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One of the biggest health risks out there nowadays is smoking, and it’s a risk that is entirely avoidable. At the same time, it’s an addiction that many people struggle with. I should know, I am one of those people.

To underscore how common this struggle is, last year the American Lung Association released a report announcing that gay men are 2.5 times more likely to smoke than straight men. I’ve researched this topic not only to help our community, but to help myself as well.

How to Stay Smoke-Free

Figure out a way to quit. Do this for yourself. If you feel rushed into a decision, or not fully at ease with parting with your cigarettes, you can set yourself up for failure. Set a date and stick to it. Some people quit cold turkey, but others use aids such as low-nicotine e-cigarettes, or nicotine patches and gum.

Once you’ve started on your journey, be sure to identify your triggers and have a plan in place to do something about them. For example, I go out to many bars and nightclubs as a result of my fabulous job at Hotspots. A lot of people smoke there. My fatal flaw was thinking to myself, “Oh, I can have one when I’m drinking, right?” One turns into…more than one, and then you find yourself off the wagon. It’s important to realize that bars and nightclubs, or gatherings with certain friends, etc. can be triggers.

How do you cope? Realize that for an addiction as strong as nicotine is, you might not ever be able to “smoke in moderation.” I know I failed at that. So instead, find something to do with your hands and your mouth. I found that using a straw to mimic the act of smoking helped me for quite a while. It may make you look silly, but you won’t be doing damage to your body. Find something similar that works for you.

It’s not easy to kick a habit like smoking. Use your friends as a support group as often as possible. They will be happy that you made such a momentous decision and they will give you lots of encouragement. Be sure to take advantage of your increased lung function and ease in breathing by taking walks and hikes. Not only will you stay fit, you just found a way to cope with a nasty after-effect of quitting smoking, which is overeating.Health_smoking_copy4

Keep tabs on how long it’s been since you last smoked. Once you hit key milestones, like six months or a year, be sure to announce it. There are many free apps that will track things like how much time, down to the second, since you quit smoking, and also how much money you’ve saved by not wasting it on cigarettes.

If you need any assistance from a professional, you can call the National Cancer Institute Hotline. They have quit smoking counselors on staff with words of encouragement ready for you on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. The telephone number is 1-877-448-7848.

Health Benefits Over Time

I hadn’t had a chance to read a lot of the health benefits of smoking over time before, so once I found them, I thought it would be very important to share them with you. You can notice changes in a very short period of time after quitting smoking.

The American Cancer Society says your heart rate and blood pressure drop after just 20 minutes without a cigarette. After 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood returns to normal. Your circulation improves and your lung function increases in as little as two weeks after quitting. In the months after quitting, coughing and shortness of breath become things of the past, and by a year, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker who hasn’t quit. After fifteen years, your heart disease risk is officially at the level of someone who has never smoked. It is not too late to make a change in your life!

Visit tobaccofreeflorida.com, sponsored by the Florida Department of Health, for more tips on how you can quit smoking and stay quit.

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Mike Halterman
Mike Halterman has been the editor of Hotspots Central since its launch in July 2016. He joined the Hotspots Media Group family as editor of Hotspots' South Florida magazine in June 2013. A former "40 Under 40" honoree in The Advocate magazine, Mike lives in the Tampa Bay area.