Health Column: An updated approach to giving up cigarettes

04/20/2014 12:00 PM |
Jennifer Gustavson hasn't smoked a cigarette in over seven months. (Credit: Cessation Nation image)

Jennifer Gustavson shares her story about being smoke free for over seven months. (Credit: Cessation Nation image)

If more traditional methods haven’t helped you kick cigarettes, you might want to try some new apps designed to help smokers break free of nicotine addiction.

One of my favorites is Cessation Nation by Ronald Horner. Its user-friendly features let me know how much healthier I’ve become since I quit smoking (cold turkey) about seven months ago — after nearly 20 years.

Within 24 hours of smoking your last cigarette, the app informs you that your heart rate and blood pressure have dropped. If you stay away from tobacco a little longer, the app then tells you the carbon monoxide level in your blood has dropped to normal levels. As the days, weeks and months go by, the app continues to keep track of the health benefits of remaining smoke-free. It tells you when your dependence on nicotine has been eliminated and when your withdrawal symptoms have subsided, among other health benefits.

Although these markers are based on scientific estimates — since the app doesn’t have a medical professional monitoring your progress — I’ve found the information useful to remind me of my smoke-free accomplishments.

As of this week, I’m 82 percent done with overcoming this milestone: A decrease in smoking-related sinus congestion, fatigue or shortness of breath.

Goals I’m close to achieving, with the app’s assistance, include: Your excess risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke has dropped to less than half that of a smoker (61 percent); Your risk of stroke has declined to that of a non-smoke (12 percent); and risk of death from lung cancer has declined by almost half (6 percent).

[Scroll down to view an image of the progress graph]

Cessation Nation also includes games designed to keep your mind off smoking and a calendar where you can track the days you’ve been smoke-free.

I’m happy to report my calendar has a no-smoking icon for each day since Aug. 31, which is when I quit.

Another app I’ve found helpful is QuitSTART, maintained by the National Cancer Institute’s Tobacco Control Research Branch. This program helps smokers identify triggers that make them reach for a smoke — and offers immediate guidance and advice to help them resist smoking temptations.

There’s also an “awards” feature through which you can earn a total of 13 badges after being smoke-free for anywhere from 24 hours to one year. You can share these awards online with friends and family, too.

You can download both Cessation Nation and QuitSTART for free. Both apps are are able to calculate how many cigarettes you haven’t smoked, how much money you’ve saved and how many days you have added to your life since you quit.

I also follow the National Cancer Institute’s Facebook page Smokefree Women. The site is constantly updated with inspirational stories from women struggling to quit smoking and provides tips about how to stay on track.

makeover kitFor motivation, the organization will send a free makeover kit to women who are preparing to quit. It includes, among other items, lip balm, gum, Band-Aids, dental floss, a nail file and an American Apparel T-shirt that reads “I am Women.SmokeFree.gov.” (To order your makeover kit, email WomenWhoQuit@mmgct.com.)

I’ve also downloaded relaxation audio books to my cellphone and listen to them at night. Glenn Harrold’s “Star Meditation for Relaxation and Problem Solving” and “Deep Sleep Every Night” in particular have taught me different breathing techniques to help me get through stressful situations.

One last piece of advice: Try your best not to think about smoking. Even when friends and family ask how I’ve been feeling since quitting, I tell them it’s going well and change the subject quickly.

Collectively, these efforts and daily reminders help me realize that all my hard work will be erased if I smoke even just one cigarette.

Like other smokers, I’ve tried smoking-cessation books, videos and programs, as well as nicotine gum and patches.

Each time I attempted to quit was a learning experience. During my most recent success, I steered clear of caffeine and alcohol for a couple months. Dozens of failed attempts had taught me that those are my biggest triggers.

Mark Twain may have summed up a smoker’s struggle the best: “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.”

Even writing this column is a smoking trigger for me, but I’ve had such success with a new digital approach that I decided to share my experience in hopes it will help others quit.

TR1226_Staff_Gustavson_C.jpgJennifer Gustavson is Times/Review Newsgroup’s senior staff writer. She can be reached at 631-354-8033 or jennifer@timesreview.com

 

 

Got a health question or column idea? Email Times/Review’s health columnist Carrie Miller at cmiller@timesreview.com.

This is Jennifer Gustavson's progress with quitting smoking. (Credit: Cessation Nation image)

This is Jennifer Gustavson’s progress with quitting smoking. (Credit: Cessation Nation image)