Quitting smoking is tough, but not impossible

Christine D. Schutzman is the smoking cessation coordinator at The Cancer Institute at St. Joseph Medical Center.
Christine D. Schutzman is the smoking cessation coordinator at The Cancer Institute at St. Joseph Medical Center. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun)

Many people pick quitting smoking as their New Year's resolution. But if quitting smoking was easy, most smokers would have already done it. Tobacco is highly addictive and the process isn't easy, but quitting is possible for those who really are ready and are linked to methods that work for them, says Christine Schutzman, a certified tobacco treatment specialist who leads a free Freshstart smoking cessation program at the Cancer Institute at St. Joseph Medical Center.

How often do you hear about people giving up on their New Year's resolutions to quit smoking?

About 20 percent of Americans smoke — or close to 48 million people. Of them, 70 percent would like to quit, according to the American Cancer Society. Every year, millions resolve to stop smoking for the new year. Last year, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study showed that 69 percent of adult smokers wanted to quit and 52 percent tried to quit in the past year.

Unfortunately, only one in 10 will stick with it long enough to successfully quit. When we call it a resolution, that's what it means — those who are truly resolved are 10 times more likely to become tobacco-free as those who think they'll give it a try.

Can you say just how hard it is, compared to other addictions?

Nicotine is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, addiction to break. It is as addictive, or more so, than heroin or cocaine. Long-term use of any addictive drug, including tobacco, changes the way the brain functions. Consequently, people become physically and mentally dependent on tobacco.

Cigarettes are often the first step for teens who go on to experiment with alcohol and other drugs. Many recovering alcoholics and recovering drug addicts struggle for years to stop smoking — without success — even though they've kicked their other dependencies. And because smoking is legal and can be done out in the open, this makes quitting smoking even harder.

What support works best — group or individual counseling, phone support or products like gum or drugs?

If there was a best way to stop smoking, everyone would do it and no one would be smoking! So while there is no best way to stop smoking, there are better ways. Studies have shown that with each additional support component added to a person's quit plan, it is more likely that they will succeed. Combination therapies are increasingly becoming standard of care (nicotine patch and lozenge or gum, other medications and nicotine replacement products) along with supportive coaching — individual, in a group, online or phone quit-line. Every quit plan may have common elements, but it really needs to be suited to the individual. With Freshstart, we work with each person to create his or her own quit plan featuring the elements best suited for them.

Chantix was linked to an increased risk of heart attacks, so do you still recommend it for some people?

There are pros and cons to every tobacco cessation medication. The best recommendation is to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about Chantix or any other prescription you are considering.

Everyone knows smoking causes cancer, but can you give more details on the dangers of smoking?

Smoking affects every single organ in the body. In addition to lung cancer, there are 12 other kinds of cancer associated with smoking, including the throat, oral cavity, pancreas, stomach and bladder. Smoking narrows the blood vessels, causing reduced circulation and contributing to peripheral vascular disease. Smoking and secondhand smoke can cause heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke and cataracts. It can cause lung diseases such as emphysema, bronchitis and asthma by damaging the airways and small air sacs in the lungs. Smoking also adversely affects fertility and childbirth, including low birth weight and still-born babies. Smokers have a greater chance of having a baby die of SIDS. Women who have gone through menopause and smoke have a risk of lower bone density and more hip fractures.

What the most important message in St. Joseph's free Freshstart smoking cessation program?

Don't give up on yourself! No one ever regrets stopping smoking, only failing to stop. Start with behavior modification. Eliminate smoking in places you normally would (like the house, back deck or car) before you stop smoking, and it will be easier for you to quit. Ask for help and believe you can do it because you can.

People who would like to sign up for Schutzman's free class can call 410-337-1338 or go to http://www.StJosephTowson.com/Events. They can also call 410-427-5310 or email christineschutzman@catholichealth.net.



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