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If you’re motivated to stop your cigarette habit, here’s how to start

It’s never too late to quit smoking. No matter how long you’ve smoked, or your age when you decide to quit, you will be doing yourself—and those around you—an enormous favor when you do. 

Smoking is the No. 1 preventable cause of premature death in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Cigarette smoking alone is directly responsible for approximately 30 percent of all cancer deaths annually among both men and women. And the health risks caused by smoking are not limited to smokers: Exposure to secondhand smoke significantly increases the risk of lung cancer among nonsmokers.

If you are a smoker reading this, chances are you already know about the deleterious effects of smoking. And, like most smokers, you probably know you should quit but have probably found the process to be dauntingly difficult. Well, the good news is that there are abundant resources at your disposal, from state-of-the-art smoking cessation aids to support groups. According to Vickie Thun, R.N., FNP, who runs Brown & Toland’s Asthma Management Program, there are a few key steps that can help every would-be nonsmoker kick the habit. “There’s a very effective program called the START method,” says Thun. “It works best for those who are motivated to quit smoking and who know the signals that trigger their urges—and also know how to avoid them.”

The START Method
S­—Set a quit date. Pick a date within two weeks of deciding to quit, and stick with it. “Choose a special day, if you can,” says Thun. “But be sure to avoid high-stress days.”
T—Tell people you are quitting. Get the word out to family, friends and co-workers, and see if you can get one of them to quit with you, for extra support.
A—Anticipate challenges. “Plan how you will cope with withdrawal symptoms,” says Thun. “Identify strategies that will help you manage cravings, such as taking a restorative walk or exercising. Cravings usually last five to 10 minutes, so if you can get through 10 minutes, you’ll get through it!”
R—Remove all tobacco products from your home, workplace and car. Clean clothing, drapes and anything that may smell of smoke.
T—Talk with your doctor. He or she can advise whether you are a candidate for over-the-counter nicotine-replacement products (such as nicotine gum, lozenges or patches) or prescription medications (such as Chantix, which blocks the brain’s nicotine receptors, or Bupropion SR, which can help ease withdrawal symptoms). He or she can also recommend counseling or a smoking cessation support group.

Choosing to quit smoking is one of the best decisions you can ever make. It may take a lot of willpower, but the benefits are immeasurable. “Set reasonable goals,” says Thun, “and take it one day at a time. Remember that your reward is a healthier you!”