Great American Smokeout: Is it Your Time to Quit?

If you don't take care of your body, where will you live?

If you have ever tried to lose weight, start an exercise program, change your study habits or give up chocolate, you know that it is not an easy process. Changing behavior is difficult, especially if you have been practicing that behavior for a long time. Smoking is even more difficult because nicotine is a very addictive substance.

This event spread across the country and the American Cancer Society organized the first Great American Smokeout in 1977.

Today, more Americans try to quit smoking on that day than on any other day of the year. If you are a smoker, this is a great day to consider quitting, or at least think about your smoking behaviors and how smoking is affecting your life.

If you are a smoker and want to quit, ask yourself some basic questions. Why do I want to quit? Every smoker will have his or her own reasons. Think about the advantages of not smoking. You will look better, feel better, smell better and have more money in your pocket. Think about the advantages to your children and your family. Children exposed to secondhand smoke at home are more prone to colds, ear infections and allergies than children in nonsmoking households. If you die prematurely from a smoking-related illness, who will do all the things you do for your family?

Here are a few Smokeout tips for smokers. If you are really serious about quitting, make it official by signing a contract. Tell everyone you know that you are trying to quit smoking and let them know what they can do to support you. Invite other smokers to join you. A few days before the Smokeout, try to cut back on the number of cigarettes you smoke. Hide all your ashtrays, matches and cigarettes. Stock up on carrot sticks, sugarless gum, celery sticks, apples and lollipops. Drink lots of liquids, especially water and fruit juices. Tell everyone you're quitting for the day. Try to avoid or modify situations where you routinely smoke, such as after a meal, in a bar or with your morning coffee. When the urge to smoke hits, take a deep breath, hold it for 10 seconds and release it slowly. Go to the movies or other places where smoking is not allowed. Keep your hands busy with a hobby or crossword puzzle. Exercise to relieve the tension.

The most common smoking cessation methods are quitting cold turkey, gradually stopping by cutting back on the number of cigarettes you smoke over time, and using nicotine replacement therapy. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. Quitting cold turkey requires large amounts of will power. Gradually cutting down provides more gradual weaning from nicotine, but you are still being exposed to tobacco chemicals. Nicotine replacement therapy, such as nicotine gum or nicotine patches, helps reduce nicotine cravings and ease symptoms of withdrawal without exposing you to the harmful components of cigarette smoke. Nicotine replacement therapy is now available without a prescription but may be expensive over time. Prescription drugs may also be used as an aid to smoking cessation.

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If you are a non-smoker, here are some suggestions to help a friend quit. Make up formal “adoption papers” and adopt a smoker to help your friend make it through the day. Offer praise and encouragement, and keep a good sense of humor. Agree to give up something you really enjoy, such as chocolate or your favorite TV show. Plan a fun activity for you and your friend – maybe a movie, going shopping or going for a walk.

If you are an ex-smoker, share your favorite quitting tips. Send your friend flowers or balloons on the day of the Smokeout or the day after. Do not nag or criticize, even if your friend slips and smokes. Remember that it's not easy. At the end of the day, say “Congratulations, you did a good job!”

We change our behaviors one day at a time. Why not try to change your smoking behavior or help a friend stop smoking? You have nothing to lose and your own good health to gain. After all, if you don't take care of your body, where will you live?