by Kim Bayha, Health Policy Coordinator for Tobacco Control, Mecklenburg County Public Health  

It’s no secret that tobacco dependence is a wicked addiction. When used as directed, tobacco kills half of its loyal users. Yet, 90 percent of those people start using before they’re 18. The human brain isn’t even fully-formed and able to give informed consent at that age!

There has been incredible progress in the fight against tobacco. Smoking rates have declined from nearly half the population in 1965 to about 17 percent today. But, tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable death and disease in our community. The Great American Smokeout, sponsored by the American Cancer Society every November, provides an opportunity to talk about some of the strategies that are most successful for reducing tobacco use and developing a quit plan.

Tobacco free parks in Mecklenburg County.

As of March 2015, all Mecklenburg County owned parks, greenways and park property are tobacco-free. Exceptions include the County golf courses and some regional parks. This is a Mecklenburg County Ordinance.

Seven Proven Strategies to Quit Tobacco

Here are a few ways to gift yourself a tobacco-free life:

    1. Know what you’re up against and what your options are for help.
    2. Talk to your health provider or counselor to learn about the seven FDA-approved medications for quitting. You can also talk to a QuitLineNC counselor. Some options come in pill form, like Chantix or Wellbutrin. Nicotine replacement products are also helpful — they come in many forms such as the patch, gum, lozenge, inhaler or nasal spray. Some medications need a prescription, others are over the counter.
    3. Check to see what your health insurance plan covers.
    4. Use more than one method. Research shows you can double or triple your success rate if you combine four to six counseling sessions (which can be telephonic, web-based or face-to-face) with one or more of the quit medications. These days, counseling sessions don’t have to happen in-person — you can talk to your counselor online or on the phone. Using the combination of the nicotine patch and gum is highly recommended, as is Chantix.
    5. Make sure you’re ready to quit. Identify your core reasons for quitting, write them down and refer to them. Could it be a health wake-up call or pregnancy? Or, perhaps it’s because of the expense, or not wanting to smoke around children.
    6. Track your habit for a week to identify your triggers for tobacco use. It’s important to have a plan for what you will do instead of smoking and know how to deal with withdrawal symptoms.
    7. Prepare your environment. Get rid of all tobacco products and paraphernalia and ask family and friends for support.

Worth the Struggle

We know quitting is not easy. The struggle you’re up against is three-pronged – physical, mental and social. Physically, your body is reacting to the absence of nicotine. Mentally, you’re faced with giving up a habit, which calls for behavior change. Emotionally, you might feel like you’ve lost your best friend. All of that is normal and difficult but it’s worth every bit of the effort.

To learn more about resources, take a look at the Mecklenburg County Quit Guide. You can also hear my personal quit story on the County’s Facebook page.