As the global community continues to fight diligently against the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no secret that the start of 2020 has brought with it many difficult days. However, challenging times often lead to a lot of reflection. Although we’re several months into 2020, it’s not too late to revisit the goals we had set for ourselves at the start of the year or to identify and commit to new ones. In fact, as we slow down and take a break from our “normal” routines, we’re presented with the opportunity to think about the things we may have been meaning to get to for a while. Not only can we use this time to lay out how we plan to accomplish our goals, but we can even start taking action towards making them a reality.
If you’re one of the over one billion people worldwide who smoke tobacco, quitting may be on the top of your wish list (1;2). There are a variety of reasons that can motivate you to put down your cigarettes for good. Premature death and the increased risk of developing heart disease, cancer, stroke, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as the immense health benefits of stopping, are just a few (1;3-7). Now, COVID-19 may be another addition to the ever-growing list of reasons to quit.
You may be wondering why that is. Well, the World Health Organization has listed a couple of potential links between smoking and COVID-19, although more research is still needed (8;9). First, they suggest that the action of putting your fingers up to your lips/face while smoking could increase the risk of spreading COIVD-19 from your hands, or even the cigarette itself, to your mouth (8). Second, it seems that people who smoke may be at an increased risk of developing severe symptoms and complications from COVID-19—such as the need to be in an intensive care unit or on a ventilator. People who smoke could be more vulnerable to COVID-19 because smoking is already known to increase the risk of respiratory infections such as pneumonia and the flu. Additionally, these folks may also have underlying health conditions, due to smoking, that impact their lung or cardiovascular function (e.g., COPD or heart disease) (9).
Be it COVID-19 or some other motivation, quitting smoking is a positive step towards better health. Click the links below to learn more about different strategies that can help you on your path to becoming smoke-free!
1. Consider nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
This over-the-counter treatment comes in a variety of forms including patches, tablets, gums, lozenges, sprays, and inhalers. If you’re motivated to achieve long-term quitting, NRT can improve the chances of successfully doing so by 50%-60%, and is generally associated with just minor side effects (10). In terms of how different NRTs stack up, the fast-acting options (e.g., gums or lozenges) are just as likely as the long-acting ones (e.g., patches) to help people who smoke at least 15 cigarettes/day and want to quit, to stop smoking. On the other hand, combining fast and long-acting NRTs is even more beneficial than using just one form alone (11).
Tips for purchasing NRT:
- Support! Before starting NRT or if you have more specific questions about its use, seek guidance from a pharmacist or your health care provider. Financial support may also be available for NRT, with some provincial drug plans covering or reimbursing a certain amount of NRT. Some smoking cessation programs may also offer NRT for free.
- Online! Consider online shopping and delivery options to minimize trips to the pharmacy or store.
- In-person! If in-store purchasing is preferred or the only option available, check to see if your local pharmacy or store is offering specific shopping times for older adults and people living with disabilities. Sometimes these hours also come with a “senior’s discount”. Be sure to follow public health safety guidelines when out.
2. Lean on your peers for support
Don’t want to go it alone? You don’t have to! Group smoking cessation programs, which allow you to learn and gain strength from those on a similar journey, can increase your chances of quitting by 50%-130% compared to “self-help” (12). They can even be done on their own or coupled with NRT (13). What’s more, in times when in-person group supports are unavailable, you can turn to a wide variety of online group programs to get that at-home support.
3. Seek telephone support from a counsellor
In-depth telephone counselling, which involves receiving multiple calls from counsellors via a smoker’s helpline or health care provider within different settings, is another strategy that can be accessed at home. In fact, receiving in-depth telephone support after reaching out to a smokers’ helpline may increase your chances of quitting by 20%-60%, versus calling into a helpline and only receiving self-help materials and/or one-time counselling. Similarly, if you were/are receiving quitting services within a non-helpline setting, in-depth telephone support provided by a health care provider may increase your chances of success by 15%-35% (14).
Like the saying goes, when it comes to making healthy changes in our lives, “there is no time like the present”! If you’re motivated to quit smoking, there are an arsenal of strategies that you can use to help you get started and succeed.