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January 2, 2007 > When Quitting Smoking is the Right Decision for You

When Quitting Smoking is the Right Decision for You

You want to quit smoking. In fact, quitting is at the top of your list of New Year's resolutions. Maybe you've tried quitting before on your own or you feel you are ready to quit for the first time.
Whether it's the first or 10th time you've made quitting your goal, there's just one question you have to ask yourself. Are you quitting for you? We've all seen the commercials on television telling us to quit smoking, but why do you want to quit? Is it your health, your kids or maybe you would like to run your first marathon?
For Dr. Carmencita Agcaoili, a Washington Hospital Medical Staff pulmonologist, the reasons to quit are numerous and practical.
"Smoking cessation is the best and cheapest preventive measure one can take to avoid emphysema, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), ulcers, wrinkles, peripheral vascular disease (PVD), chronic mucus hypersecretion and a number of other medical conditions," she says. "By quitting smoking, you improve your overall health. And the sooner you quit, the better your quality of life will be in the future."
Help is here
But in the end, deciding to quit is each person's choice that only he or she can make. Whatever your reason is, if you really want to quit smoking, there is support to help you quit. Washington Hospital will again this January offer its Quit Smoking Program to help those motivated to make 2007 smoke free.
"Quitting smoking is made difficult because of nicotine, which is a drug, and it's necessary to treat a drug with a drug," according to Margaret Chaika, coordinator of Washington Hospital's Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program. "Combined with medication, a smoking cessation program can work very well and improve your success rate."
The body's addiction to nicotine, a psychoactive drug in tobacco products that makes smokers feel good, Chaika adds, is more difficult to overcome than both cocaine and heroine. Many people who would like to quit find that just willpower alone is not enough to combat the cravings and symptoms of withdrawal, which can seem overwhelming without the proper tools.
Cold turkey isn't for everyone
This is why Chaika recommends that those ready to start the Quit Smoking Program talk to their physician about taking one of the many medications that can help them suppress nicotine cravings and help them improve their chances of quitting for good.
One of the newer drugs on the market, called varenicline (brand name ChantixTM), which was approved by the FDA in May 2006, is not a nicotine substitute like many of the gums and patches on the market.
According to the American Cancer Society, varenicline works by interfering with nicotine receptors in the brain, producing two different effects. It lessens the pleasurable physical effects a person receives from smoking and also reduces the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Several studies have shown varenicline can more than double the chances of quitting smoking, the organization says.
It's important to talk to your doctor to find out which type of medication is right for you, Chaika says.
A Message of Success
Another key to successfully quitting, Chaika says, is determining why you smoke. Is it out of habit, because of cravings, do you use it as a crutch in times of stress or do you enjoy the stimulation provided by the nicotine?
Finding out how and why you smoke is an important element of developing a strategy to combat cravings.
"This class will teach people how to deal with their urges and the craving for cigarettes," Chaika says. "They will also learn the anatomy of an urge and when you need to use the tools learned in class."
Since smoking is not just a physical addiction, but also a psychological one, it important to have a support network. This is what makes the Quit Smoking Program so successful in conjunction with medication, Chaika says.
"The program provides camaraderie and support that is essential to helping people quit smoking," she says. "It's important to know that you're not alone. The program gives you tools to cope with the withdrawal symptoms. It might take seven or eight attempts, but you will succeed in quitting."
Chaika urges those who are ready to quit smoking to make use of the resources available to them, pointing out that 90 percent of the patients in Washington Hospital's Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program smoked.
"Why do good people have unhealthy habits?" she asks. "It's the same thing with anything from overeating to smoking - having knowledge just isn't enough. It's the New Year. We can all make resolutions to improve our health. If you're thinking about quitting, talk to your physician and inquire about Washington Hospital's Quit Smoking Program."
Kick the habit for good!
Washington Hospital's six-week Quit Smoking Program is designed to teach participants effective ways to quit smoking, as well as how to set long-term goals to help them kick the habit for good.
The program will take place on Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. on the following dates: January 11, 18, 25 and February 1, 8, 15. Participants will meet in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Room C, at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont, across the street from the main hospital.
To register for the program, call Washington Hospital's Health Connection line toll free at (800) 963-7070.

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How Does Quitting Help Me?

The American Cancer Society, in its online "Guide to Quitting Smoking" (, outlines the benefits of quitting over time:

* 20 minutes after quitting: Your heart rate and blood pressure drops.

* 12 hours after quitting: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.

* 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting: Your circulation improves and your lung function increases.

* 1 to 9 months after quitting: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia (tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs) regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs, and reduce the risk of infection.

* 1 year after quitting: The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker's.

* 5 years after quitting: Your stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker 5 to 15 years after quitting.

* 10 years after quitting: The lung cancer death rate is about half that of a continuing smoker's. The risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix, and pancreas decrease.

* 15 years after quitting: The risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker's.

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