Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quitting Smoking: Why Willpower Isn't Enough

In rain or snow, they are castigated to standing outdoors in designated smoking areas. Still, they are resilient. They puff and puff, in the face of their chronic cough. Ineligible for many jobs, and confronted with patronizing lectures every doctor visit, they smoke on, in spite of each mounting societal pressure to quit.
Smokers these days have every reason to stop. In fact, two-thirds of smokers want to quit, and more than half have tried before. So, why do smokers subject themselves to preventable forms of cancer and heart disease, and perpetuate such a terrible practice?
There’s a simple explanation for the smoker’s paradox: most smokers today light up because are addicts.
“Smoking is more than a habit. It is a true addiction and we need to acknowledge it as such,” said Veda Peters from the British Columbia Lung Association.
Public health campaigns labeling smoking as a choice or habit can be credited drastically cut cigarette use. In 1965, 42 percent of Americans smoked. In 2010, the CDC reported that more than half that number (about 20 percent) still smoked, after decades of insurmountable evidence that smoking kills.

Those who can quit easily have done so already, making federal and social policies to curb smoking (like higher taxes and further restrictions) less effective now. Research demonstrates that smokers are more likely to get treatment and stay tobacco-free once they view smoking as an addiction rather than a matter of willpower.

Doctors at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis found that smokers who underwent a yearlong cessation intervention that incorporated the probability of relapse were 75 percent more likely to stop smoking than those undergoing a traditional eight-week intervention.
"Cigarette addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder, and a chronic disease management approach should also become the standard of care for its treatment," wrote the authors of the study.
A policy shift is necessary to incite any meaningful change in tobacco consumption. Very few Americans are still unaware that smoking is bad for their health. Perhaps the federal government should consider diverting money from anti-smoking campaigns focusing on higher taxes and splashy advertisement to fund more timely initiatives, like medication and counseling.
Most smokers choose to smoke no more than an alcoholic chooses to drink, or an addict chooses to depend on heroin. Alcoholics and drug addicts are never truly recovered, but stay clean and sober by working on their recovery for the rest of their lives through 12-step meetings, meditation, and/or counseling. Why not for the recovering smoker?
Fortunately, there is still hope for the two-thirds of smokers who want to quit:
·         With the help of a doctor, look into smoking cessation medications (e.g. Chantix, Zyban, etc.) and nicotine replacement products (gum, patches, and inhalers).
·         Attend 12-step meetings, like Nicotine Anonymous.
·         Deconstruct the psychological addiction through cognitive therapy.
·         Explore smoking cessation options with insurance providers and employers. Many workplaces will even financially reward healthy employees.
·         Set a quit date, tell friends and family about plans to quit, and remove all tobacco products from the home, car, and work.
As prohibition and the failed war on drugs in the United States can attest, people will find a way to abuse substances regardless of how expensive or illegal the government tries to make them. People never choose to become addicts, and will continue to smoke themselves to death until less antiquated cessation methods become commonplace.

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