Remember those hard-hitting anti-smoking commercials that aired on TV last spring? There was Terrie, a former smoker who developed oral and throat cancer, donning her wig and artificial voice box, and Brandon, who lost both legs below the knees and several fingers, putting on his prosthetic legs.
Now, a new report has tallied this graphic campaign’s successes: An estimated 100,000 Americans quit for good, and a whopping 1.6 million smokers were inspired to try.
This $54 million blitz by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention works out to spending $540 per successful quitter, an investment that’ll save every taxpayer a bundle. Right now, smoking costs the U.S. $96 billion a year in public and private health care costs and another $97 million in lost productivity on the job.
A $6 pack of cigarettes carries with it $35 in health costs. We estimate that every quitter ultimately saves taxpayers $2,000 a year in public health and disability expenses.
A new round of ads in the CDC’s Tips from Former Smokers campaign is set to air next spring. But don’t wait until then to kick your habit. Not when another new smoking report reveals just how fast the health benefits roll in. In a study that looked at the heart health of 13,372 current, former and nonsmokers, researchers from Dr. Oz’s New York-Presbyterian Hospital found a quitter’s odds for a heart attack or fatal heart disease drops to that of a nonsmoker within two years. Considering that smoking is behind one in three heart-disease deaths in North America, that’s powerful motivation for saying “no thanks,” even if you’ve tried unsuccessfully to kick this habit in the past.
The fact is, it takes an average of six quit attempts to get it done. And going cold turkey is only a winning strategy for 2 percent to 5 percent of smokers. Swapping your cigarettes for nicotine patches, sprays or gum only helps 5 percent to 10 percent. But adding group support rockets the success rate up to 25 percent to 50 percent. (You can boost your odds for success to 80 percent by adding daily coaching; Dr. Mike sees the power of that in his program at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Center.) Here are some other effective strategies:
1. Set a quit date a month from today: Nope, you’re not gonna swear off cigarettes or cigars for the first 30 days. Use this month to establish a healthy new behavior: Walking. Stroll for a half-hour every day, rain or shine, on lazy Saturdays and on your busiest workday. During this prep period, see your doctor and ask about prescriptions for the nicotine patch and for the anti-crave drug bupropion. Get them both filled. And find a support person you can report to daily about your progress – now with walking, and later with quitting, too.
2. Prepare for the big day: Two days before your quit date, start taking the bupropion as directed. Keep on walking and checking in with your support person.
3. On your quit date: Toss all tobacco products and accessories (lighters, ashtrays) and attach your nicotine patch as directed by your doctor. Keep walking and taking your anti-crave drug (ask your doctor about the best dose); keep talking to your support person. Days three, four and five will be your toughest, but clear skies are ahead. Make it to day seven, and you’re well on your way to staying nicotine-free for good. You’ll be able to reduce your nicotine patch dose after two months, and be finished with patches and pills after six.
4. Keep walking: The average former smoker gains 10 to 13 pounds in his or her first smoke-free year, most of it in the first three months. But this won’t be you if you keep putting one foot in front of the other. Plenty of people in Dr. Mike’s program lose a few pounds while shaking off tobacco. Now that’s a good deal!
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.