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Finding Your Way

Quitting Smoking — You Can Do It

Medicare and other health plans now cover counseling to help you quit smoking

If you've ever smoked cigarettes and tried to quit, you know it's not easy to kick the habit.

While quitting smoking is tough, did you know you have a much better chance of succeeding when you have help? Tobacco users who get counseling, combined with medication and other support, have a much better chance of quitting and staying tobacco-free.

More than ever before, support is available. Medicare and other health plans now cover counseling to help you quit smoking. Several resources are available to help you quit smoking, including helpful information from my agency, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The best time to quit is now. On Thursday, Nov. 18, the national Great American Smokeout takes place. The American Cancer Society encourages smokers to use this day to make a plan to quit — or better yet, to quit smoking that day.

Smoking is not only dangerous to your health, but also deadly. Almost one in every five deaths in the United States every year is from tobacco-related diseases. This equals an estimated 443,000 people, and thousands of nonsmokers die annually as a result of secondhand smoke. More people die from tobacco each year than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, HIV, homicide and illegal drugs combined.

Despite what most of us know about the dangers of smoking, an estimated 46 million Americans, or one in five of all adults over age 18, still smoke.

By quitting, you'll help your health and wallet. If you're a pack-a-day smoker, quitting could save you about $150 a month. That's $1,800 a year!

Steps you can take

When planning to quit, there are steps you can take to increase your chances of success:

Get ready. Set a quit date, and don't even take a puff after that date. Tell your family, friends and coworkers that you plan to quit, and ask them to support your decision. Help yourself by throwing away all cigarettes and ashtrays in your home, car and workplace. Clean your clothes and home. Do not let people smoke in your home.

Get medicine. Nicotine products — gum, patch or lozenges — can help you resist the urge to smoke. Ask your doctor about other medicines that can help, including nicotine nasal spray or inhaler or pills such as bupropion SR. Most health insurance plans cover these medicines.

Get help. Talk to your doctor, nurse or other health care worker. Smokers say a doctor's advice to quit is very important. About two-thirds of adult smokers are told by their doctors during a checkup to quit smoking. But you don't have to wait for your doctor to start the conversation — you can ask for help!

Some may think these steps don't work, but research shows that they really do help people quit. That's not all.

There are more sources of help and support than ever before.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the new health care legislation signed into law last March, people have better access to smoking cessation counseling. The law requires new health plans to offer this counseling and more wellness services without copays, coinsurance or deductibles.

Medicare also wants to help. If you are one of the 5.5 million smokers covered by Medicare, you can get more help than before. Even if you have not been diagnosed with an illness caused by tobacco, Medicare covers counseling sessions to help you quit. Starting on Jan. 1, 2011, you pay nothing for this new benefit.

There are many other helpful resources. Smokefree.gov is a terrific resource, offering you real-time text messaging with a National Cancer Institute smoking cessation counselor. Counselors also are available from Monday through Friday at 1-877-44U-QUIT toll-free (1-877-448-7848).

You can also connect to counselors and get information about quitting in your state by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). It's free, and counselors will help you set up a plan to quit. Remember, tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of disease and death. It's not only hazardous to your health but to the health of nonsmokers around you. If you slip and smoke, don't give up. Set a new quit date to get back on track. It doesn't matter how long you've been smoking or how old you are — it's never too late to quit.

There's no better time than today to stop.

I'm Dr. Carolyn Clancy, and that's my advice on how to navigate the health care system.

Carolyn M. Clancy, a general internist and researcher, is the director of the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

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