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When it's Good to be a Quitter

  • Faiza Elmasry

US anti-smoking campaigns give a nod to nicotine's addictive power

If you are a smoker who has tried and failed to stop smoking, you are not alone.

Like millions of American tobacco smokers, President Barack Obama is trying to kick the habit.

After his first routine medical checkup since taking office, the president's doctors reported that the commander in chief is in excellent health. Yet, they stressed the importance of Mr. Obama continuing his efforts to quit smoking.

Keep on quitting

Though kicking the habit is not an easy endeavor, there are a number of strategies available to help the president, and other smokers, quit.

"About 25 percent of American adults are smoking today," says Mary Ella Douglas of the American Lung Association. "And six out of 10 of them want to quit, but they can't quit on their first try. We find that that's really necessary and normal, because they are on their path to quitting for good."

Douglas is spokeswoman for the American Lung Association's latest stop-smoking campaign.

"The 'Quitter in You' is designed to change the way Americans look at quitting because we know that it takes multiple times to try and quit," she says. "So what we're trying to do is encourage people to try it again, to never quit quitting."

Fifty-one year old Paula Mathis has four children. She stopped smoking for each pregnancy but always went back to cigarettes. What helped her to finally quit, she says, is her love of singing every Sunday in her church.

"I think I tried to stop smoking at least six times," says Mathis. "When I went back to the choir and started singing, my range wasn't that good as it could be because of the cigarettes. That's when I found the desire to quit and make it the last time. The desire had to come from inside of me to stop."

Quitter in you

Mathis' story is one of many quitters' experiences available on the 'Quitter in You' campaign website. It gives smokers the inspiration and support they need to quit. Thirty-two year-old Alex Porter, who started smoking at 13, also shares his story on the website.

"The first three days are the toughest," says Porter. "The major key right then is not to be in any situations that cause you to be tempted to go back to smoking cigarettes. You really have to be smart about the people you're going to be around and the situations you're going to be in."

"I think an important part of the campaign is really to let people know that there are effective ways to help people quit smoking, now more than ever," says Anne Malarcher, who is with the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Malarcher says restricting smoking in public places and raising taxes on tobacco products has forced many smokers to quit. And for those who still need help, there are a variety of options - from medicine to support groups.

"The Food and Drug Administration has approved seven different medications that are effective in helping smokers quit," says Malarcher. "Some of them contain nicotine replacement therapy, such as the gum, the patch, the nasal spray inhaler and lozenge. Then there are two non-nicotine medications."

Malarcher suggests people talk to their health professionals for advice. "Also, counseling is available. What would be best suited for your needs? For example, some people prefer to meet with a group of smokers who are all trying to quit, other people like the convenience of talking to someone over telephone because many of the quit lines in the United States are available 24 hours [a day]."

While more than three million Americans quit smoking each year, hundreds of thousands of others start.

Youthful focus

"Each year about 400,000 new young people become regular smokers," says April Schweitzer, associate director for The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, a youth advocacy group that fights smoking among teenagers.

Schweitzer says the tobacco industry spends about $30 billion a year to market cigarettes to young people. For the past 15 years, her group has run the 'Kick Butts Campaign.' Along with teaching kids about the health risks of smoking, it highlights the tobacco industry's marketing strategies.

"When we talk to youth, we really take on a kind of anti-marketing [approach] and doing media literacy and [making them] aware of the types of deceptive advertising and the tactics that the tobacco industry uses in order to convince a youth to smoke," says Schweitzer. "Because the same way that teenagers like to rebel against their parents, they will also rebel against an industry, if they think that that industry is trying to take advantage of them or dupe them in some way."

Giving young people the facts about smoking, she says, proved to be an effective way to keep them from trying that first cigarette. One approach that some college networks use is called 'social norming,' which is to point out that most people are not smoking.

"Only 20 percent of high school students are smoking," says Schweitzer. "That means 80 percent aren't, and so it doesn't really make you cool or glamorous to smoke. In fact, most people are making good decisions and are choosing a healthy lifestyle."

Heath experts say smokers should never quit trying to quit. They say knowing the facts about the quitting process, especially how hard the first few weeks can be, can help many smokers finally kick the habit for good.