COVID-19 presents yet another good reason to quit smoking.
But with the extra stress, anxiety and boredom that the pandemic has thrust upon us, quitting may seem like too big of a hill to climb. Experts say that it’s actually the perfect time to reflect on the benefits of quitting and how you can do it, with help.
Why should you quit smoking now?
- Research over many years has shown that smoking tobacco can suppress the immune system, said Patricia Mallaber, MS, RN, ANP-BC, CTTS, Co-director of the Wilmot Tobacco Dependence Treatment Program.
- Having a suppressed immune system during a pandemic not only boosts the risk of COVID-19 infection, but may increase the chances of a more serious case and a prolonged recovery. Research conducted this year at the University of Rochester Medical Center and by others also suggests that people who smoke (or vape) might be more vulnerable to coronavirus for biological reasons.
- Frequent hand-to-face and hand-to-mouth contact – which happens as you bring a cigarette to your mouth – should be avoided. It can increase chances of spreading the virus to yourself and others.
- Smoking is expensive. New Yorkers may be paying about $10 a pack for cigarettes. That can add up to $50 to $70 a week if you are a heavy smoker.
Once you’ve decided to quit, how can you do it?
Nicotine addiction and habit makes it tough to quit. But Mallaber suggests:
- Use nicotine replacement therapies such as patches, gum, and lozenges to help with withdrawal symptoms.
- Think about your behaviors. Social isolation is very difficult, but try to distract yourself as cravings come on. Exercise – even walking around the block can help. Deep breathing eases stress. (This video may be helpful.) Try a new hobby, such as knitting, puzzles or art. Even sucking on hard candy can do the trick as cravings come and go. Try cinnamon, peppermint or citrus flavors.
- Change your routine. Many people associate smoking with certain activities such as drinking coffee or alcohol. Identify your triggers and interrupt the pattern. For example, call a friend or family member for support when you would normally smoke, or play a game on your phone. Decide not to smoke in your car.
- Seek support. Many programs and practices are doing telemedicine visits for tobacco cessation counseling. Your primary care provider should be able to provide guidance and assistance, or consider these resources:
- Wilmot’s Tobacco Dependence Treatment Program: This is available for Wilmot Cancer Institute patients and their immediate families.
- URMC’s Center for Community Health and Prevention: The CCHP has a program that is open to all.
- NYS Smokers Quitline: This is a free resource for all residents of New York. They are currently offering a promotion to provide free nicotine gum for all patients.
- Other government resources include the Centers for Disease Control, SmokeFree.gov and the American Cancer Society