How to Stop Smoking - Part Two
by Ray Fowler, MD
Copyright Jan 1, 1988

(Time in Space Home)

            In the first paper in this series I discussed the health hazards of smoking cigarettes, including heart disease, emphysema, and cancer while covering the actual chemicals that cause these diseases. This month I want to outline the first half of a stop smoking program that anyone can follow and which will significantly reduce the risk from smoking cigarettes.

            Let's face it. Like it or not, if you've been using cigarettes for more than a year or two and have a regular, daily or weekly habit of use, you're a smoker. I know this because I am a smoker. Only, I've stopped smoking now for nearly six years, and I feel GREAT!! I'll never start smoking again, though I do feel the urge occasionally even now. I don't have the WILL to start now, and exercise helps keep me clean.

            This is the first part of stopping smoking: The WILL. Willpower is a crucial part of changing any behavior. You must make up your mind that the risks of smoking are real, and you must make a commitment that the risks MEAN something to yourself and to others. If you cannot make that one simple step, odds are that you won't make a change. So, take that step right now. Say to yourself, "I am a smoker. I know it is bad for me. I can make a difference in my health and lengthen my life right now."

            The second part is to determine how much you smoke. You need to know how serious a habit you have. If you smoke a half pack of ultralights daily and most of those burn up in the ash tray, you're nearly there. If you're sucking down three packs of Pall Mall's every day, you've got a serious medical problem that will take a lot of work. Either way, you CAN do it.

            The third part is to decide what change you want to make. Less than 10% of heavy smokers stop smoking permanently. Your goal is to live longer and better, and limiting tar and nicotine intake is the way. Based upon my calculations, a pack a day of Marlboro's gives you about 20 milligrams of nicotine and about 160 milligrams of tar daily. This is only slightly better for Marlboro Lights, that favorite cigarette of high school honies trying to look sexy while they poison themselves. I suggest that you make the initial effort to cut this nicotine and tar burden by 90%, down to 2 milligrams of nicotine and 16 milligrams of tar daily.

            The fourth part is the period of time during which you make the change. I NEVER advise smokers to quit "cold turkey", that is, all at once. This may work for a few days but rarely works for long periods. I suggest making changes over four to eight weeks. This allows for an adjustment period for physical dependency and for time to get used to a new habit.

            The fifth part is to go see your private physician in the office IF you smoke more than a pack a day of cigarettes. You may well need the nicotine patch before you can go to the next step. However, there is no harm in skipping this part and trying the rest of the program first. Only, don't get discouraged and give up trying if the rest of the program doesn't work for you without the nicotine patch.

            The patch kills the craving for nicotine, and it does that part very well. What it does NOT do is to change you into a nonsmoker. You will probably always be a smoker, whether or not you smoke. A big mistake many people make with the patch is to use it for things it will not do. It won't stop the habitual behavior part of smoking, for example. The patch usually won't work UNLESS used as one part of a stop smoking program. Many of my smoking friends have unused patches sitting on their counter because they didn't have a program. Finally, use only the lowest strength of patch that you really need. Few people, in my opinion, need a 21 mg patch, for example. I usually start at 7 or 14 mg per day.

            The sixth part of stopping smoking is to change cigarettes. If you remember nothing else from this discussion, remember this: A CHANGE TO AN ULTRALIGHT CIGARETTE MAY SAVE YOUR LIFE!!! Every study that I have seen C L E A R L Y documents the dramatic decrease in risk from smoking an ultralight cigarette. A Marlboro Light is NOT a light cigarette. Neither are Vantage, Kent, Tareyton, Merits, or Capri's. You must make a change to an ultralight form of the cigarette you smoke. If you smoke Kents, change TODAY to Kent III's. If it is Vantage, go to Vantage Ultralights, and so on.

            The change of cigarette will be the second hardest part of my program. Refer to step one: You HAVE to decide to make a change, and I never said that it would be altogether easy. Take up to FOUR weeks to get used to this new cigarette. DO NOT LET YOURSELF SMOKE ANY MORE CIGARETTES PER DAY THAN YOU ARE CURRENTLY SMOKING!! The patch is useful to help control the number of cigarettes you smoke.

            The final part of my stop smoking program follows in the third paper in this series.