Here's why: If you quit, it might be possible to slow down the disease and lessen the toll it takes on your breathing, but only if you cut out cigarettes permanently -- and soon.
Here's how to do it, starting today.
1. Get, and Stay, Motivated
Learning that you have a chronic disease is no doubt distressing, but it can also be the push you need to make necessary changes. Take advantage of that feeling.
Smoking adds to the burden of this often debilitating disease. Don't let it.
"Quitting smoking will help you do more of what you want to do," says Patricia Folan, RN, MS, CTTS, who directs the Center for Tobacco Control at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. "It will also help your COPD medications work better and allow you to exercise more, which will improve your mood, even if it's just walking."
"When you are diagnosed with a lung disease, you may feel defeated. Don't," she says. "You will experience immediate benefits from quitting. It will help."
2. If at First You Don't Succeed...
"Falling off the wagon does not mean a flip has been switched and you're a smoker again," Ramsdell says. Instead, it just means that you have to keep trying. "Persistence is so important."
This is especially true for people with COPD, most of whom have been smoking for decades, says Douglas.
"When we talk about people who have been smoking a long time, we know there's a lot of fear and anxiety there because they have likely tried to quit before, and they look at those attempts as failures," Douglas says. "We encourage them to change their thinking. We want them to realize that those times they were off cigarettes were successes."
3. Be Prepared
Before you quit, make a plan. Quitting on a whim, good intentioned as it may be, is rarely successful, Douglas says. Her advice:
- Set a quit day. Pick a day three or so weeks out and mark it on your calendar. That will be your first day without tobacco.
- Make a list. Write down your reasons for quitting. For people with COPD, ‘Breathe easier' will likely be at the top.
- Set up a reward system. Get ready to celebrate your smoke-free milestones -- the first 48 hours, the first week, the first month, and so on. Your reward might be new music, dinner out... anything that honors your efforts. And remember: You can afford those awards because you are not buying cigarettes. "We have people who save that money and put it toward a vacation," Douglas says.
- Know your triggers and avoid them. "Behaviors become habits, and those habits can be associated with smoking," Douglas says. For example, if you always smoke with your morning coffee, make a change: Have your first cup on the way to work, perhaps in a coffee shop where smoking is not permitted. "Little changes like that can make a big difference," Douglas says.
- Pick alternatives. Make a list of 10 things you can do instead of smoking. When you have the urge to smoke, pick something off the list -- call a friend, take a walk -- and do that instead.
4. Whatever Works
There are lots of resources to help you quit -- such as behavioral therapies, quit-smoking hotlines, and medications. Ramsdell says they all have about the same success rate. "There's a 20% chance with any of them that you will stop and stay smoke free," he says. "The good news is that each time you make an attempt, you have a one in five chance of quitting for good."
He often advises his patients to start by calling 800-NO-BUTTS, which is California's free quit-smoking help number. Every state has its own, and they are all equally effective. For one in your area, call 800-QUITNOW (800-784-8669).
A mix of counseling, education, and medications (such as nicotine patches and gum) works for many people, Folan says. She also says it's essential that you talk with your doctor about your smoking, because that may make you more likely to give quitting a try.
5. Stay Positive
For more than two decades, Kay Ferguson, 72, smoked up to five packs a day. When a bad case of pneumonia sent her to the hospital about three years ago, she was diagnosed with COPD. Though she had long since given up smoking, she now had to learn to contend with her disease. Her positive attitude has helped keep her COPD in check.
"I'm very stubborn," says Ferguson, who lives in Lemon Grove, Calif. "I expect my body to do what I want it to."
Through the pulmonary rehab program at UC San Diego, she learned exercises to help ease her symptoms and lessen her reliance on oxygen tanks. As a result, she still works at the San Diego Zoo.
Ferguson doesn't waste time blaming cigarettes for her disease. She's done with them and has moved on, though she says that her COPD does slow her down, especially on hot days.
"But I can't sit still. I have to keep up my stamina or die, and I'm not ready to die," says Ferguson, whose father died of COPD. "There's so much more to live for than a cigarette."
6. For Friends and Family
Quitting is not easy -- for the quitter or the people who love them. But it's worth it. If you are close with someone who is attempting to quit, here are a few ways to help.
- Expect some irritability as they adjust. Be patient and don't take it personally, Douglas says.
- Be supportive and non-judgmental, but set firm rules and stick to them. No smoking in the house should be rule number one, Ramsdell says. "Make smoking inconvenient."
- Be available. "Movies, dinner, basketball shoot around, accompany them to a smoking cessation class or support group, play games... anything that will take their minds off smoking in a fun, positive way," Folan says.