When it comes to promoting better health, nurses are undeniably in the position of being strong role models, educators, and advocates – and there can be fewer things more beneficial to improving public health than promoting the benefits of stopping smoking.
Yet we all know that nursing can be as challenging as it is rewarding. As a result, it can be difficult to remember to live up to the expectation to be a role model and always display health-promoting behaviors. If you are a nurse who smokes cigarettes or uses other tobacco products, in all likelihood you have tried to quit before – or at least contemplated it. If so, you understand how hard it is to quit – and so do we, which is why we want to help.
Our guide to quitting tobacco
As a health care professional, you most likely know that quitting tobacco is the most important action you can do for your health and that of your loved ones. That’s why, as part of our Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ initiative, we have compiled a self-help guide to help nurses quit tobacco. These resources may also be useful to your patients or others in your care; as when it comes to quitting tobacco, everyone’s on the same journey.
Making the decision
Begin thinking about your ‘quit day’. To get started, make a list of all of the reasons you can think of for quitting. This is important because it will remind you why you're quitting.
When you finish your list, put it aside for a couple of days. Then read it again. Add more reasons if you have any, then note your five biggest reasons for quitting.
Keep your list with you. Read it often. When you think about using tobacco, pull it out and read it again. Include obvious reasons such as saving money, and living a longer and healthier life, but also add personalized ones.
Acquiring better habits
A habit is something you do over and over again until it's routine. You don't even think about it. You just do it. Often two habits are done together, like drinking coffee and smoking. Doing them together becomes automatic. Smokers just light up. It's a habit.
Think about the tobacco product you just used. What were you doing when you lit up? Did it make you want to smoke? If it did, that's a trigger.
See if any of the common triggers below are tobacco triggers for you:
- When you drink coffee, do you smoke?
- On the commute to work, do you smoke?
- After eating, do you smoke?
- When you are stressed, do you smoke?
- When you are angry with someone, do you smoke?
Triggers have power over tobacco users. It’s often hard to do these activities without lighting up.
It's important to know your triggers. They cause you to crave cigarettes or tobacco, or make you feel you need to smoke. Don't let these triggers control you. Take charge. Sometimes a trigger can also be a certain person, place, or time of day.
Figure out your common triggers, track the cigarettes you smoke and how you feel while you smoke them, and practice separating your triggers from smoking before you quit.
Tobacco has an addictive component due to the nicotine. Nicotine is a chemical in tobacco as well as a drug. As a tobacco user, your body craves nicotine, and subsequently becomes addicted to it.
While nicotine is addictive, it is important to know that nicotine does not cause cancer. It's all of the other dangerous chemicals in tobacco products that cause cancer and other diseases.
Tobacco delivers nicotine to your brain to keep you from feeling withdrawal pains. Smoking when you feel a craving doesn't make you feel better, it just keeps you from feeling bad. But the addiction only lasts about 48 hours; beyond that, it is all about habit.
There are medications that can help your body deal with withdrawal and help you improve your chances for quitting successfully. Some medications work by giving your body a little nicotine – just enough to keep you from feeling bad. There are also medications with no nicotine which can also increase your chances of quitting.
People can quit without medication, but it can be a good tool. Before taking any tobacco cessation medication, consult with your health care provider.
Successful quit methods are unique to each person. There are multiple ways to quit. Explore them here.
If you've tried to quit tobacco, you know how hard it is. Commitment, effort, and time are needed. You might say, "This time will be different," but then you relapse and start again. Perhaps you feel guilty or embarrassed. You told your family and friends you were quitting. Now what do you tell them?
Soon you get tired of telling people. The next time you try to quit, you may feel the urge to keep it a secret so that if you start using tobacco again, no one knows you relapsed. However, making a verbal or written ‘contract’ with others not only helps solidify your commitment, but it also allows people to support you.
There is no shame in relapse. It may take tobacco users multiple tries before quitting for good. Part of a smart quit smoking plan is asking for help. Your chances of success are better if you get help from the people in your life.
Be sure to tell them why you are quitting. Tell them what you are trying to do. Tell them how hard it is. Tell them how much you want to quit.
You don't have to tell everyone that you are quitting. Just a few key people, the ones you know will support you.
Step 5 – Do It!
You've set a date for quitting. You have your reasons to quit. You know your tobacco/smoking triggers to avoid. You possibly have tobacco cessation medication at your disposal and/or other quit methods. You have a positive support group of people in place. Now it’s time to do it: stop all tobacco use
Quitting tobacco use is the single most important step towards best health.
We know that quitting tobacco can be difficult, but rest assured you are not alone and unarmed – there is a wealth of free resources out there designed to give you the help you need. To give you a head start, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best of them:
Quit tobacco websites
- American Cancer Society: How to Quit Smoking or Smokeless Tobacco
- American Heart Association (AHA): Quit Smoking
- Truth InitiativeAmerican Lung Association:s Freedom from Smoking
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Quit Smoking
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA): FDA 101: Smoking Cessation Products
- National Cancer Institute (NCI): Smokefree.gov
- NIOSH: Promoting Health and Preventing Disease and Injury Through Workplace Tobacco Policies
- SAMHSA’s tobacco cessation website
- USPSTF Tobacco Cessation in Adults
- National Quitline Network: 1.800.QUIT.NOW (1.800.784.8669)
- National Cancer Institute: 1.877.44U.QUIT (1.800.448.7848)
Helping patients to quit
Of course, it’s not just nurses who will benefit from giving up tobacco. Many of our patients would welcome any assistance we can give, and studies have shown that a brief one to three minute intervention from a health care professional can significantly increase the chances that someone quits smoking successful.
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