Communications: Patient Education

Patient Education: Your Family Physician - A Valuable Resource When Quitting Smoking

Tuesday, February 6, 2007  
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The addictive properties found in tobacco make giving up smoking a huge challenge – even for the most determined. But as any medical expert will tell you, kicking the nicotine habit, is the single most important thing you can do to protect your health. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 440,000 deaths in the United States are linked to cigarette smoking. That’s why Minnesota family physicians have taken an active role in tobacco cessation and are encouraging patients to make their doctors part of their ‘quit plan’.

"Patients who are the most successful don’t just stop on a whim,” said Tom Scheider, M.D., a family physician who practices at the HealthEast Woodbury Clinic. "Patients have a better chance of quitting for good if they prepare ahead of time by seeking out support from family members and their family physician.

Developing a plan with the help of a doctor can help a smoker better understand the importance of quitting in relation to their individual health situation, anticipate the challenges that may arise from nicotine withdrawal and learn about available nicotine replacement products and medicine to help a person resist the urge to light up. A study completed in 2000 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed that even a brief discussion during an office visit can be an influential motivator to quitting and improving cessation rates.

"Your doctor can help you decide if you should try a medication and which one is best for you,” said Dr. Scheider. "The products out there now can be very effective in helping a smoker quit, but not every product is right for everyone, especially if you’re pregnant or have other medical conditions.”

Products approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment of tobacco dependence include a non-nicotine pills such as bupropion SR and varenicline, as well as nicotine replacement therapies that come in the form of a gum, a patch, a nasal spray, an inhaler, and a lozenge. Inhalers and nasal sprays, as well as bupropion SR and varenicline, are available by prescription only, but nicotine gum, patches and lozenges can be purchased over-the-counter.

Other suggestions family doctors have for quitting include:


  • Set a quit date 2 to 4 weeks out from the day you decide to stop smoking.

  • Keep a journal of when and why you smoke to help you avoid the things that trigger you to light up.

  • Prepare your family and friends and ask for their support.

  • Get rid of all cigarettes, lighters and ashtrays.

  • Consult a stop-smoking program which is often available through a local health organization.

  • Avoid alcohol – it lowers your chances of success.

  • Once your stop date arrives, be prepared to quit completely. Don’t be lulled into thinking that one cigarette here and there won’t hurt. A single puff can cause a relapse.

  • Write down the specific reasons you want to quit.


There are enormous health benefits to quitting,” Dr. Scheider said. "Stopping smoking will lower a person’s chance of having a heart attack or stroke and reduce their risk of getting cancer.” According to the 2004 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, adults who smoke die an average of 13 to 14 years earlier than non-smokers.

The good news – researchers continue to study tobacco addiction and are investigating new ways to help smokers quit. On the horizon, is a vaccine that is supposed to cause the immune system to produce anti-bodies that bind to nicotine and prevent it from entering the brain. This blocks the effect of nicotine that can lead to addiction. While the NicVAX vaccine is still in the testing phase, results demonstrating its effectiveness are expected to be released later this year.

"It’s certainly not a reason to delay quitting now,” Dr. Scheider added. "But it is exciting to know such a vaccine may be a possibility in the future.”

The Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians is a professional association of approximately 3,000 family physicians, family medicine residents and medical students organized to assist family physicians in providing quality medical care in Minnesota. The MAFP is the largest medical specialty organization in Minnesota and is a state chapter of the American Academy of Family Physicians, one of the largest national medical organizations in the United States with more than 103,000 members.

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