Health: Kicking It

Posted: Friday, June 13, 2003

HOUSTON (AP) You're a smoker. You know they're closing in on you, with ever more restrictive laws and regulations, and there are fewer public places where you can light up. Those nannies!

The aggravation is just about enough to make you quit.

If only you could.

''Giving up smoking is not just a matter of willpower. Nicotine is highly addictive,'' said Dr. Paul M. Cinciripini, director of tobacco research and treatment at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. ''Many ex-smokers have tried several times before they quit for good. Learn from your past attempts and don't give up.''

Look at the new restrictions as an opportunity to try again. ''Smoking bans are certainly a good thing, because they help reduce secondary tobacco smoke exposure for nonsmokers and may be a motivator to quit, given the inconvenience and social isolation the bans create,'' Cinciripini said.

Smoking less in public because of the bans won't reduce your dependence on nicotine, he said. Sometimes the opposite happens. ''As smokers start savoring those few cigarettes they can squeeze in, the reinforcement value of each cigarette may rise, making it even harder for them to quit.''

However, the way some smokers are adjusting to the new restrictions resembles a method of quitting called ''scheduled-reduced smoking,'' he said. This plan, which means the smoker lights up at specific times, seems to be more successful than just trying to quit cold turkey or gradually cut down.

The smoker using this method takes his smoke break at say, two-hour scheduled intervals, instead of on impulse. This helps him to learn to control the urge to smoke and to become more aware of how many cigarettes per day he'd actually been smoking. The smoker finds that the craving can be delayed or denied. Gradually, the intervals are increased as the number of cigarettes per day decreases, and eventually the smoker can resist the urge to light up.

''This may help people break the associations that normally are acquired in cigarette smoking between certain environmental cues and the desire to smoke,'' he explained. Cinciripini has been testing this method with and without additional aids such as the nicotine patch and personal hand-held computer devices.

If you're really trying to quit (and you should, if you'd like to cut your lung cancer risk by the 50 percent estimated by the American Lung Association), these tips from Cinciripini can help:

- Set a quit date, then tell family, friends, and co-workers.

- Get rid of cigarettes or smokeless tobacco and ashtrays at home, at work, and in your car.

- Monitor your mood. If you start feeling badly, find a supportive friend to talk to. A successful ex-smoker who's been there can be especially helpful.

- Get involved in a smoking cessation program.

- Walk, jog, or ride your bike.

- Do things you enjoy.

- Learn relaxation techniques, and practice them.

- If you slip up, write it down and describe the situation that prompted it. That will help you avoid another slip.

On the Web: M.D. Anderson -

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