January 5, 2017

Staying Afloat While Quitting Smoking

By Melody King
Nicotine Dependence Program Specialist

If someone falls over the railing of a cruise ship, what should we do? Shout something encouraging? Counsel them about the dangers of taking selfies at the railing? No. We sound the alarm. We throw every buoy that we can find into the water. This is the intensity of treatment that anyone struggling with tobacco addiction should receive. Throw the buoys – all of them – in hopes that one will find its target.

Let’s get familiar with the buoys that are available.

shutterstock-smoking-quit-womanMedication – While this is not the correct option for everyone, the statistics are very good: a person who uses medication as part of a plan to quit tobacco is twice as likely to be successful. New healthcare laws require insurance companies to cover tobacco cessation. Prescriptions are the key to having coverage for the medications, because even nicotine patches (which are available over the counter) will be covered by insurance with a prescription.

Chantix, a prescription medication, may be the biggest buoy on deck. The medication works by partially blocking the nicotine from the brain. Nicotine patches, gum, and lozenges are the most popular tobacco cessation medications. These products work by slowly introducing nicotine to the bloodstream (again, the keyword is slowly).

Building a Quit Kit – This is a collection of smaller buoys that will help the person stay afloat during the turbulent first days of quitting. The kit will contain objects (or ideas) that serve as coping strategies. It needs to be available during the times of day or situations where the person is most likely to use tobacco. When I smoked, I couldn’t imagine having a cup of coffee without a cigarette. Talking on the phone, driving, or social times are other common triggers.

Whatever it is, the quit kit should contain items or ideas that address each of these issues. Healthy snacks, mints, craft projects, puzzles, or even a playlist of powerful songs might be included. The kit could also contain ideas like prayer, meditation, or deep breathing. Exercise is an important strategy and can be adapted to any level of activity. We can’t pull out a knitting project at a stoplight, so the kit must contain multiple strategies that can be used in various situations.

Counseling – Some people stay afloat while quitting tobacco by sheer force of will. This is rare. According to the numbers, it is not statistically successful. The highest rates of success are achieved by utilizing a tobacco counselor. This is like having a motorized lifeboat that pulls right up to the man overboard. There is someone else aboard the vessel – someone who knows these waters – to pull him in and discuss the next steps. A tobacco counselor helps craft a plan to address each person’s particular situation – their motivations and barriers – to quit.

If you’re the man or woman overboard, we urge you to accept assistance. If you are a loved one or caregiver of a tobacco user, we urge you to support (rather than lecture) the person who is treading water. Let’s throw all of the buoys. Arrange for medication, build a quit kit, and contact a tobacco counselor.


Melody King is a Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist at Mission Health System. She received training and certification at the Mayo Clinic, and attends a graduate program at Seton Hall University Law School.

Mission’s Nicotine Dependence Program accepts office and telephone appointments, offers services to hospital inpatients, and provides clinical training for healthcare professionals. For more information about local resources, or to make an appointment with a tobacco specialist, call Mission’s Nicotine Dependence Program at (828) 213-5527.


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