Dear Savvy Senior,
In the wake of the new cigarette tax hike, what tips can you recommend to help seniors quit smoking? —Hacking Hank
The single best step an older smoker can take to improve their overall health, add years to their life and keep money in their pocket is to quit – and it's never too late! Fortunately, there are more tools and treatments available today that can help. Here's what you should know.
Never Too Late
There are more than 45 million people in the U.S. who smoke cigarettes, about 13 million are age 50 or older, and 4.5 million are 65-plus. Research has shown that quitting, even after age 65, reduces risk for coronary heart disease, emphysema, lung cancer, osteoporosis, hearing loss, cataracts, impotence, poor circulation and Alzheimer's disease. It also helps you breathe easier, smell and taste food better, not to mention saves you quite a bit of money. A ($5) pack-a-day smoker, for example, saves about $150 after one month without cigarettes, and more than $1,800 after one year.
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 60 percent of older smokers indicate they would like to completely quit, but because of the nicotine, which is considered to be more addictive than cocaine or heroin, it's very difficult to do. Here are some tips experts recommend that can help older smokers kick the habit.
The first step you need to take is to set a "quit date," but give yourself a few weeks to get ready. During that time you may want to start by reducing the number or the strength of cigarettes you smoke to start weaning yourself. Also check out over-the-counter nicotine replacement products (patches, gum and lozenges) to help curb your cravings. And just prior to your quit day get rid of all cigarettes and ashtrays in your home, car, and place of work, and try to clean up and even spray air freshener. The smell of smoke can be a trigger.
Studies have shown that you have a much better chance of quitting if you have help. So start by telling your friends, family, and coworkers of your plan to quit. Others knowing can be a helpful reminder and motivator. Then get some counseling. Don't go it alone. Free one-on-one telephone counseling, as well as coping strategies and referrals to local smoking cessation programs are available through the national tobacco "quitline" at 800-QUIT-NOW. The National Cancer Institute also offers a free smoking quitline at 877-44U-QUIT. You also need to make an appointment with your doctor to talk about prescription medications, including bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix) that are extremely helpful at reducing nicotine cravings.
Make a Plan
It's also important to identify and write down the times and situations you're most likely to smoke and make a list of things you can do to replace it or distract yourself. Some helpful suggestions when the smoking urge arises are to call a friend or one of the free quitlines, keep your mouth occupied with some sugar-free gum, sunflower seeds, carrots, fruit or hard candy, go for a walk, read a magazine or take a hot bath. The intense urge to smoke lasts about three to five minutes, so do what you can to wait it out. It's also wise to avoid drinking alcohol and steer clear of other smokers while you're trying to quit. Both can trigger powerful urges to smoke.