Smoking Cessation

Are there medications that could help me quit smoking?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've tried to quit smoking on my own, but it never lasts. Could medications help? How do they work?

DEAR READER: Medicines can help, and they have improved "quit rates." Although smoking is a particularly hard habit to break, you can do it. The proof: There are more ex-smokers in the United States today than there are smokers.

Could low-nicotine cigarettes help me quit smoking altogether?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've decided to quit smoking. Do you think low-nicotine cigarettes could be a good stepping-stone to kicking the habit completely?

DEAR READER: I'm always glad when readers ask about how to quit smoking. It causes so many health problems and so much misery. And while it's not easy, people can quit smoking. Yet millions of adults and teenagers continue to smoke. The main reason is nicotine.

How can I quit smoking without gaining weight?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I want to quit smoking, but I'm worried about gaining weight. Is it possible to quit smoking without packing on the pounds?

DEAR READER: Smokers do tend to gain some weight when they quit. Why? Nicotine reduces appetite and revs up metabolism (the rate at which the body burns food). Breaking free of nicotine allows appetite to come back and also slows metabolism. In addition, many people substitute food for cigarettes when they quit. By definition, an unhealthy weight is not good for your health. But quitting smoking is good for a person's health.

How do I fight cigarette cravings?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm doing my best to quit smoking, but I am really struggling with the symptoms of withdrawal. Do you have any advice?

DEAR READER: You're not alone. Beating an addiction is not easy, but you can do it. And there are new treatments today that make it easier to do. Physical withdrawal symptoms make stopping any addictive drug uncomfortable. Nicotine -- the addictive drug in tobacco -- is one of the most difficult to beat. Withdrawal symptoms are the reason many people don't manage to quit smoking. These include intense cravings, irritability, fatigue and inability to concentrate. They can begin within a few hours of the last cigarette.

Are hookahs safe for teens?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You recently wrote about e-cigarettes not being safe for teens. What about hookahs? I don't completely understand what they are. Are they OK for my teen? I think he might be smoking them.

DEAR READER: A hookah is a water pipe that people use to smoke a specially made tobacco. Often the tobacco used in hookahs is flavored, which makes smoking it more attractive to some people. A hookah uses coal to burn the tobacco. This creates either smoke or a vapor that is inhaled through a tube.

What exactly are e-cigarettes? Are they safe?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I caught my son and his friends smoking e-cigarettes. My son tells me I have no reason to worry, and that they're safer than regular cigarettes. What exactly are e-cigarettes? Are they safe?

DEAR READER: E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that look like cigarettes. They are built around a heating element, a cartridge that contains nicotine and other chemicals, and an atomizer that converts the chemicals into a vapor. Instead of inhaling smoke from e-cigarettes, the user inhales this vapor. (This is sometimes called "vaping.")

What nicotine replacement options can help me quit smoking?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've been trying to quit smoking with nicotine replacement patches, but it hasn't worked. Any suggestions?

DEAR READER: Smoking may be the toughest unhealthy habit to break, but it is possible. There are more ex-smokers in the United States today than there are smokers. There are two main obstacles that make cigarettes particularly hard to quit: First is the physical withdrawal from nicotine. Second is the psychological withdrawal from a habit that has become part of your daily routine.

As a longtime smoker should I be screened for lung cancer?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a longtime smoker. Do I need to be screened for lung cancer even if I don't have any symptoms?

DEAR READER: Until recently, my answer would have been "no." In the not-too-distant past, screening of people without symptoms -- even smokers who were at high risk -- was judged useless for lung cancer. That's because screening for lung cancer involved using standard chest X-rays, and they produced too many "false positive" results: They identified "spots" in the lungs that were harmless.

Are electronic cigarettes safe?

DEAR DOCTOR K: After smoking for more than 15 years, I finally quit eight months ago. But I still miss my cigarettes. I recently heard about electronic cigarettes. Are they safe?

DEAR READER: I've been getting a lot of questions lately about electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, from my patients. Like you, my patients want to know if they're a safe alternative to cigarettes. The truth is that nobody knows if e-cigarettes are safe. That's because e-cigarette makers have not submitted their products for FDA approval, which would require proof of safety and effectiveness. Ads claim e-cigarettes help people stop smoking, but I'm not aware of any strong evidence to back this up.

How can I help my teenage son quit smoking?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I recently discovered that my teenage son is smoking. How can I help him quit?

DEAR READER: Parents can do many things to help their teens quit smoking. First and foremost, if you smoke, stop. It will be hard for your teen to take you seriously if you're telling him to do something you won't do.