More than two-thirds of smokers say they want to stop using tobacco, but the majority of attempts to quit are not successful. Whether you’re a person with cancer, you have a friend or family member who’s being treated for cancer, or you’re just ready to make a positive change in your life, the experts at Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Tobacco Treatment Program are ready to help.
We spoke with Jamie Ostroff, a clinical psychologist and the Director of MSK’s Tobacco Treatment Program, about why it’s so difficult to quit smoking or using other forms of tobacco and how participating in a tobacco cessation program can both make the quitting process easier and lead to greater success in becoming tobacco free.
You Don’t Have to Go It Alone
“There’s a common misperception about smoking cessation — many smokers want to believe that they can do it alone,” Dr. Ostroff says. “But if it were that easy, they would have done it already. If you are determined to go solo, give yourself a couple of weeks, but if you can’t quit on your own, know that you can seek help to quit or cut down in preparation for eventual quitting.”
MSK’s Tobacco Treatment Program provides education, support, and quitting assistance for those currently being treated for cancer and cancer survivors, as well as for people who have never had cancer but are concerned about the health effects of tobacco. The program is staffed by clinicians with expertise in smoking cessation and cancer.
The program begins with a one-on-one consultation to discuss your tobacco use and quitting history, your readiness to quit, and any circumstances that may make quitting especially challenging for you. The first appointment also includes a review of your medical history as well as any current health problems you may be experiencing. Once that’s complete, our nurses and psychologists work with you to develop and support a personalized quitting plan that will maximize your likelihood of success.
Safe and Effective Treatments Are Available
“People who are ready to quit need a solid plan that includes approaches proven to be safe and effective,” Dr. Ostroff says. There are seven medications that are FDA approved to reduce cravings for nicotine and the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Five are nicotine replacements — including patches, gum, and inhalers — and two are non-nicotine medications that help people reduce symptoms of acute nicotine withdrawal.
Some of these medications are available over the counter, but Dr. Ostroff says that meeting with an expert to discuss the options and review the pros and cons of each medication can help to develop a more effective treatment plan. In addition, the most effective plan may be to combine cessation medications rather than using only one. A smoking cessation expert can help determine the best medications for each individual. “Our evidence-based tobacco treatment recommendations are based on findings from clinical trials,” she says.
Addiction to Tobacco Is Not Just Physical
“If the first plan to quit doesn’t work, we will work with the patient to come up with plan B or even plan C. We find that practice makes perfect and that we can usually identify aspects of prior quitting efforts that were beneficial,” Dr. Ostroff says, noting that medication typically works better when combined with behavioral counseling.
For many, “smoking provides a source of relaxation and reward, and counseling helps smokers trying to quit develop alternate strategies for dealing with the psychological dependence on smoking,” she says. “Counseling helps people learn to avoid common triggers, to change their routines, and to develop other ways of coping with stress.”
Some people require more intensive counseling, especially if they are hesitant about quitting or experiencing other issues such as anxiety or depression. “Our staff is dedicated to tailoring cessation approaches to meet smokers’ individual needs,” Dr. Ostroff says.
It’s Never Too Late to Quit
Some benefits of quitting smoking are almost immediate, such as improvements in heart rate, blood pressure, and sense of taste. Others take longer, but within a few years’ time, the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer are greatly reduced.
For people who have been diagnosed with cancer, quitting can be especially important. Stopping smoking lowers the risk of treatment complications and side effects and improves treatment effectiveness. Quitting smoking also lowers the risk of the cancer returning, reduces the likelihood of developing a new cancer, and improves quality of life.
Learn more about MSK’s Tobacco Treatment Program and how you can quit and stay quit!