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How best to quit smoking?

Written by Diane Archer

Smoking is the top cause for preventable death in the US. If you smoke, the good news is that it’s never too late to quit smoking, even if you are over 65. The only question is how best to quit smoking. Harvard Health offers expert advice.

No matter how long you have been smoking, quitting smoking reduces your health risks.  Very quickly, your blood pressure and your circulation improve.  You also lower your risk of getting lung cancer. That’s why Medicare pays for counseling to help you quit smoking. Moreover, you can save a bunch of money by quitting.

Different people use different methods to quit.  Though it’s not easy. Nicotine is addictive. If you are trying to quit without success, talk to other people you know who have found a way. And, if you have Medicare, take advantage of the Medicare smoking cessation counseling benefit.

Experts suggest it is best to use two approaches in combination to quit: behavior strategies and medicines. There are a number of behavior strategies, which can be as simple as text message services (which you can get for free through www.smokefree.gov), or self-help, or counseling.  For people with depression or anxiety, addressing those conditions is important as well. N.B. The evidence is slim that acupuncture or hypnosis work to help people quit smoking.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) as well as a 12-week course of oral medications varenicline (Chantix) and bupropion (Zyban, Wellbutrin) can also be helpful. There are many forms of NRT, including gum, nasal spray, patches, lozenges, and inhalers. Using different types of NRTs at once, a short (gum or spray) and long-acting (patch) NRT is said to be more effective. Talk to your doctor or health care provider about the appropriate dose and how to address any side effects.

People can also use nortriptyline, which is an antidepressant. It can be effective, but it can also lead to dry mouth, constipation, and weight gain. Again, talk to your doctor about which medications to use.

The FDA does not approve of e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking. But, experts say that smokers who otherwise won’t quit smoking should consider e-cigarettes. They also say that cigarettes and e-cigarettes should not be used in combination.

Free resources are available at 800-QUIT-NOW and www.smokefree.gov.

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