When it comes to quitting tobacco, trying counts

Hands breaking a cigarette in half

Quick Summary

For many people, trying and failing to quit tobacco is a necessary step on the path to ending a deadly addiction. And you don’t have to do it alone. There are many resources for people who want to quit and who want to push back against tobacco industry forces in their communities.

If you made a New Year’s resolution and you’re still sticking to it, congratulations. If you’ve been trying to quit tobacco — but haven’t succeeded yet — then congratulations to you, too.

The fact is, many people make several serious attempts to quit tobacco before they succeed—but they do eventually succeed. In this context, trying to quit and failing isn’t a failure at all. It’s a necessary step on the path to quitting a deadly addiction forever.

The Oregon Health Authority is again highlighting the importance of trying to quit tobacco. In TV ads and materials for medical clinics, we’re speaking directly to Oregonians who use tobacco and to their doctors, nurses, mental health counselors and other medical professionals. Our campaign encourages providers to make greater efforts to offer support and medication that can double a person’s chances of quitting tobacco for good.

You don’t have to be a medical provider to join this effort. We all have the power to help someone overcome tobacco addiction. Nearly all of us know a parent, sibling, other family member, friend, neighbor or co-worker who has tried to quit tobacco. What can each of us do to help them succeed? Let’s resolve to make sure that the people we love and all Oregonians get the support they need and deserve to live tobacco-free.

Our campaign also supports Oregon’s Coordinated Care Organizations, which must meet annual goals for lowering tobacco use rates in communities they serve. CCOs have a willing audience: Survey data show, year after year, that most people in Oregon who use tobacco—more than 3 out of 4—want to quit.

I don’t use tobacco, but I have friends and family members who have told me that quitting is the hardest thing they’ve ever done. In fact, half of all quit attempts fail in the first week.

Those failures, however, aren’t moral failures. People don’t fail because they lack willpower or the desire to change. Nicotine, which occurs naturally in tobacco, is a powerfully addictive drug. According to the CDC, research suggests that nicotine may be as addictive as heroin, cocaine or alcohol.

To make matters worse, the tobacco industry intentionally makes it difficult to quit, or for quitters to stay tobacco-free. After tobacco advertising was banned from TV and billboards, tobacco companies simply shifted their multi-billion-dollar marketing budgets into gas stations, groceries and convenience stores where most tobacco is sold. Each year in Oregon alone, the tobacco industry spends $115 million on marketing in our communities, mostly on store ads, displays, coupons and other promotions that are designed to trigger nicotine cravings among people trying to quit tobacco and to hook new smokers — kids and teenagers — on a deadly product.

Fortunately, there are resources to help people fight nicotine addiction and the industry forces in their communities that are lined up against them. Counseling and medication, including patches and other nicotine replacement therapies, are both effective for treating tobacco dependence. Using them together is more effective than using either one alone.

Unfortunately, most people who try to quit don’t use the treatments that research has shown can work. Our new campaign, encouraging health care providers to talk with their patients about quitting tobacco and make it easy for them to get help, is meant to change that. People need to hear from their doctors that they should quit tobacco and that they can quit. They need to know about resources that are available to help them succeed.

I still remember how it felt in elementary school to discover a pack of my father’s cigarettes and have him try to explain them away. I know he still smokes, though he hides it so well I’ve never seen him smoke a single cigarette. It’s been his way of protecting his children from an addiction he’s tried to quit.

Every so often, I try to talk with my dad about his smoking and encourage him to give quitting another try. It’s one of the most challenging conversations we have, because I know from my work how hard it is for most people who smoke to successfully break away. In fact, half of all quit attempts fail in the first week.

Let’s resolve to do more to help Oregonians who are battling to break free of an addiction that kills nearly 8,000 people in our state every year. They must do the hardest work of trying to quit tobacco. But we can all do more—as doctors and health care providers, family members, friends and co-workers—to make sure they have the understanding, support and medication that will help them quit for good.

If you or someone you love is ready to quit tobacco:

Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or go online to the free Oregon Tobacco Quit Line. This free program offers tips, information, and one-on-one telephone and text support counseling to anyone looking to quit tobacco or help someone quit. The Quit Line is available seven days a week, 24 hours a day to all Oregonians regardless of income or insurance status. Coaches are real people who are friendly and non-judgmental and can even help you figure out if you are eligible for free nicotine gum or the patch. Coaching is available in many languages. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit quitnow.net/oregon/.

Sarah Wylie, MPH, is an interim Manager of the Tobacco Retail License Program / Health Promotion Strategist, Oregon Health Authority, Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention


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