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Plan now for Great American Smokeout

TUESDAY, NOV. 10, 2009

If you are a smoker, when was the last time you said, “I need to quit”?

The American Cancer Society’s annual Great American Smokeout is Nov. 19, and the best way to participate successfully is to plan ahead.

First, define a goal for the day. It could be to not smoke at all, or it could be to smoke half your usual number of cigarettes for one day.

Set a goal that is attainable and yet challenging. After one successful day, you may feel like going for a second day of not smoking or cutting back.

As with any change, it helps to think about why you want to quit smoking.

It might be because you have been getting short of breath, because your doctor recommended it, or because you worry about not seeing your grandchildren grow up. Whatever it is, write the reason down on a piece of paper and keep it with you as a reminder.

Breaking the habit of smoking is often more difficult than dealing with the physical addiction to nicotine.

Think about where and when you smoke. If you always light a cigarette when you pick up the phone, start the car or have coffee, then make it a point not to light up when you do those things. Find something else to do and somewhere else to go instead of heading outside to the smoking area.

A short walk helps many people manage their urge to smoke. Gum, lollipops, toothpicks, hard candy, carrots or celery can help keep your hands and mouth occupied when the urge to smoke hits.

If possible, make it a rule to not smoke in the house or the car. Quitting may be easier when smoking is boring or inconvenient.

Enlist help, even if just for the one day. If you are around other smokers, get commitments from them to participate, too. You could have a competition in which whoever smokes the least number of cigarettes on that day, or whoever goes the most number of days in a row without smoking, wins lunch paid for by everyone who participated.

Let your friends and family know about your goal. There really is something to having your own cheering section to help you stay motivated.

Whenever I discharge someone from the hospital who has decided to stop smoking, I recommend that they make a clean sweep of it: wash the drapes, wipe down or paint the walls, get rid of ashtrays and clean out the car so that the cigarette smell is gone.

What are some of the physical benefits of stopping smoking? After:

•20 minutes, heart rate and blood pressure drop.

•12 hours, carbon monoxide in the blood drops to a normal level.

•Two weeks to three months, circulation improves and lung function increases.

•One to nine months, there’s reduced coughing, shortness of breath and risk of infection.

•One year, excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s.

•Five years, stroke risk is reduced

•10 years, risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix, and pancreas decrease.

There are many ways to quit once you make the decision to do so. Using nicotine gum, lozenges or patches or stop-smoking medications doubles your chances of success compared to quitting cold turkey.

Still, this could be one of the toughest personal challenges you ever face, so if you think you need additional help, get it.

Some people find success with other ways to quit. After six or seven attempts at quitting smoking on her own over 15 years, my friend’s mom tried hypnotism and she has not smoked a day since.

Using a telephone or group support program like the Washington State (800-QUIT-NOW) also increases your chance of success.

The American Cancer Society ( /subsite/greatamericans/ smokeout.asp) and the American Lung Association ( stop-smoking/) Web sites are great resources.

I am a fan of the “How Much Does It Cost You” calculator at the American Cancer Society site. It can calculate approximately how much you have spent on cigarettes since you started smoking.

As the saying goes, “Every journey starts with the first step,” so consider taking a first step toward quitting by participating in the Great American Smokeout.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Veradale Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your questions and comments to

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