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You Can Quit Smoking … for Good

by Vance Rabius, PhD, Diane Beneventi, PhD, and Paul Cinciripini, PhD

Wellness image

“I know I need to quit smoking,
but …”

For many smokers, a cancer diagno­sis becomes a catalyst for giving up tobacco. For some, it’s because of pressure from family, friends, or their doctors. Others may feel ashamed that they continue to smoke after their diag­nosis and hope quitting will relieve them of this shame burden. However, most people underestimate how difficult it is to quit and falsely attribute their failure to do so to a personal weakness. Hence the “but” in the statement above.

It is certainly common knowledge that smoking is bad for you, but the nature of addiction and the unique chal­lenges involved with tobacco cessation are less publicized. Therefore, people who are trying to quit smoking often don’t know what to anticipate when seeking help. Most have made several quit attempts on their own, and usually they assume their numerous attempts are evidence of failure. What most fail to realize is that each quit attempt is an opportunity to learn what has worked and what hasn’t. Therefore, each attempt, instead of being a failure to quit, is sim­ply another step toward reaching their goal of quitting smoking for good.

Author of Article photo

Dr. Vance Rabius

On average, people will make more than six quit-smoking attempts before achieving a longer period of smoking cessation. It may even take as many as 30 quit-smoking attempts over a lifetime to achieve cessation success. This is particularly true for people attempting tobacco cessation on their own, without medical assistance. Tobacco-cessation counseling and pharmacological inter­ventions greatly improve your chances of success on any one quit attempt, especially when used together. Here’s how they work:

♦ Tobacco-Cessation Counseling
The thought of giving up a familiar coping strategy, like smoking, when faced with the stress of a cancer diag­nosis may seem impossible. Yet people also have very powerful and personal reasons for wanting to quit. Some want to do everything they can to remain healthy and available for their loved ones. Others are motivated by the knowl­edge that quitting smoking can improve cancer treatment outcomes. A counselor can support you in quitting by helping you keep your reasons for quitting in focus.

Dr. Diane Beneventi

Tobacco-cessation counselors can also use behavioral strategies to help you identify the patterns that sup­port your smoking and find alterna­tive behaviors to use as substitutes. By strategically altering your be­havior, you can break the patterns that lead to smok­ing, therefore, making smoking less automatic. In other words, a counselor can help you break the “habit” of smoking. Trained smoking-cessation counselors can also help you find new coping strategies (such as mindfulness exercises, deep breathing techniques, and other relaxation practices) to use instead of smoking.

♦ Pharmacological Interventions
The use of quit-smoking medications significantly improves the likelihood that any quit attempt will be success­ful. For example, smoking-cessation medications varenicline and bupropion have both been shown to increase cessation rates. Nicotine replacement therapies, while available over the counter, are often underutilized. Many people are hesitant to use them because they believe they are danger­ous. While it’s true that nicotine, the addictive element in cigarettes, is a carcinogen, nicotine replacement therapies are safe and do not cause cancer.

Dr. Paul Cinciripini

One thing many people don’t know about nicotine replacement therapies is that their effectiveness is greatly increased when they are used in combination and for longer periods of time. For example, the use of a patch and a lozenge is generally more effective than the use of either alone. Because of a lack of accurate information about how to use these medications, many people mistakenly conclude that they don’t work for them, when in fact they likely will work if used correctly. It’s best to ask your doctor or another knowledgeable medical professional to help you choose the best tobacco-cessation method for you.

Anyone who is thinking about mak­ing a change in the way they use tobacco should reach out for help. It is never too late to quit.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Dr. Vance Rabius is an instructor in the Department of Behavioral Science at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, and the research director for the hospital’s Tobacco Treatment Program. Dr. Diane Beneventi, a licensed psychologist of 20 years, is the supervising psychologist for MD Anderson’s Tobacco Treatment Program. Dr. Paul Cinciripini is a professor, chair of the Department of Behavioral Science, and director of the Tobacco Treatment Program at MD Anderson.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2016.