As a person who attempted quitting smoking at least two dozen times before I found the quit I could live with, I completely understand that timing really matters when it comes to big changes. The task is even more complicated because those things we’re trying to quit have been serving as “coping devices” for us. Those activities can trigger the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, in our brains. That dopamine response can lead us to believe that smoking reduces stress. So why would I want to try to quit smoking now? Not now!
NOTE: The rest of this article speaks about smoking specifically, but the suggestions made can certainly be applied to other recovery journeys, so please don’t stop reading if you’re a non-smoker.
I understand. I really do! My complicated relationship with tobacco/nicotine was way more challenging to break than the relationship with cocaine. So, I’m not trying to convince anyone to quit anything. That’s obviously a decision that only you can make. However, I think there are a few factors that may be worth considering as you contemplate the timing of one of those important changes in your life.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease. I’m not a doctor and there is still much we don’t fully understand about this potentially lethal virus. But outcomes are clearly worse for folks who are already respiratory compromised, and most of us only get one pair of lungs. Quitting smoking may truly seem “impossible” right now. I really do understand that feeling. But please read on for a way you really improve your health even without quitting.
Harm Reduction is Also Risk Reduction
Recognizing and understanding that you don’t wish to attempt to quit smoking right now, let’s look at a few low-stress ways to reduce the harm to your lungs. Reducing harm will not only be more attainable a goal, but especially right now, it can reduce harm and risk!
For example, let’s assume you’re using a half pack of cigarettes per day, OK? I’m not a mathematician, but it’s easy math for me to see that smoking nine cigarettes a day is better than smoking ten. I’m not a respiratory therapist, but that sounds like about a 10% reduction in the soot in your lungs. You might even save a little loot over time, too! You may have some questions, including the ones below.
- How do I change from ten cigarettes to nine?
- Will a 10% reduction really matter?
- My provider always talks about quitting completely. Will they go along with this idea?
- But even a small change seems really hard all alone. Can somebody help me?
Great questions! If you came up with any others, please leave a comment below or send me a message through the contact form. If you receive texts from me, you can call or text me, too! Here are the answers:
How to reduce: Try substituting some “clean nicotine” for one or more cigarettes each day. I’m not a pharmacist or chemist, but nicotine that doesn’t require you to suck soot into your lungs has to be better, right? So think about the various types of “clean nicotine” available. You can take a quiz and read about cessation medications right here: Fact or Fiction. Since you’ll be swapping just a few cigarettes per day for a safer source of nicotine, nicotine lozenges, gum, and inhaler may be most appropriate. When in doubt, talk with your doc!
Remember that the “dragon has five heads,” so along with the chemical response (clean nicotine) when you pop a nicotine lozenge into your mouth, try to also engage in a new behavior for at least a few minutes. Close the laptop (behavioral) and go sit by a window (social) in another room or engage a co-worker in a conversation. Take several slow, deep, intentional breaths and recite a familiar prayer or affirmation sooth any uncomfortable feeling (emotional). That’s going to become a pretty rewarding substitute for a few minutes of soot-sucking!
Will 10% matter? A small step is a big deal. If you’ve been to a QuittersWin group you’ve probably heard me say “if the stock market moved just 10%, people would notice!” We’ve all heard and accepted the idea that “more is better,” and I guess when it comes to money, good friends, and fresh air, more is good. Conversely, I don’t think there’s really any doubt that smoking less has to be a move in the right direction. Less soot is less soot, right? And the other perhaps surprising benefit is that once folks get good at skipping “just one” cigarette per day, they often notice a boost in confidence. Imagine getting good at swapping one cig for some clean nicotine and a brisk 5 minute walk per day. If someone proposed swapping two, the idea may not seem as far-fetched as it does today. Again, we’ve all heard the quotes that suggest this is true. “Inch by inch, it’s a cinch” comes immediately to mind.
Will my provider agree? Well, there’s really only one way to know for sure – talk with your provider, but nowadays most of them understand that every step toward complete abstinence is important. In the past, some of the directions for using nicotine replacement therapy (“clean nicotine”) prohibited use of gum and lozenges while you were still smoking. But even the drug companies (and even their lawyers!) have lightened up in order to help us not light up!
Can someone help me? Oh, I was hoping you’d ask! That’s what QuittersWin is all about! Click below (based upon where you see your medical provider) to find how to connect with the flexible support you need! We’ve got phone, text, weekly groups, and web-based supports for brave folks on their journey to recovery! Competent advice and compassionate support (without stigma or shame!) Just click below to join the quitters who are winning, friend!
You deserve to be free! We’re here to help with big or small changes on your terms and at your pace.
QuittersWin services are provided without cost and regardless of insurance status.