Want to quit smoking? There’s help

James Davis
James Davis

Race to Quit, NC – a new campaign by more than 50 N.C. patient and provider groups, health care systems and Mecklenburg County health leaders – kicks off this week to help smokers and other tobacco users get the help they need to quit.

Our state’s health care leaders are taking action because while the national smoking rate has fallen, North Carolina isn’t doing so well. One in five N.C. adults is a smoker. We have the 12th highest concentration of smokers in the U.S. Smoking kills over 14,000 North Carolinians each year.

The sad reality is that over 50 percent of smokers – that’s 10 percent of our state’s adult population – will die from a smoking-related illness, including emphysema and lung cancer but also heart attacks, stroke and diabetes. If you are a smoker, it’s like flipping a coin.

I grew up in the N.C. mountains, and worked tobacco with my friends. I know how important it has been to our state’s economy. But as a physician, I have also worked with so many wonderful people who smoke, and I see their lives devastated by this addiction.

When I talk to smokers, the vast majority want to quit, but they don’t do so well when they try to quit on their own. In fact, when smokers try to quit without help, under 5 percent succeed in the long-term. Most smokers I see are frustrated because they keep trying to quit and failing. In fact, the average smoker has already tried to quit six times and failed.

Smokers have been kicked pretty hard by the N.C. legislature. The General Assembly has cut tobacco prevention funding from $17 million in 2011 to $1.2 million this year – 1 percent of what the CDC recommends.

While our legislators – terrific leaders in many ways – have made the wrong move to cut funding, there is still support available to North Carolinians who want to quit.

Most smokers know how to find nicotine patches at the drug store, but there is impressive research now on new treatments and combinations of medications that work better than patches alone. There are also compelling findings to show that medications should be combined with counseling in how to manage urges and stress – the big causes of relapse. Such support can double a smoker’s chances of quitting successfully, and most of it is covered by insurance plans.

One of the problems we all face as patients is that we come to our medical providers with three or four problems. When we arrive, we get 5-10 minutes to talk about them all, and the doctor gets 5-10 minutes to respond. Smoking often gets pushed to the back of the list.

If Race to Quit, NC has one message, it’s that if you want to beat the habit, the first step is to go to your primary care provider with one concern – that you want to quit smoking. The way to run this race is to not go through it alone.

Davis is the medical director of the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation.