The ‘most successful way’ to quit smoking, according to NJ expert
How many times have you tried to kick your addiction to nicotine?
Maybe you'll have more success this week, starting Nov. 17, knowing that countless smokers across New Jersey and the U.S. are trying to quit at the same time.
The Great American Smokeout, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, is encouraging smokers to put down the cigarette or vape for a day, and see if they can keep going.
"Sometimes the first 24 hours are the most difficult. If people can make it through the first week or so, they tend to do very well," said Michael Steinberg, medical director of the Rutgers Center for Tobacco Studies.
Close to 1 million New Jersey residents are said to smoke tobacco, and about half of all smokers die from related illnesses.
'Most successful way' to quit smoking
Withdrawal symptoms and cravings can last as long as six to eight weeks for longtime cigarette users, Steinberg noted. Symptoms can include irritability, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, and increased appetite.
But those symptoms don't have to be so severe.
"It just doesn't make sense to me anymore for someone to try to quit on their own with no help, when we have such effective treatment available in our communities," Steinberg said.
The success rate of a "cold turkey" attempt is around 3%, he said. One's chances can be about 10 times greater with a more complete approach.
"The most successful way that people can quit is to use a comprehensive approach that includes behavioral counseling, good support and follow-up, and one or more of the FDA-approved medications," Steinberg said.
Bupropion and varenicline are two types of medications approved by the FDA, along with nicotine replacement therapies such as gum, patches, and inhalers. Some are available on store shelves, and others require a prescription.
"We tend to tell people, you've been smoking for 20, 30, 40 years — if you use medication to help you quit that you stay on for three months or six months, it's really not that long of a period of time," Steinberg said.
And after that time period, users can ween themselves off those medications so they're not getting any nicotine in their system.
Check out this page for New Jersey resources related to quitting, including the location of 11 "quit centers" across the state.
The New Jersey Quitline can be reached at 1-866-NJ-STOPS.
NJ smoking rates
According to the New Jersey Department of Health, as of 2020, 10.8% of adults smoked cigarettes regularly.
The percentage is much lower for minors (around 4%), but advocates are concerned about youth's growing dependence on nicotine through the use of electronic devices.
And while the rates of smoking have declined statewide and nationally over the past several decades, the gains have been inconsistent.
"In a study published in JAMA Network Open, we found high smoking prevalence and lower quit ratios in rural versus urban areas," said Andrea Villanti, deputy director of the Rutgers Center for Tobacco Studies. "In addition to where people live, other research shows there are disparities in tobacco use based on social and demographic factors such as race and ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, disability status, socioeconomic status and/or behavioral health status."
A lot of work is needed to decrease tobacco use among patients with substance use disorder, depression and other mental health conditions, Steinberg added.
According to the Centers' research, while most psychiatrists ask patients if they smoke and advise quitting, a much smaller percentage assist patients with creating quit plans or arranging a follow-up visit.