Editors' Note: Guest blogger Scout, Ph.D., is the Director of the Network for LGBT Health Equity at The Fenway Institute.
Bil, I hope I'm one of the very first people to wish you Happy Birthday! Because I am so excited for you today. It's a day I think you'll remember for the rest of your life. Because today you're giving yourself the most excellent gift ever: quitting smoking.
I run the Network for LGBT Health Equity at The Fenway Institute, and we're one of the six CDC-funded tobacco disparity networks. We focus on sharing news and best practices among all the different groups trying to do LGBT tobacco control work.
We don't offer cessation support directly, we more focus on urging states to offer LGBT tailored cessation support. But when Bil called and said he wanted to quit smoking I jumped at the offer to be an unofficial partner in his effort.
You see, LGBT people smoke at rates that are much higher than the general population - but there's this big curtain of stigma around both smoking and quitting. I know, because I used to be one of the people who'd rudely say "Just quit!" Well, I've come a long way since then, and I really hope having someone as visible as Bil have the courage to show what quitting is like will really pull back the curtain of stigma and sometimes shame around this issue. We too often blithely blame smokers, when we really need to support our smokers as they undertake one of the most intensive and soul-searching health journeys that exists.
Nowadays I think to myself, telling someone to "Just quit smoking" is like saying "Just lose those 50 pounds already". Unless you think you could lose 50 pounds easily... don't write off how simple it is to quit smoking.
Sure, most people can kick the nicotine addiction in a few weeks, but then you're left with the habit. Most adults started smoking in their teen years. That means for most smokers, the only conscious thing they've done in their life more than smoking is blinking. That's right, for their whole adult lives, the average smoker lights up more than they eat, more than they do any other thing. So now you may start to see, the physical addiction is the smallest part of this problem... it's the habit that's the real challenge.
Now add on the fact that smoking gives you a very fast jolt of relief and positive feelings, usually within 7 seconds of when you light up. Now, you take the one thing you've done more than anything else, add a lifetime of knowing you'll feel better as soon as you light up, and see how hard that habit is to dig out of your day.
Do not despair! As we can see, more and more people quit smoking every day. Like I told Bil on the phone yesterday, he will absolutely do this, I have no question. But perhaps now you can understand my next advice to him: give yourself the gift of quitting for your birthday, but don't stop smoking on your birthday. Why? Because this habit is deep, the more you prepare yourself and put all the best tools in place, the better your chance of making it. Quitting smoking is a journey, not an event.
So what are those pieces to put in place? Well, every person's different, part of the journey is finding your path. But I can lay out the tools that maximize the odds of a quit attempt succeeding. The formula actually isn't terribly complicated.
- Use Nicotine Replacement Therapy - and -
- Go see your doctor for advice, including prescription meds if they are indicated - and -
- Enlist your social support network to help you - and -
- Get into either personal or group therapy
Yup, there are some other things that people have found helpful. Often in the course of the therapy you will spend some time charting when you smoke to help you understand the pattern. Some people have used hypnotism successfully. E-Cigs are a bit less clear, there's no evidence they've helped and some concerns they perpetuate the habit.
I was happy to see Bil had already naturally done the first, and sometimes hardest step - publicly enlisting all of our support. I hope we really come through for him, holding him in the good times and bad as he shows us all how being healthy is powerful.
For most anyone in the country the first great step is to simply call 1-800-QUITNOW. This is a national quitline that will link with local counselors who can help you put all these pieces in place. American Lung Association offers a similar free quitline at 800-548-8252.
But Bil - we're working hard to make sure you get the best possible strategies laid out for you. So you've got a few other options too. The American Lung Association LGBT representative, Bill Blatt, has offered to waive the registration if you want to do their online Freedom From Smoking class.
But perhaps even better, you live in one of the few areas that still has LGBT cessation in person groups. David Mariner, the Executive Director of The DC Center, has said he'd be happy to hold a place in their next Out to Quit class for you, starting at the end of October.
So, let the journey begin today. We look forward to keeping this dialog open and providing Bil with lots of information and resources. I know all of us will support him but everything's better with friends.
So my real question is this: can any of you join him? Will any of you take that very first step with Bil on his birthday by calling 1-800-QUITNOW today? Tell us how it goes!
(Not smoking graphic via Bigstock)