By Jim Miller
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can Medicare help me quit smoking? I just turned 65 and would like to quit but need some help.
Yes, Medicare actually covers up to eight face-to-face counseling sessions a year to help beneficiaries quit smoking. And, if you have a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, certain smoking-cessation medications are covered, too. Here are some other tips that can help you kick the habit.
Of the 46 million Americans who smoke, about 5.5 million are Medicare beneficiaries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 50 percent of smokers, age 65 and older, indicate they would like to completely quit, but because of nicotine, which is considered to be more addictive than heroin, it’s very difficult to do.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable illness, responsible for an estimated one-fifth of deaths in the United States each year.
But research shows that quitting, even after age 65, greatly reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis and many other diseases. It also helps you breathe more easily, smell and taste food better, not to mention saving you quite a bit of money. A $5 pack-a-day smoker, for example, saves about $150 after one month without cigarettes and more than $1,800 after one year.
The first step is to set a “quit date,” but give yourself a few weeks to get ready. During that time you may want to start by reducing the number or the strength of cigarettes you smoke to begin weaning yourself. Also check out over-the-counter nicotine replacement products—patches, gum and lozenges—to help curb your cravings. And just prior to your quit day, get rid of all cigarettes and ashtrays in your home, car and place of work and try to clean up and even spray air freshener. The smell of smoke can be a powerful trigger.
Studies have shown that you have a much better chance of quitting if you have help. So tell your friends, family and coworkers of your plan to quit. Others knowing can be a helpful reminder and motivator.
Then get some counseling. Don’t go it alone. Start by contacting your doctor about smoking cessation counseling covered by Medicare and find out about the prescription antismoking drugs that can help reduce your nicotine craving.
You can also get free one-on-one telephone counseling and referrals to local smoking cessation programs through your state quit line at 800-QUIT-NOW, or call the National Cancer Institute free smoking quit line at 877-44U-QUIT.
It’s also important to identify and write down the times and situations you’re most likely to smoke and make a list of things you can do to replace it or distract yourself. Some helpful suggestions are to call a friend or one of the free quit lines, keep your mouth occupied with some sugar-free gum, sunflower seeds, carrots, fruit or hard candy, go for a walk, read a magazine, listen to music or take a hot bath. The intense urge to smoke lasts about three to five minutes, so do what you can to wait it out. It’s also wise to avoid drinking alcohol and steer clear of other smokers while you’re trying to quit. Both can trigger powerful urges to smoke.
For more tips on how to quit, including managing your cravings, withdrawal symptoms and what to do if you relapse, visit smokefree.gov and nihseniorhealth.gov/quittingsmoking. If you’re a smartphone user, there are also a number of apps that can help like LIVESTRONG MyQuit Coach, Cessation Nation and Quit It Lite.
Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.