For smokers, quitting can be one of the hardest decisions they’ll ever have to make.
Setting a quit date and then actually quitting—and sticking to that commitment—can be tremendously difficult. It’s estimated that only about 6% of smokers are able to quit in a given year.
And for those who don’t have a proper support system in place, it can be even harder.
Plenty of programs and methods are designed to make the process a bit easier, such as counseling and education, medication, nicotine patches or nicotine gum. Some people are even able to quit cold turkey.
But which method might be best for you?
To find answers, it may help to connect with specialists who can provide important information about nicotine addiction and how to overcome it.
Libby Stern, a licensed social worker, tobacco treatment specialist and certified health coach, is the clinical program specialist for the Tobacco and Nicotine Treatment program, or TNT, at Spectrum Health Lifestyle Medicine. She regularly leads groups through a three-step program that has helped dozens of people quit smoking for good.
“I’m a former smoker myself, so I understand how hard it can be to make the decision to quit,” Stern said.
The TNT program is comprehensive and it boasts a 24% quit rate, she said.
There are three distinct phases in the program: Let’s Talk Tobacco, Let’s Quit Tobacco and Let’s Stay Quit. You don’t move along to the next step until you’re ready.
The entire program is offered to patients, employees and community members at no charge. All programs are virtual, too, allowing for easy access and fewer barriers.
Each week focuses on new topics, all designed to help people grow their knowledge and fortify their decision to quit. Participants learn how tobacco affects health, for example, and how approved medications can be effective tools in the battle.
When participants are ready to attempt to quit, they can learn behavioral and cognitive strategies that help.
“The first part of the program is just meeting people where they are at,” Stern said. “They may not have a quit date in mind yet, so we work at each person’s individual pace.”
The program’s three phases:
Step 1: Let’s Talk Tobacco
Four one-hour virtual informational sessions are offered over four weeks. This is both a standalone course and a prerequisite to the next step, Let’s Quit Tobacco. A tobacco treatment specialist guides all sessions, with topics that include:
- Tobacco and nicotine addiction
- Pharmacotherapy for cessation
- The quit process and strategies
- Managing stress and healthy coping
Step 2: Let’s Quit Tobacco
This phase provides a group coaching cessation program, designed for individuals who want to try quitting in the next four to six weeks.
All candidates must complete Let’s Talk Tobacco as a prerequisite. Let’s Quit Tobacco includes a one-on-one virtual assessment with the coach, followed by five 1 1/2-hour virtual group coaching sessions that cover:
- Values and benefits of quitting
- Looking ahead and what to expect
- Quit planning—strategies, social support and coping skills
- High-risk situations and relapse prevention
- Celebration and ongoing maintenance
- Follow-up activities in Let’s Stay Quit support group
Step 3: Let’s Stay Quit
This one-hour virtual support group is offered twice a month to participants who have completed the first two phases of the Lifestyle Medicine cessation program or a similar cessation program. Group-led topics include lifestyle balance and relapse prevention.
“We help the person create a quit plan that is going to work for them,” Stern said. “Then we take a deep dive into their own tobacco use, what their triggers are, and the most challenging times they may have not smoking—and then create a plan around that.”
The program encourages the use of cessation products such as nicotine replacement patches, gum or lozenges, coupled with medications such as Chantix or Wellbutrin.
“It’s different for different people,” Stern said. “The approach we use is the one that sounds good to you and will most likely work.”
While many people will taper off to quit, some will pick a date and quit cold turkey.
The point is, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
“It’s just nice to have the support of a team and to be surrounded by others with a similar goal,” Stern said.
Many people who are successful with quitting stay engaged in the Let’s Stay Quit program, she said. They meet virtually to share struggles and wins.
“We really try to encourage people to not quit quitting and to stay engaged” she said.
If you are thinking about quitting, she recommends you check out the Let’s Talk Tobacco program.
“It’s a great place to learn more about the process of quitting,” Stern said. “It can feel more doable by learning more, without being pressured to set a quit date before you’re ready. And it can help you prepare to take the next step.”