It’s never too late to quit smoking. Quitting smoking now improves your health and reduces your risk of heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and other smoking-related illnesses. There are many resources available to help you quit smoking, including quitlines, educational materials, and support groups. You can also talk to your doctor about other strategies for quitting that may be right for you.
For support in quitting, including free quit coaching, a free quit plan, free educational materials, and referrals to local resources, call:
Many tips are offered in this guide—choose what works best for you. You can quit for good, even if you’ve tried before. In fact, most smokers try to quit many times before they succeed.
Annette experimented with cigarettes as a teenager, smoking occasionally. But by the time she turned 20, Annette was a regular smoker.
Annette lives in New York and is the mother of three. She also has three grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. “I love visits with my family,” says Annette. She has a special bond with her 10-year-old granddaughter, who repeatedly urged Annette to quit smoking.
“My granddaughter would say to me, ‘Grandma, don’t smoke; please don’t smoke.’”
When she was 50, Annette finally heeded her granddaughter’s advice and quit cold turkey after having smoked for more than 30 years. But by then she already had cancer. At 52, Annette went to the doctor because she was having difficulty breathing. “It took multiple doctor visits, all kinds of X-rays, and then a PET/CT scan to uncover lung cancer.”
The cancer was so advanced that it was necessary to remove one of her lungs.
The operation was successful in removing the cancer. Diligent with her follow-up care, doctors found that Annette had oral cancer a few years later. The cancer had gotten into her jawbone, and surgery was required once again.
Today, at age 57, Annette is cancer-free — and thankful. Her staunch faith helps her deal with the challenges that have resulted from her experience. She loves to crochet, cook, and spend time with her loved ones. She also lends support to smoking cessation groups. “I talk to the smokers and let them know that this can happen to you.”
Through the Tips From Former Smokers® campaign, Annette wants to help others and further spread the message that smoking is dangerous and can even be lethal.
Brett lives in New Mexico and desperately wishes he had a better story about why he lost most of his teeth by age 42. The truth is that smoking cigarettes played a large part in ruining Brett’s natural smile. His mother was dentist, so he had good dental care as a child and saw a dentist regularly as an adult. However, Brett smoked about a pack a day, starting in high school.
By his mid-30s, Brett had gum disease—a danger for all smokers.
Because of his gum disease, the tissues and bones holding Brett’s teeth in place were breaking down. During each visit, his dentist asked, “Are you still smoking?”
Around age 40, Brett started losing teeth. Two years later, he learned that 16 more teeth needed to come out, including all of his front teeth—both top and bottom. After surgery, while his mouth and gums were still healing, Brett continued to smoke. “There I would be, standing outside having a cigarette. I was still completely addicted and in denial, even after I lost a bunch of teeth,” he said.
It took awhile to learn how to talk correctly with partial dentures—and talking was Brett’s business as a radio personality. “It’s almost like having a really big wad of gum in your mouth, except it’s hard. And it’s plastic. And it’s not supposed to be there.”
Brett has now been smokefree for 4 years. After trying to quit smoking several times, he finally did it with the help of nicotine patches. He now knows that he can’t smoke even one puff, or else he could relapse. “Life is so much better without smoking,” Brett says. “You’re not constantly thinking about your next cigarette.”
Brett started smoking at age 16 to impress a girl who worked as a waitress at a late-night diner. He continued to smoke for about 30 years. “I still remember smoking, but not the name of that waitress!” he said.
Since his surgery, it’s been hard for Brett to accept the way he looks, with only 12 real teeth left. Brett puts his false teeth in first thing in the morning—and he takes them out in the dark, just before going to bed. He doesn’t want his wife to see the empty spaces in his mouth where he used to have teeth.
Brett hopes that sharing his story will convince smokers to quit as soon as possible. “My wake-up call was losing most of my teeth,” he says.
18-year-old Jamason has asthma. He never really understood the dangers of secondhand smoke until it triggered an asthma attack that he said almost killed him. “I couldn’t get air into my lungs. I was so scared. I couldn’t breathe!” he says. Jamason has never smoked cigarettes. Even when friends tried to talk him into it, he would reply, “It’s just not cool to smoke.”
As an infant, Jamason was diagnosed with asthma that seemed manageable until his teens. His mother Sherri, who is a nurse, started noticing that when he hung out with friends who smoked, Jamason would wheeze and have trouble breathing.
His worst attack occurred when he was 16 years old. It was at a fast food restaurant where he worked. He was sweeping close to some coworkers who were smoking. “My chest got really tight,” says Jamason.
“I was just trying to breathe, trying to get air in my lungs. I couldn’t bear it.”
Jamason called his mother, frantic for help. She found him struggling to breathe. Sherri remembers that day all too well. “When I arrived, he was gasping and he told me he couldn’t get air. I was very scared,” she says. “I just did whatever I could to save my child, because I know asthma attacks can be deadly.” She drove Jamason to the hospital, where he stayed for 4 days. “When secondhand smoke triggers your asthma, you don’t know how severe the asthma attack is going to be,” says Sherri.
Throughout his days at the hospital, Jamason had breathing treatments every 2 to 4 hours. When he was breathing comfortably again, he felt relieved but was afraid to leave the hospital. “I wanted to go home,” he says, “but, then again, I didn’t, because I knew there was no smoking inside the hospital. But outside, in the real world, people smoke. I was afraid. I didn’t want to have to go through that again.”
Jamason worries that at any time and anywhere, someone’s cigarette smoke could trigger another asthma attack. It’s a constant fear.
Today, Jamason feels comfortable asking people not to smoke around him, and he shares with them the dangers of secondhand smoke. “Secondhand smoke can trigger severe asthma attacks in people of all ages,” he says. For Jamason, it’s a matter of life and death. He explains that he parted ways with one friend who wouldn’t stop smoking around him. “I told him we just couldn’t be friends anymore.”
After high school, Jamason plans to go to college. He was excited to hear that there are smoke-free campuses. “Oh, wow; I didn’t know that. I could go to college without worrying about having an asthma attack from breathing other people’s smoke. That’s very appealing!”
James’ father was well liked and influential in the community. He also was a smoker. So James’ attempts to be more like his father naturally included smoking cigarettes, starting at age 14. But 30 years later, the damage from smoking started causing him health problems, and eventually he decided to quit.
Now 48, James has been smoke-free for 2 years. He says quitting was hard—patches and sugar-free gum helped him—but his health continues to be a big motivator..
Since he quit smoking, James has been able to make other important changes to improve his health. He became an avid cyclist, and began riding several miles to see his doctor at the VA hospital, “…a real accomplishment for me.” Now that he sees a doctor closer to his home, he still makes a point to ride 9 or 10 miles every day for exercise. He also enjoys swimming and does some sort of cardio exercise every morning.
James wanted to participate in the Tips From Former Smokers® campaign to send a message to people who think smoking isn’t going to hurt them just because they haven’t experienced a smoking-related health problem yet. He says if you smoke, you should quit.
“I want to help people like me quit smoking—people in their forties. Maybe nothing really bad has happened to them yet,” says James. “Maybe you’re lucky, but you’re probably not going to stay lucky.”
Julia tried her first cigarette out of curiosity when she was in her early twenties. She had left her large family in Mississippi for the adventure and opportunities of living in New York. Within a year of that first puff, Julia was addicted and smoking a pack a day. Getting sick never entered her mind. She continued to smoke for many years, and at age 49, Julia was diagnosed with colon cancer, which is a danger for all smokers.
Julia’s first symptoms were cramps, gas, diarrhea, and vomiting, which she tried to manage on her own for a while. One day her pain and bloating got much, much worse. She was back living in Mississippi—raising her young son near her family: her mother, three sisters, and three brothers. Her sister took her to the doctor for a colonoscopy, a simple exam of the colon that uses a narrow tube and a tiny camera. That exam helped saved her life.
“I will never forget that day. I was so sick. They found the tumor in my colon and rushed me to the hospital,” said Julia. The tumor completely blocked her intestines, which can be life threatening. Julia had surgery right away, followed by months of chemotherapy to treat the cancer. She also needed an ostomy bag, which was taped to a hole in her abdomen to collect waste.
“When my son came to the hospital and saw me laying there with the tubes and stuff, he just broke down. He was just 9 years old then. But he just broke down,” said Julia.
Over the years, Julia had tried to quit smoking. She stopped while she was pregnant and made every effort not to smoke around her son. Family members kept urging her to quit. “My niece said, ‘Think about your child. What means more to you, him or the cigarettes?’ I knew they weren’t good for me, but I was addicted.”
Julia’s family members kept after her to quit smoking, and they supported her in the first hard days as she adjusted to life without cigarettes. “My colostomy was an important part of my healing process. It allowed me to heal and prevented me from getting an infection or worse. I would do it again, because it saved my life.”
Today, Julia says her life is so much better without cigarettes—her energy, her breathing, and her strong voice in the church choir. “My singing voice is better than it ever has been.”
Julia hopes that people who hear her story about smoking and colon cancer will quit as soon as possible. “If I can just help one person to realize that it’s not worth your time. It’s not worth your health,” said Julia. “Think about your family and just think about your life!”
Marie began smoking in high school with her friends. They would congregate regularly to smoke the cigarettes they took from family members. “It was the thing to do,” says Marie. “We thought it made you look older.”
Marie smoked for 40 years, although she tried several times to stop. She would quit smoking for up to 9 months at a time, but something—an issue at work or a problem with the kids—would inevitably trigger a relapse.
The mother of two smoked two packs a day. “I was a key puncher for a brokerage house in New York City, and back in those days, you could smoke in the office,” says Marie. But she would also enlist colleagues to walk and get exercise during their lunch breaks. It was during these walks that Marie felt something wasn’t right. “My legs were stiffening up,” she recalls. Although she was concerned, she didn’t think the problem was serious. But her symptoms continued to get worse and she went to the doctor.
In 1993, she was diagnosed with Buerger’s disease, a disorder linked to tobacco use that causes blood vessels in the hands and feet to become blocked and can result in infection or gangrene.
It took a year for the diagnosis to be confirmed. “I was in so much pain that I had to take painkillers every day,” says Marie. Over time, parts of Marie’s body, such as her feet, fingertips, and lower legs, required amputation. “At age 44, half of my right foot was amputated. When I was 45, I had a below-the-knee amputation of my left leg. Then my fingers began to go.”
In 2006, Marie quit smoking for good with the help of patches. “I want to see my grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow,” she says. Today, at 62, Marie is a voracious reader and loves to spend time with friends. Through the Tips From Former Smokers® campaign, Marie hopes that telling her story will help motivate smokers to quit. “If you had an unsuccessful attempt, try and try again,” she urges.
Mark started smoking as a teenager to fit in with friends. “When you’re 18 or 19, your friends mean a lot,” he said. It was a teenage choice that he regrets very much today. Mark soon became a regular smoker. He continued to smoke a pack a day until 2009, when he developed rectal cancer.
At age 42, with a wife and a young daughter to support, Mark faced the fight of his life. His illness—rectal cancer—is a type of colorectal cancer.
All the cancers in this group are more common in people who smoke than in nonsmokers. Mark’s first symptoms were changes in his bowel habits, including strong urges, constipation, and traces of blood.
Mark’s doctor ordered a colonoscopy, which is a simple exam of the colon that uses a tiny video camera and a TV monitor. “Everything just—it came to a grinding halt,” said Mark. “I literally looked at this tumor on the monitor and realized, ‘I have cancer. I could die!’” Medical treatments and recovery lasted for many months. Mark had radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery to remove parts of his lower colon and rectum. For about 6 months, Mark needed an ostomy bag taped to a hole in his abdomen to collect waste.
As for cigarettes, Mark quit smoking soon after learning he had cancer. He wanted to do everything in his power to get well. He had tried to quit several times before. During his service in the Air Force, Mark started to think differently about smoking. He joined at age 19 and remembers that smoking was a liability in many types of duty.
“In the field, you can’t smoke because of security; you don’t want a light from smoking giving away your position to the enemy,” said Mark. He tried switching to snuff, a finely ground tobacco. Mark went on to serve two tours of duty in the Persian Gulf in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. His addiction stayed with him as he switched from cigarettes to smokeless tobacco and back to cigarettes again.
When Mark finally gave up cigarettes and smokeless tobacco for good, the first 2 weeks were very hard. He says that thinking of himself as a nonsmoker helped.
“Instead of fighting the cravings, I told myself, ‘Yes, it would feel fantastic to have some nicotine, but you’re not a drug user anymore,’ and in a short time the craving went away.”
Today, Mark has been cancer-free for 5 years. He’s passionate about the importance of getting regular screenings for colorectal cancer and seeing a doctor if you have any symptoms of colorectal cancer. As for smoking, Mark hopes his story will inspire others to quit as soon as possible, especially young people. “If you really feel like you’re old enough to make your own choices, then be that man, be that woman, and stop smoking.”
“All the negative effects that you think are never going to happen, like getting colorectal cancer, they happen. Trust me,” said Mark. “For me, the ostomy was absolutely necessary. The choice was having the procedure or I was going to die. There’s no question—without an ostomy, I wouldn’t be here today, and if I had to do it over again, I would.”
Like many smokers, Roosevelt started experimenting with cigarettes in his teens. But his addiction became entrenched during his time in the military. Nearly 30 years later, damage from smoking began to take its toll. At 45, Roosevelt experienced a heart attack that landed him in the hospital for a month. In order to repair the damage to his heart caused by smoking, doctors inserted stents into his heart. When that wasn’t enough, he had bypass surgery — six bypasses in all.
“A heart attack feels like a hand inside squeezing your heart,” he says. “It’s like the worst charley horse you can imagine — in your heart.” Roosevelt found cigarettes to be so addictive that even after his surgery he continued to smoke — but he noticed an ominous difference.
“After my heart attack, when I smoked I could feel the damage right to my heart,” he says. “With all that scar tissue, I could feel pain when I inhaled smoke. I quit smoking because I didn’t want to kill myself.”
Now 51, Roosevelt has been smoke-free for 3 years, but he’s had to give up his career as a commercial plumber because his heart no longer is strong enough for the strenuous activity such work requires. He says the love, support — and constant nagging — of his family was the key to him being able to quit smoking.
“If you have loved ones who care about you, they will support you. Take it one day at a time,” Roosevelt says. “But if you smoke and want to see your kids graduate and want to see your grandkids someday, stop smoking.”
Roosevelt hopes his participation in the Tips From Former Smokers® campaign can help save lives. “I wish I never smoked,” he says. “Everybody thinks [health problems] won’t happen to them, but they happen to so many people. You could be next.”
Many tips are offered in this guide—choose what works best for you. You can quit for good, even if you’ve tried before. In fact, most smokers try to quit many times before they succeed.
A Web site dedicated to helping you quit smoking.
Free 24/7 quit help for adults and young adults texted to your phone!
A Web site that helps women quit smoking.
A Web site that helps teens quit smoking.
Smokefree.gov en Español
A Web site in Spanish dedicated to helping you quit smoking.
Smokefree QuitGuide App
Track your progress, receive encouraging reminders, and more on your smartphone. Available from iTunes.
Help for Smokers and Other Tobacco Users
Booklet that tells you about ways you can quit.
Pathways to Freedom: Winning the Fight Against Tobacco
Guide that addresses tobacco issues specific to African Americans.
FDA 101: Smoking Cessation Products
Article discussing FDA approved products that help you quit smoking.
Quit Tobacco—Make Everyone Proud
A DoD-sponsored Web site for military personnel and their families.
A mobile text messaging service for veterans getting health care through the VA.
One-stop shop with quit guidance for tobacco users, parents, educators, and health professionals.
American Cancer Society
Guide to quitting smoking.
American Heart Association
American Lung Association
A free, online plan to help you quit smoking.
Resources for Health Professionals: Smokefree.gov is a trusted source for evidence-based smoking cessation tools and content. The tools on their site can be useful for both researchers and health care providers.
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