Health Alert: Quitting smoking

NATIONAL - According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 60 million Americans smoke. Seventy percent want to quit. New findings could help boost your chances of calling it quits.

When Victoria Marshall decided to kick a 40-year smoking habit, she found out what millions of others already know. It isn't easy. "I would stop for a month, three months, and then I'd say, 'I want a cigarette.'"

The nicotine in cigarettes causes a powerful physical addiction. It changes the way your brain functions. Dr. David Gonzales says, "Every smoker knows that if you have a drag off a cigarette, you get this experience and what that is, is dopamine release. And it just feels so good."

Smokers who want to quit have plenty of options - from nicotine replacement therapies to Zyban, an antidepressant.

Victoria tried them all and failed. Now she's using the newest kid on the block - Chantix. Dr. Albert Polito says, "The way it works is very novel. It's a whole new concept."

Chantix works in the brain to cut both the pleasure you get from smoking, as well as the withdrawal symptoms you get when you try to cut back. Dr. Polito says, "If that person really wants to quit, this can be a dramatic benefit and really improve their quit rate."

Smokers often set target dates to quit, usually within the first week or two of their effort, but a new study suggests they need to give it more time.

It may take up to eight weeks for some smokers to quit, even with the help of pills or patches. Dr. Gonzales says, "If we can just get people to use them longer and participate in behavioral therapy longer, even though they are struggling, their chances of quitting, based on our data, appear to be really good."

Nancy Beaver smoked for 45 years. She tried Chantix and stuck with it well past her quit date. Then finally, Beaver says, "All of the sudden I realized one day, I didn't want a cigarette."

Another tip for quitters is to find something to replace the ritual of smoking. Dr. Polito says, "You're so used to that movement and so used to that ritual that you have to figure out a lollipop or a pencil or something to hold onto."

Victoria knows Chantix is not a magic pill, and she's ready to do her part. "You have to have your mind made up either you're going to smoke or you're not going to smoke, regardless to what you're taking."

It's good advice that's proven to help some former smokers breathe easier.

All smoking cessation therapies have side effects. In fact, stories of Chantix 'nightmares' have been making the rounds lately. Be sure to discuss all angles of quitting with your doctor before starting any program.

Posted by Chantelle Janelle