Navigating the Health Care System

Advice Columns from Dr. Carolyn Clancy

Former AHRQ Director Carolyn Clancy, M.D., prepared brief, easy-to-understand advice columns for consumers to help navigate the health care system. They address important issues such as how to recognize high-quality health care, how to be an informed health care consumer, and how to choose a hospital, doctor, and health plan.

For people who smoke cigarettes, the New Year is a popular time to try to quit.

And it's no wonder why.

Tobacco use kills about 443,000 people in the United States each year or about 1 in 5 deaths annually. It is the Number One cause of preventable deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health and for the health of your loved ones. Within just 12 hours of your last cigarette, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal. Within 1 year of quitting, the excess risk of heart disease is half that of a person who continues to smoke, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

Quitting smoking helps protect the health of people around you, especially babies and children. Secondhand smoke has more than 50 chemicals that are known to cause cancer in adults. It can also cause lung disease and heart disease in people who have never smoked. Parents who quit smoking provide a great role model to their children and teens.

And contrary to what some people say, smokeless tobacco isn't a safe option.  It includes chewing tobacco, dip, and snuff.  It causes cancer of the esophagus, mouth, and pancreas.

Like many New Year's resolutions, deciding to change a behavior isn't as easy as actually doing it. In fact, many smokers or tobacco users try to quit several times before they succeed.

How can you follow through on your plan to stop smoking for good in 2013?

A great place to start is BeTobaccoFree.gov. The new, comprehensive Web site gives one-stop access to the latest information from the Federal government on tobacco-related information, including evidence-based methods on how to quit.

The Web site includes interactive features, mobile apps, and tools and resources designed specifically for parents, educators, and teens.

For example, people who are getting ready to quit smoking now will find resources and tools to help them. 

You can START the process by—

  • S = Setting a quit date. Pick a date within the next 2 weeks. That gives you enough time to get ready, but not so much time that you lose your determination.
  • T = Telling others about your plan to quit. Quitting is easier to do with support from others. Tell family, friends, and co-workers how they can help you.
  • A = Anticipating the challenges you will face. Most people who return to smoking do it within the first 3 months. Be prepared for situations when you will be tempted to smoke and plan for how you will deal with them.
  • R = Removing cigarettes from your home, car, and work. Getting rid of things that remind you of smoking will help you get ready to quit. Clean your car, get rid of lighters and ashtrays, and have your teeth cleaned to get rid of smoking stains.
  • T = Talking to your doctor about getting help to quit. Some people need help to manage the withdrawal from nicotine. Ask your health care provider if a medicine might help you. You can buy some of these medicines on your own, like the nicotine patch or nicotine gum. Others require a prescription.

Another section of the Web site called SmokefreeTeen helps teenagers recognize the pressures they face and how they typically handle them, including whether to start or stop smoking. Using interactive quizzes, SmokefreeTeen looks at important topics such as depression, stress, and relationships. Answers can help teens understand their behavior style and the role that smoking, or trying to quit, may plan in it. Another feature for teens is a mobile service called SmokefreeTXT. The service sends text messages with advice and tips on how to stop smoking for good.

Quitting smoking is one of the best New Year's resolutions you can make to protect your health. The BeTobaccoFree Web site can help you turn your wish into reality.

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

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 
Fact Sheet: Fast Fact—Smoking and Tobacco Use
http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fast_facts/

U.S. 2010 Surgeon General's Report—Smoking and Tobacco Use
http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/2010/index.htm

BeTobaccoFree.gov
http://betobaccofree.hhs.gov/index.html

Quit Now: BeTobaccoFree.gov
http://betobaccofree.hhs.gov/quit-now/index.html

Smokeless Tobacco and Your Health
http://betobaccofree.hhs.gov/health-effects/smokeless-health/index.html

SmokefreeTeen
http://teen.smokefree.gov/about.aspx

SmokefreeTeen: SmokefreeTXT
http://teen.smokefree.gov/smokefreeTXT.aspx

Current as of January 2013
Internet Citation: Make Good on Your Resolution To Quit Smoking. January 2013. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/columns/navigating-the-health-care-system/010813.html