Battle to quit smoking is fought on many fronts

DEAR DOCTOR K:

At a recent medical visit for my heart condition, my doctor urged me again to quit smoking. At 70, I’ve quit repeatedly without lasting success. I’ve tried the patch. I’ve tried medicine. Neither has worked. Support groups aren’t for me. Being told over and over that I need to quit smoking just leaves me feeling depressed and weak. Can you offer me any hope?

DEAR READER:

Yes, absolutely! The fact that you’ve tried so hard to quit smoking is a good sign: Wanting to quit is the necessary first step. I know you feel discouraged right now. I’ve had many patients in exactly your situation who have successfully become ex-smokers. That’s why I’m going to encourage you to try again.

Nicotine is highly addictive. Willpower alone isn’t enough when you’re trying to quit. Fortunately, there are lots of tools to help you fight this addiction. Quit-smoking aids include nicotine-replacement patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers, sprays and medications. Toll-free “quitlines” can connect you to the help you need (find the quitline in your state at www.smokefree.gov).

None of these tools work miracles. Often they’re more effective when combined. It’s also true that one drug may work even if another one failed. So consider these options:

I know you tried the nicotine patch. Talk to your doctor about coupling the patch with a short-acting nicotine-replacement product such as nicotine gum, lozenge or inhaler. These products can help you to rapidly ease sudden cravings.

If the medicine prescribed for you didn’t help, ask your doctor about trying a different drug. There are several drugs, and one may work even if another has not worked. And ask your doctor about combining medicine with a product that replaces nicotine.

You mentioned that support groups aren’t for you. Did you know you don’t need to join a group to be supported? While sitting comfortably at home with your slippers on, you can simply dial the national quit line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW. If you use the Internet, check the website at www.smokefree.gov. Smartphone apps designed to support quitting exist, too. All of these options have worked for other people — including people like you who have tried unsuccessfully in the past to quit.

There also are plenty of new treatments under development. For example, scientists are trying to create vaccines that cause a person’s immune system to attack nicotine and keep it from reaching the brain. In theory, at least, this would deny you pleasurable feelings from smoking, thus helping you break the habit. There may be more useful tools to quit smoking coming down the road.

My advice? Please don’t wait for exciting new treatments. Work with your doctor or a specialist in smoking cessation to tailor a plan that works for you. There are more ex-smokers in the U.S. today than smokers. And there are more effective treatments than ever before. So, please, try again. Your heart, lungs, family and friends will all thank you.