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New Ulm Medical Center

Quit Smoking to Help Your Heart, Your Health, Your Wallet

Did you know that if you currently smoke, you are nearly three times more likely to have a heart attack compared to people who have never smoked?

That’s because smoking or being exposed to cigarette smoke thickens and stiffens your arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from your heart to the rest of your body. The hardening of your arteries, called arteriosclerosis, raises your cholesterol levels and blood pressure and increases your chance for a heart attack or stroke.

If you are a smoker, quitting is considered to be the single best thing you can do to improve your health. After just one year of being tobacco-free, your risk for a heart attack will be cut in half. And with Minnesota’s current $2.83 tax on a pack of cigarettes, many people’s wallets will likely be in healthier shape after quitting, too.

But how do you start? There are actually many different methods people use to quit smoking, but those who are successful share some common patterns of action.

Figure out your triggers — Triggers are the events that are associated with smoking (e.g., in your car, after a meal, work breaks).

  • Take two days and write down when, where and how you feel each time you smoke. You’ll need a plan to distract yourself from your most common triggers when you quit. For example, instead of smoking, try going for a walk on your work break or listening to music in the car.

Set a quit date — Commit to a date of no more smoking — not even one. Be firm, but smart about it.

  • Give yourself enough time to prepare (usually three days to three weeks). This is a big day, so avoid choosing a date that will already be stressful (e.g., moving day, a holiday).
  • Write the date down. Tell others who will be supportive.
  • Before your quit date, get rid of things around you that make you think of smoking — ashtrays, lighters, cigarette butts in your car, etc.
  • Switch your routine so you can avoid situations where you are tempted to use tobacco. Try chewing gum after a meal or drinking tea instead of coffee.

Use a quit aid — A quit aid is a product that eases the physical symptoms of withdrawal from nicotine (often called nicotine replacement therapy or NRT). Withdrawal symptoms are annoying, but not life threatening. Withdrawal symptoms are the most common reason why people return to smoking after trying to quit.

Using NRT doubles the chances of a successful quit attempt. NRT products include a gum, patch, lozenge, nasal spray and pills. Some require a prescription.

  • Talk to your primary care provider or local pharmacist about what NRT options might work best for you before your quit date. This is important because some pills, for example, require starting a week before you quit.