This Help Desk story is the result of a reader’s question about where to get help in his effort to quit smoking: “I’m 69 and a longtime smoker. I want to quit but it’s very hard, especially dealing with financial stress and general world events. What’s the best way to quit? Are there any programs or mental practices that can help me finally break this addiction?” If you have a question you’d like Globe writers to address, submit it online here or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
Chris Salamanis, 50, didn’t know whether she could ever quit smoking. For 15 years, Salamanis said she was a “two-pack-a-day kind of girl.” But after a night out where she smoked 60 cigarettes, Salamanis woke up with a terrible “cigarette hangover.” She quit cold turkey.
“I think I actually smoked myself sick,” Salamanis said. “The next morning it was so bad, and [from] that point forward even the smell made me nauseous.”
That was 25 years ago, and the Watertown resident hasn’t had a puff since. She is now a smoking cessation counselor who chairs the Massachusetts leadership board of the American Lung Association.
Approximately 70 percent of adult smokers in the United States want to quit, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in 2015. Self-control is sometimes no match for the addictive powers of nicotine. While quitting can be extremely difficult, especially for longtime smokers, it is not impossible.
Here are some tips from experts to help smokers quit:
Get help. If you want to quit but can’t, then you probably can’t do it on your own. Seek advice from experts by talking to a medical professional; a national hotline — 1-800-QUIT-NOW — will connect you to specialists who can walk you through the options, based on your situation. Some people can go cold turkey, like Salamanis; others will find nicotine replacement therapy or medications helpful, while still others need to attend smoking cessation counseling programs.
Know your reason for quitting. Is it your health, your wallet, family and friends? Whatever the reason, Salamanis said to use it as a constant reminder when you’re craving a cigarette. Dr. Andy Tan, physician at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and assistant professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said it can help you stay on track.
“It reminds the individual their rationale for wanting to quit in the first place,” Tan said. “Having those reasons that constantly remind them of why they are doing this is a very strong motivating factor.”
Lean on friends, family. A support network can keep you accountable, especially if you’re a longtime smoker. Tell family and friends that you are quitting, Salamanis said, and talk through your feelings and cigarette cravings.
“If you don’t tell anyone or have any support, I think it’s easy to fall back,” Salamanis said. “I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, I’m the easiest person in the world to rationalize with.”
Be realistic and plan ahead. Dr. Christy Sadreameli, a pediatric pulmonologist at John Hopkins Hospital and spokeswoman for the American Lung Association, said making a plan and setting a quit date sets smokers up for more success. Identify those situations that could trigger a cigarette craving; they vary from person to person — stress or pure habit, for example. Try to fill that craving with a healthy habit like taking a walk around the block or doing something you enjoy, Tan said. And if possible, avoid tempting situations altogether.
“People do need to think about mental and social aspects of smoking,” Sadreameli said. “Oftentimes, planning for that can make it easier.”
Track progress, celebrate milestones. It’s important to keep tabs on how far you’ve come since quitting, Sadreameli said. There are apps and messaging programs that provide motivational quotes, tell you how long since you quit and even how much money you’ve saved. Quitting can help relieve financial stress: In Massachusetts, a pack of cigarettes ranges from $8 to $12. That could be $400 a month or more for two-pack-a-day smokers. And rewarding yourself with something you enjoy after hitting a milestone can provide additional motivation to not smoke.
“In my practice, I try to build people up if they try to quit but fail,” Sadreameli said. “I’m always trying to flip it to the positive and empower them.”
Electronic cigarettes? There is limited research on the long-term effect of electronic cigarettes, Tan said. Our experts said they don’t believe it’s a good alternative to smoking because e-cigs are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and vaping sustains an addiction to nicotine. However, for a chronic smoker who has tried to quit many times, switching to an e-cigarette may be appropriate, Tan said.
“I would echo the advice that e-cigarettes should not be the first line for someone trying to quit smoking,” Tan said. “But for someone who is really having a difficult time and has tried everything – up to 30 attempts – I think that an e-cigarette would be safer than continuing to smoke.”
Be patient. It usually takes several attempts at quitting to be successful. The average 40-year-old smoker who started in his teens has tried to quit 20 times and failed, according to a survey by International Tobacco Control. Don’t let one failed effort discourage you. The health benefits when you stop smoking are tremendous, and our specialists say you are never too old to quit: It takes just 20 minutes for the body to feel the benefits of not smoking, and those only build over time.
■ Call the Smokers’ Helpline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free support and advice to help you quit.
Alex Gailey can be reached at email@example.com.