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Breaking the habit: Practical steps for a smoke-free future

Are you looking for more energy? More money in your pocket? How about a lower risk of heart disease and cancer? If you smoke cigarettes, stopping can do all this for you and more. It might not be easy, but it’s a valuable investment in your current — and future — health and well-being.

Dr. Lisa Felsman, family physician at Beacon Medical Group Bristol, is accepting new patients.

We spoke with family medicine physician Lisa Felsman, MD, Beacon Medical Group Bristol, about real-life, practical ways to kick the smoking habit. If you’ve been unsure about tackling this challenge, take heart and read on for her advice.


The most compelling reason to stop smoking is to extend your life. It’s one of the most important actions you can take to:

  • Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and death. This includes lowering the risk of stroke, heart attack, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), heart failure, peripheral arterial disease, atrial fibrillation, sudden cardiac death, blood clots and aneurysms.
  • Reduce the risk of 12 different types of cancer, including lung, bladder, esophagus, kidney, liver and stomach cancer.
  • Lower the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and respiratory infections like pneumonia.

Minutes, hours, days and months after smoking your last cigarette, you’ll notice changes like a drop in your heart rate, less coughing and less shortness of breath. You’ll feel better!

“Usually the first thing people tell me is that they notice an improvement in their stamina and overall energy. I also generally observe that they tend to be in my office less frequently for concerns about respiratory illnesses,” said Dr. Felsman. “The benefits of quitting are MANY ― some we can observe easily and others we can’t ― but they are happening.”

Medication options

It’s not easy for most people to stop smoking. Nicotine, a chemical found in tobacco, is highly addictive. But support is available, including 1-800-QUITNOW and There are also medications that can help you transition to a nicotine-free lifestyle.

Varenicline (previously known by the brand name Chantix® is a pill that reduces nicotine cravings. “The usual recommendation is to get the medication in your system for a week before a planned quit date,” said Dr. Felsman. “We now know that even if folks do not meet that planned quit date target, that there is value in continuing the medication while gradually cutting back on smoking.”

Dr. Felsman notes that some people experience nausea or vivid dreams or nightmares when taking varenicline. These individuals may be able to take a lower dose.

Buproprion (known under the brand names Wellbutrin and Zyban) is an antidepressant medication that has been proven helpful for people who are quitting smoking. It’s usually taken twice a day for seven to 12 weeks. As an antidepressant, it may not be appropriate for people already being treated for depression or anxiety. It should also be avoided by people with a history of seizures.

Nicotine replacement patches are applied to the skin and changed every 24 hours. The patches come in different strengths, so be sure to cut back on smoking when using patches or you might accidently increase your intake of nicotine. Nicotine replacement chewing gums and lozenges can help satisfy sudden cravings.

“What many people don’t know is that sometimes, there is a benefit with combining treatments. Sometimes it makes sense to combine a pill that helps with cravings AND a nicotine replacement, such as a lozenge, for the best outcomes,” said Dr. Felsman, adding that this might not be an option for everyone.

Managing cravings

There are other ways to manage the craving for a cigarette. You might find these suggestions from Dr. Felsman to be very useful in breaking the smoking habit.

“Think about your daily routine and what times or circumstances you are most likely to reach for a cigarette, and do things to shake up your routine,” she said. For example:

  • If you often smoke while driving, clean out your vehicle to start with a fresh slate. Or drive a different route than usual so that driving takes more of your attention.
  • If you smoke in a favorite chair in front of the TV, clean the furniture and rearrange the room. This serves as a cue to your brain that your routine has changed.

If you need something to do with your hands, look for a substitute for holding a cigarette.

“I have a friend who got a stash of straws from McDonald’s, and he would snip them down so that they were the same size as a cigarette. He could hold them or use them to pick at his teeth, and he found that to be an excellent tool for him,” Dr. Felsman said.

She suggests that oral substitutes like chewing sugar-free gum or munching a few sunflower seeds can be helpful for some people.

Other considerations

It’s always a good idea to discuss your overall health, and health risks, with your provider. For some patients, an annual CT scan of the lungs may be recommended  —even after they stop smoking — to screen for lung cancer. Your provider can tell you if you’re a candidate for that test.

Smoking cessation can actually have more of a positive effect on your health than most medications.

“Please don’t take this as a sign to stop treatments for your blood pressure or cholesterol, but know that you hold the power to make the MOST important intervention for your health!” Dr. Felsman shared.

Also, remember that most people don’t successfully quit on their first try. But that’s okay.

“The folks who try to quit, and relapse, and try again, and relapse again, and so on, statistically have a greater life expectancy than those who don’t try to quit,” Dr. Felsman said. “Your efforts matter!”

Here for you

No matter your need or age, our primary care doctors are here to treat your medical needs. If you’re looking for a new family doctor, Beacon Health System is here to serve you. Use our provider search tool to find a physician.