By Sara Bondell - May 20, 2020
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smokers are more likely to develop severe disease with COVID-19, compared to nonsmokers.
COVID-19 primarily attacks the lungs, and since smoking impairs lung function it is harder for the body to fight off the disease. Tobacco is also a major risk factor for diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which put individuals at risk for developing more severe COVID-19 cases and even death.
If you’re a smoker, there is no better time to quit.
“Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do to improve your health,” said Dr. Damon Vidrine, vice chair of the Health Outcomes and Behavior Department at Moffitt Cancer Center. “It reduces your risk of developing many different health conditions and diseases including cancer.”
Here are some tips to get through the early phases of quitting:
- Remove cigarettes, lighters and ash trays from your home, car and other areas where you typically smoke
- Brush your teeth as soon as you wake up to reduce your urge for your first cigarette in the morning
- Stay away from places where you used to smoke
- Keep your hands busy so that you don’t feel empty without a cigarette (for example, using a stress ball or playing with cards)
- Avoid food and beverages that make you want to smoke (like coffee or alcohol)
- Start a new hobby or exercise program to combat boredom and give you something to do instead of smoking
- Avoid people or places where cigarettes are readily available - not necessarily forever, but at least until you feel more comfortable resisting temptations to smoke
- Ask your friends and family NOT to smoke around you
- Use an FDA approved pharmacotherapy (i.e., nicotine replacement therapy, varenicline or bupropion). Talk to your physician to find the best option.
Negative emotions and social pressure can often cause smokers to relapse after quitting. The added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and more time at home may be causing you to consider lighting up again.
“It’s critically important for you to learn to manage stress and other negative emotions in new and healthier ways so you can avoid smoking when you feel stressed,” said Vidrine.
Here are some helpful tips on how to cope in a healthy way:
- Slow down! When we are under stress, many of us tend to hurry everywhere—to walk, talk or drive faster. Try giving yourself a brief break, take off your shoes, take some deep breaths and relax.
- Identify and plan for stressful situations. You can handle stressful situations much better when you identify them in advance and plan your responses. You should plan how NOT to smoke. Rehearse your responses either mentally or with a friend to get prepared.
- Through using positive self-talk, you can help yourself feel less overwhelmed and stressed. Try saying things to yourself that help you feel empowered, such as, “I had to learn how to smoke and now I am learning how NOT to smoke. This is difficult and it will take time, but I can do it.”
- Get moving and exercise! As you probably already know, regular exercise has many benefits, one of which is reducing stress. It doesn’t matter so much what activity you choose, as long as you do something. Just be sure to get the okay from your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
- Make time for hobbies and friends. You should allow yourself time to do things that you really enjoy. If you are not sure what that is, then give yourself time to discover those activities. In addition, spending time with friends and those you care about can also serve as a great stress reliever.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. These are poor options for managing stress, especially when you are trying to quit smoking. Alcohol and drug use can actually generate more stress by impairing your judgment, memory, health and overall ability to handle stressful situations.
- Take care of yourself. A healthy body and mind will decrease the likelihood that you will experience stress. As much as you can, try to keep a consistent sleep schedule, eat nutritious foods, engage in activities that recharge and renew you and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
You can find more resources to quit at https://tobaccofreeflorida.com, https://smokefree.gov, and https://truthinitiative.org/what-we-do/quit-smoking-tools.