Putting Out the Fire: Information, Tips, and Resources to Combat Tobacco Use

Written by Natalie Schroeder and Andrea Bowling
Researched by Deborah Spivak and Natalie Schroeder 

I pat the pockets of my jacket to make sure I have my lighter. “Hey Sara, are you ready,” I ask over the cubicle wall. “Yep, let’s hurry we have to be back so Hillary can go to lunch,” she replies walking out ahead of me.

As we head to the designated smoking area, I notice the side long glances of the non-smokers. I overhear a snarky whispered comment, why don’t we get the same breaks, I know who is probably saying this but keep walking.

My body starts to feel the excited tension knowing soon I will have my mid-morning smoke. I flick the lighter and feel the rough warm metal as the flame lights the end of my cigarette, and I inhale. I hold the smoke in my lungs close my eyes and feel the tension melting away.

“Wow! I needed this.” Sara tells me. “It has been one long morning.”

“Do you think they will have the stop smoking contest again this year?” I ask her thinking maybe I might try if she does as well.

“Yeah, I am pretty sure they will. Did you want to try it this year? My kids have been bugging again and I know I probably should, but you know how it goes,” she says between drags on her cigarette.

I nod watching the smoke come out of my nose and disappearing.

“Yeah, I think maybe we should give it try what’s the worst that could happen.”


Why Do People Smoke? 

Many people start smoking or using other tobacco products to cope with distress.  

Financial distress is a significant risk factor for smoking. People with low annual household income are more likely to start smoking and people facing financial hardship also have a harder time quitting.  

Individuals suffering from serious psychological distress and other mental health disorders such as chronic DepressionAnxiety DisorderPTSDBipolar DisorderSchizophrenia, or any Addictive Disorder are at a higher risk for smoking. This is due, in part, to the fact that smoking is often used as a means of self-medicating to deal with affective disorders. In addition, Nicotine can improve attention and concentration, making it more attractive to people with attention disorders such as ADD and ADHD. 

People who suffer from physical distress such as chronic health conditions, disability, or physical limitations are also more likely to smoke. 


If you are a current or former military service member, the risks for nicotine addiction are higher. 

Cigarette smoking prevalence is higher among active-duty military personnel than among the civilian population, and the prevalence is even greater among service members who have been deployed. Many service members start using tobacco after they enter the military. The stress of military life, such as family separation, basic training, boredom, and combat can increase the likelihood of tobacco use for relaxation and coping.  

There is a long history of smoking among service members dating back to 1918 when the military and various organizations began providing cigarettes to troops because, as the New York Times once put it, cigarettes could “lighten the inevitable hardships of war.” While the military suspended cigarette rations in 1975, cigarettes continue to be sold, tax-free, in military stores, with the profits from these sales being used to support Morale, Welfare and Recreation activities. Having easy access to inexpensive tobacco products facilitates their use among military personnel. Due to the history, culture, and prevalence of tobacco use among service members, new recruits often feel pressure from their peers to start smoking.

The Risks of Tobacco Use 

The Physical Health Risks of Tobacco Use are Extremely High. 

Tobacco use is associated with increased risk of death from heart disease and stroke. Smoking tobacco also increases your risks for developing lung cancer and chronic bronchitis. Smokeless tobacco is not any safer, as it can cause cancer of the mouth, esophagus, and pancreas, as well as other diseases of the mouth. Vaping has become an increasingly popular trend and many people have used vaping to quit smoking cigarettes, but VAPING IS JUST AS DANGEROUS AS SMOKING. Since 2019, there have been 2,801 cases of vaping lung illnesses reported across the U.S; a third of these patients need breathing machines to keep them alive. For women, tobacco use can result in difficulty getting pregnant, early menopause, osteoporosis, cervical cancer, and breast cancer.

The Mental Health Risks of Tobacco Use are Also High. 

People who use tobacco are more likely than nonsmokers to experience anxiety, panic, stress, depression, or suicidal thoughts. What’s more, smoking tobacco can inhibit the effects of some psychiatric medications, reducing their therapeutic potential. Nicotine also kills brain cells and stops new ones forming in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that handles memory.

The Benefits of Quitting 

There are Many Physical Health Benefits to Quitting Tobacco.

Within a year of quitting, your circulation and lung function will improve, any coughing and shortness of breath will decrease, and your risk of coronary heart disease will be cut in half. After 15 years of tobacco-free living, your risks for coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer will be the same as that of a nonsmoker. 

There are Also Mental Health Benefits to Quitting Tobacco

Quitting can increase the effectiveness of medications used to treat depression, anxiety, and psychotic disorders. For people battling substance abuse disorders, quitting smoking also increases the chance of quitting alcohol and other drugs.

The Challenges of Quitting 

Many smokers want to quit, but face great physical, psychological, and emotional difficulty in doing so – most will have to make multiple attempts to quit before they are successful.

Nicotine is highly addictive. When you smoke a cigarette or use other tobacco products, the nicotine causes a surge of endorphins and dopamine to enter the brain, improving your mood and reinforcing tobacco use by altering the brain’s chemistry. Common nicotine withdrawal symptoms include intense cravings, increased stress, anxiety, irritability, anger, fatigue, depression, difficulty concentrating, increased appetite, weight gain, constipation, and sleep problems. These symptoms can make quitting extremely hard to do. For strategies to help manage different nicotine withdrawal symptoms, click here. In addition, studies have shown that short bouts of physical activity, like practicing yoga or tai chi, are associated with reduced smoking withdrawal symptoms.

Tobacco users are most susceptible to relapse within the first 4 months of quitting. The causes for relapse vary, but the most common are stress, peer influence, and weight gain. Past experiences of trauma and financial strain are also triggers that can cause relapse for tobacco users. For help managing these triggers and navigating triggering environments, click here. You can also visit the Know A Vet? for information and resources for managing different withdrawal symptoms and triggers.

Get Help Quitting 

Smoking cessation medication such as nicotine replacement therapy, combined with counseling, offers veterans the best chance of quitting smoking.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can help to ease some of the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. It can be taken in the form of gum, patches, sprays, inhalers, or lozenges, providing a low level of nicotine without the other chemicals found in tobacco. Many NRTs are over-the-counter medications that can be purchased at any drug store or pharmacy.  

Several studies have shown that seeking counseling after quitting can improve your chances of quitting for good. If you are an active duty or a retired service member, you may have access to cessation counseling, medicines, and other services through TRICARE coverage and Defense Department programs.  For more information on TRICARE coverage for smoking cessation, click here

Check Out These Additional Resources for Support You While You Quit. Go You! 

The CDC’s Quit Guide is a valuable tool to help you as you start quitting tobacco. To view the Quit Guide, click here

Tobacco quitlines can double your chances of quitting, when compared with getting no support at all. Quitlines are typically open Monday through Friday from 9am to 9pm and are available in English and Spanish. Call a quitline today for help making a quit plan, to get individual counseling, or to develop strategies for preventing relapse! 

English: 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) 

Spanish: 1-855-DÉJELO-YA(1-855-335-3569

Veterans with health insurance through the VA: 1-855-QUIT-VET (1-855-784-8838) 

SmokefreeVET is a free text message program that provides daily advice and support for people quitting tobacco that can help users stay abstinent from smoking for at least 5 weeks or more. Once you have signed up by texting “VET” to 47848 or clicking here, you will be prompted to pick a smoking quit date. Once you have your date, you will receive automated, encouraging texts from SmokefreeVET two weeks before your quit date and for six weeks after. If you are struggling, you can also text “URGE,” “STRESS,” “SMOKED,” or “DIPPED” to the 47848 at any time to receive additional support. For messages in Spanish, text VETesp to 47848 or click here

Stay Quit Coach is a free mobile app provided by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs that can help you develop a customized quit plan. Download the app from your mobile device’s app store today to start receiving motivational messages, interactive tools for dealing with urges, and support to help you stay smoke-free! 

The Anti-Vaping Communications Toolkit, provided by the Military Health System (MHS), includes resources to quit tobacco products, articles about the risks of e-cigarette use, and links to additional resources.

For help quitting smokeless tobacco text “SPIT” to 333888. 

For help quitting e-cigarettes, click here

For even more information, tips, and resources for quitting tobacco, visit these websites! 

Medical News Today: Ten tips for giving up smoking  

Smokefree.gov: Become a Smoke-Free Veteran  

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Tips from Former Smokers  

You Can Quit 2 


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