COVID UpdatesBy: Dr. Harry Lando, Professor, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota
Chris Bostic, Deputy Director for Policy, Action on Smoking & Health

 

We are living through extraordinary times, and most of us are being forced to reorder our lives without notice. For many, coronavirus means staying at home for an extended time. It is perhaps more important than ever for each of us to take care of ourselves and our loved ones, not just by avoiding the virus but looking after our general physical and mental health. Time at home also gives us a chance to change something for the better, whether it’s starting an exercise routine, eating healthier, or reconnecting (virtually) with old friends.

One of the most important and timely changes is to quit smoking. It’s becoming increasingly clear from data around the world that the risk of serious complications from Covid-19 (the disease caused by the coronavirus) is much higher for smokers. Smokers who catch the virus are substantially more likely to suffer serious illness and to need hospitalization than is the general public. So please, if you smoke, take extra precautions to avoid exposure, especially if you have other risk factors, such as diabetes or a history of cardiovascular disease.

We don’t know if quitting smoking now will lower the risk of coronavirus to smokers, but certainly there are myriad good reasons to quit. You can avoid exposing loved ones to secondhand smoke (which may increase their coronavirus risk). Going to the store to buy tobacco is risky; pharmacies will deliver nicotine-replacement products like gum or patches. It also gives you an opportunity to take back some control in a situation that has curtailed choices in the short term.

Quitting smoking can be stressful, and attempting it in a time of greater stress may seem daunting. However, now that there are likely to be fewer distractions, this can be an optimal time to quit.  Below are a few tips to strengthen the odds of success, minimize discomfort, and even produce side benefits.

  • Don’t go it alone. Mobilize your personal network, literally for those in your household and virtually for others. There are many support groups on the Internet, such as https://www.reddit.com/r/stopsmoking/. Let people know what you are doing so they can cheer you on.
  • Access available help. Over-the-counter nicotine replacement (lozenges, gum, patches) is available and not expensive when you consider the cost of cigarettes. Nicotine replacement can be very helpful in managing and reducing cravings. A combination of nicotine patch (to provide a steady level of nicotine) and either nicotine gum or lozenges as needed to get over the bumps can be especially effective. If you want more help, call your doctor and see if you can get a prescription. You also can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669), which can connect you with other (usually free) resources.
  • Exercise more. Exercise releases endorphins in your brain, reducing stress and improving your mood. Your body will thank you for it and exercise is especially beneficial during this challenging time. You don’t need equipment; there are plenty of exercise videos online that you can do in your living room. Here are links to short exercise videos from the New York Times: here and here.
  • Try meditation. There are many online resources for self-guided meditation. If that’s not your thing, just try closing your eyes and breathing deeply for a few minutes. The science behind the positive impacts on mental health is solid.
  • Employ multiple techniques. The above is a recipe, not a menu. The more you do, the easier it will be. If you experience an intense craving you could pop a nicotine lozenge or nicotine gum, take a short exercise break, remind yourself of how important it is to you to quit, congratulate yourself on how well you are doing or any or all of these.
  • Although there is no magic bullet, these are proven methods which will make it easier and will increase the likelihood of success.
  • Believe in yourself. You can do this. Even if you’ve tried before, this is your time. Give yourself a pat on the back—you are doing something tremendously important both for yourself and your loved ones.  Consider celebrating milestones.  When you make it one hour, one day, one week, one month.

Remember, the longest journey starts with a single step. Every time you think about smoking but don’t, every day you go without, is a victory.

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