Editor’s note: Initial studies have shown that if you smoke and get COVID-19, you’re 14 times more likely than nonsmokers to require intensive treatment. If you’ve considered stopping smoking, now is a good time.

By Ellen Anderson Dornelas, PhD
Director, Cancer Care Delivery and Disparities Research
Hartford Healthcare Cancer Institute

What do President Obama and Keith Richards have in common?  Both struggled to quit smoking cigarettes.

The legendary rocker said that quitting smoking was “harder than quitting heroin.” At age 76, he stopped smoking in preparation for his 2020 tour.  If you or a loved one has struggled with tobacco addiction, know that you are not alone!

Though most people diagnosed with cancer are highly motivated to stop using tobacco, quitting is only half the battle.  Maintaining abstinence is difficult.  Many people relapse to smoking. Relapse is often accompanied by feelings of depression, guilt, frustration and demoralization.

Never quit trying: Each quit attempt teaches a new skill and establishes that it is possible to give up tobacco.  Consider what you have learned from prior attempts and how you might incorporate that into your plan for quitting.

Analyze your triggers:  Before beginning another attempt to stop smoking, examine potential reasons for relapse. High stress levels, family problems, alcohol use and depression are all associated with risk for relapse.  If those problems are still occurring, consider available options to address them.

Support: People benefit from support to stop smoking.  Whether you seek out help from a professionally moderated online discussion board (see strategies below!), a community smoking cessation group, a telephone quitline counselor or your doctor, identify a trained health care professional or resource to support you.  If your family and friends are supportive, seek their encouragement as well!  Identify specific things that your family member could do or say (or not say) that will help you.

Reasons to Quit: Your reasons for quitting tobacco are personal. Just as Richards identified his 2020 tour as a motivator, you are likely motivated for your own reasons.  Identify and visualize the specific reasons that will help to sustain your motivation.  If possible, find a prominent place such as the refrigerator door, telephone screensaver or bedside table to keep a visual reminder that will help you to remember the reasons.

Make a Plan: There are a multitude of resources available to smokers..  These are a few you might consider.

Telephone Quitline: CT Qutline (1.800.784.8669) or 1-800-Quit-Now is a free telephone helpline staffed by trained Quit Coaches 24 hours/day, 7 days/week in English, Spanish and other languages.  Callers receive a personal quit plan and educational quit guides.

Online Support: CommitToQuitCt.com is an online resource available in English and Spanish with individual assistance from a trained Quit Coach accessible by phone or text message. This program help people to quit cigarettes, cigars, chew, dip, vaping or other tobacco products.

You will have access to a private professionally moderated discussion board with a community of other smokers also trying to quit.   Two weeks of nicotine replacement therapy is available at no cost. As a Connecticut resident, your enrollment is either covered by your health insurance when you enroll or covered by the state. You will never receive a bill or be asked to pay for services.

Quit-Smoking Apps: Download a free app such as MyQuit Coach or Cessation Nation to your iPhone or Android device.

Community smoking cessation groups: Information about in person smoking cessation groups can be found at the following sites.

Medication: Smoking-cessation support programs such as those described above combined with medication double the chance of quitting for good. The Food and Drug Administration has approved nicotine-replacement therapy delivered via nicotine gum, transdermal patch, inhaler, nasal spray or lozenge.

Although the gum, patch and lozenge are sold over the counter, the inhaler and nasal spray require a prescription from your doctor.  Bupropion SR (Zyban) and Varencline (Chantix) are also approved by the FDA and are medication in the form of pills that do not contain nicotine to help you to stop smoking.  A prescription is required for both types of medication.

No matter what strategy you try, the doctors and nurses at Hartford Healthcare Cancer Institute are here to support your efforts to quit tobacco for good!

Ellen Anderson Dornelas, PhD, is Director of Cancer Care Delivery and Disparities Research at the Hartford Healthcare Cancer Institute. For more information about the Cancer Institute, click here.