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Giving Up Smoking as an Older Adult

If you have been smoking for a long time you may wonder whether it's worth trying to quit after so many years. The fact is, it's never too late to give up cigarettes. As soon as you quit, your health will improve as your body begins the process of repairing itself.

Quitting tobacco isn't easy, especially if you've been using it for many years. It takes most people several attempts before they're able to quit for good. The key to success is to never give up trying. Many ex-smokers find it helpful to come up with a plan to help them through those first difficult days and weeks.

The benefits of quitting smoking

Giving up tobacco produces immediate benefits to your health, your finances, and the quality of your life. When you quit smoking...

  • Your circulation improves immediately.
  • You have more energy. When you stop smoking, your oxygen level increases and your carbon monoxide level drops.
  • Your lungs begin to recover from the damage caused by smoking.
  • You reduce the risk of heart disease. After one year of being smoke-free, the chance that you'll develop heart disease is cut almost in half.
  • You're less likely to develop cataracts. Smokers are two to three times more likely to get cataracts. Cataracts can cause blindness.
  • You add to the length and quality of your life. Among smokers who quit at age 65, men gained 1.4 to 2 years of life and women gained 2.7 to 3.4 years. You'll also be less likely to suffer from smoking-related illnesses.
  • You eliminate the chance of a smoking-related tragedy. Smoking is the number one cause of fires that kill older people.
  • You save money.
  • You look and smell better. You'll look and feel fresher without stale cigarette smoke clinging to your hair and clothing.
  • Life is easier. Think of how attitudes have changed toward smoking since you picked up your first cigarette. It's much harder to find a place where smoking is allowed. As a nonsmoker you'll no longer be inconvenienced by your need to smoke.
  • You will be a good role model. Quitting tobacco will send a positive message to the important people in your life, especially children and grandchildren.

Planning to quit

Giving up tobacco is a big change. Most people find it helpful to come up with a plan for breaking their psychological addiction to cigarettes and to find ways to manage the physical symptoms of withdrawal.

  • Set a date to quit. Write down your quit date on your calendar. Pick a date a week or two away. You want to give yourself time to prepare but not so much time that you talk yourself out of quitting. Make sure your quit date doesn't fall during a stressful time at work or at home.
  • Tell others when you will be quitting. Spread the word to family and friends. People who tell others that they're going to quit tobacco are most likely to quit for good because they feel accountable for their actions and they don't want to be seen as failing. Your friends, family, and co-workers can also give you support when you most need it. Let them know that you might be edgy for awhile and ask for their understanding. Also, let them know how they can help you through this period.
  • Keep a smoking journal. Each time you light a cigarette, write down the time of day and how you were feeling at the time. You might find it helpful to tape a piece of paper around your cigarette pack to write on. After a few days a pattern should emerge. Do you light your first cigarette at the same time each day? Do you always smoke after a meal? When you identify your smoking triggers, you will be able to avoid them or come up with alternatives to lighting up.
  • Join a quit-smoking program. These programs can help all smokers, but those who have been using tobacco for a long time tend to benefit from the help and support of a quit-smoking program. Specially-trained counselors can help you understand why you smoke, teach you new habits, and give you tips to help you quit. A support group can provide moral support and motivation. Be sure to choose a program that offers at least four to seven sessions that last 20 to 30 minutes each, continues for at least two weeks after you quit using tobacco, and includes individual or group counseling. Your employee assistance program or the program that provided this publication may be able to help you find a group.
  • Ask your health care provider about medications or nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).
  • You'll still need plenty of willpower, but medications such as bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix) and nicotine replacements such as nicotine gum or patches can help you quit by taking the edge off nicotine withdrawal. Talk with your health care provider about what is available and whether any of these methods is right for you.
  • Learn and practice ways to relax. Most smokers turn to cigarettes when they feel tense or under stress. Learn new ways to respond to stress, such as deep breathing exercises or yoga. Brisk walking and other forms of regular exercise reduce stress and will improve your health and overall well-being.
  • Keep busy. Take up hobbies that you enjoy and find relaxing. Choose activities that keep your hands busy, such as knitting, woodworking, or sewing.
  • Start cutting back on cigarettes. Taper off your smoking until you reach your quit date. Start by giving up the cigarettes you most enjoy, such as the ones you light up while driving or after finishing a meal. Leave your pack at home when you go out.
  • Stock up on substitutes for tobacco. If you'll miss having something in your mouth, buy gum, mints, and cinnamon sticks. Have lots of healthy snacks on hand, such as raw carrot sticks and unbuttered, air-popped popcorn.

Your first day without cigarettes

Try to plan something fun to do on the day you quit smoking. Using tobacco lifts your mood, so spend the day with people who make you happy. Here are some other hints for your quit day:

  • Throw away all of your cigarettes, ashtrays, and lighters. Look for stray packs in coat pockets, on your bedside table, in your car, and wherever else you may have left one. Crush the cigarettes before throwing them out. It's much more difficult to resist the urge to smoke if you know where to find a stray pack.
  • Clean and air out your home and car. Give yourself a fresh start by washing your curtains and bedding to get rid of the odor of cigarette smoke. Clean your car ashtray and stock it with mints.
  • Change your routines. Smoking is connected to many of your day-to-day habits. Doing things differently will help break your associations with smoking. If you usually smoke while watching television, sit in a different chair or read a book instead. If you smoke after a meal, get up and brush your teeth and go for a walk when you're done eating.
  • Go to a place where you can't smoke. Go to a museum or concert, to the movies or swimming. Spend the day with nonsmokers.
  • Ask others not to smoke in your home. If you live with a smoker, ask him or her to smoke outdoors or to smoke in a designated room.
  • Find ways to manage withdrawal symptoms. When you stop smoking, you may feel dizzy, irritable, and tired. You may develop a cough, dry throat, and runny nose.

You may have problems with your digestion. These are all signs that your body is adjusting to being without nicotine. Some symptoms will disappear after a few days while others can last a few weeks. Drink plenty of water; use caution in situations where you need to be alert, such as driving; take naps; and eat plenty of fruit and high-fiber foods to help with digestion.

  • Wait out cravings. Cravings for a cigarette pass within 10 minutes, so don't give in to them. Go outside for a brisk walk, eat a carrot stick, practice deep breathing, do whatever it takes to wait out the craving.
  • Cut back on caffeine. Caffeine stays in your body longer when you're not using tobacco. If you drink your usual amount of coffee or soda, you might feel jittery and uncomfortable. Cut back to half your usual amount or eliminate caffeine altogether.
  • Avoid alcohol. Drinking can lower your resistance to using tobacco. Be sure to stay away from bars and other places where you're likely to find people smoking.

Staying motivated

Even after the physical cravings for a cigarette pass, there may be times when you want a cigarette. Here are some ways to keep yourself from giving in to the urge to smoke:

  • Think of yourself as a nonsmoker. Visualize yourself refusing the offer of a cigarette by saying, "No, thank you. I don't smoke."
  • Consider how far you've come. Nicotine Anonymous recommends thinking of quitting smoking as an investment. Every hour that you've gone without a cigarette is an hour that you have invested in yourself.
  • Put your cigarette money in a jar and watch it grow. Use it to treat yourself at the end of each week or save your cigarette money for something big.
  • Eat low-fat, healthy foods and get exercise. As your physical health improves you'll be less likely to want to ruin it by smoking. Some people gain a few extra pounds when they quit smoking, so a healthy diet and exercise will also help you maintain your weight. Talk to your health care provider about an exercise program that's right for you.
  • Remember why you quit. Remind yourself of the reasons you want to be a nonsmoker.

If you have a setback and start smoking again, don't be too hard on yourself. Most people have to try more than once before giving up cigarettes for good. Don't look at it as a failure; look at it as a learning opportunity. Ask yourself what led you back to cigarettes and figure out a way to avoid it in the future. Then renew your commitment to giving up tobacco for good.

Sourced from: Ceridian Corporation/Patricia Flack, "Quitting Smokeless Tobacco" 2008