to manage your emotions? For example, if you smoke to relax, Breathe2Relax is a mobile app that teaches you breathing skills to manage stressful emotions.

•Identify alternatives to smoking. When the urge to smoke arises, replace it with another activity, such as taking a mint, stretching or doing a puzzle.

•Identify places, foods and people that may trigger your desire to smoke, and then distance yourself from those situations.

•Tell people you’ve quit. This can reinforce your efforts by keeping you accountable. Having a network of support and encouragement can help you get through the urges.

•The StayQuit app from the National Center for Telehealth & Technology is a good resource, as is the national quit line: 800-QUIT-NOW.

•Online resources such as UCanQuit2 have useful tips and tools for easing out of your tobacco habit.

•Think like a nonsmoker. Have activities other than tobacco in mind for when you feel tempted. Re-enforce your commitment to stop smoking with statements such as, “I don’t actually need tobacco.”

•Be prepared for nicotine relapse symptoms. Reactions to a reduction in nicotine may include weight gain, fatigue, frustration and anxiety, among other symptoms. Be prepared to face some unpleasant effects, such as irritability, cravings, having trouble concentrating, after you’ve stopped smoking.

•Review why you quit. Remind yourself how quitting has benefitted you. What successes have you had?

•If you do relapse, don’t give up. On average, it takes four to six attempts to successfully quit tobacco. Failing once doesn’t mean you won’t succeed next time.

“It takes multiple times for most individuals to be successful in quitting tobacco. That is normal and that is OK,” Todd said.