In thinking about Quittin’ Time and how we can share the wisdom of our city’s local doctors, NashvilleHealth caught up with Dr. Michelle Fiscus, a pediatrician and also the Deputy Medical Director for Chronic Disease Prevention, Injury Prevention, and Health Promotion in the Division of Family Health and Wellness at the Tennessee Department of Health.
Caroline Young, NashvilleHealth Executive Director: Thank you, Dr. Fiscus, for your time with us. In between your work for the state through the Tennessee Department of Health, your role as a wife and mom, and all the other things you do to create a culture of health in Nashville, we are thankful for the time you are taking to share just a few words on how people can quit smoking and the impact it has on a family. We know it’s not easy to quit. So where would you start with advice?
Dr. Fiscus: Thank you! I think the first thing everyone should know is that most smokers know they need to quit. And, they WANT to quit. The single greatest roadblock, though, is fighting the addiction to nicotine.
Young: That’s true. In fact, more than 7,000 chemicals are found in a single puff of cigarette smoke. So help us break it down. What’s the first step?
Dr. Fiscus: Get help. One of the best resources I refer people to is the Tennessee Tobacco Quitline (http://www.tnquitline.org/). When you call you are assigned to a Quit Coach to help with the ups and downs of your journey. That same coach is your ally for an entire year, and oftentimes can connect you with free nicotine replacement therapy. Generally, nicotine replacement – like patches or gums – can bridge those tough first 6 weeks of quitting.
Or take it into your own hands – literally. There are smartphone apps – Quitter’s Circle, QuitStart or Text2Quit – that include tips, support communities, and a coach who is a text away.
Last, let’s get really practical: If you have a habit every day that triggers the desire to smoke, stop the habit today. It’s likely less addictive than the nicotine and can help break that association with the need to smoke. Do you regularly pick up a cup of coffee and have a cigarette on the way to work? Change your route or switch your morning beverage timing, or even swap coffee for a flavored water! Chew gum instead. Choose something less harmful to fill the space.
Young: You mention the support community. Just how important is the role that friends or family play in quitting smoking?
Dr. Fiscus: The support of friends and family, especially partners, can make or break someone’s journey. Let someone know what you’re trying to do, and ask them to check in with you. If your partner smokes, quit together! When you are struggling or slip, tell someone. They can encourage or help you.
Young: Speaking of family, tell us about the impact that quitting can have on a family, especially from the viewpoint of a pediatrician.
Dr. Fiscus: Secondhand smoke has been talked about for decades – and is always a critical conversation. It can contribute to asthma and ear infections, irritates allergies, and allows babies to be exposed to chemicals that irritate skin and are often ingested. Think about the little ones crawling on carpet where the toxins from smoke have settled! Kids in smoking homes are sick more often and may need to see a doctor more frequently than kids who live in smoke-free homes. That means higher medical bills. And, these kids are more likely to smoke in their adult years.
On the positive side, when a family member quits smoking, they get more money back in the family budget. They are healthier and more active with their children. And, they will likely live longer. Three reasons to quit that I simply can’t argue with!
Young: So, if someone is a smoker and has tried to quit but just can’t seem to kick the habit, even though they know the impact on their families, what should they do?
Dr. Fiscus: Don’t give up. Try again. Often, a trigger or stress in life causes us to go back to old habits. Engage with your support system and replace your response to the trigger with something healthier.
One accountability tool is to talk to your kids about the dangers of smoking. I start as early as 8 years old with safety and awareness for my patients. Children in the home of a smoker see it first-hand, and what better way to teach a child to take care of themselves than to model that kind of behavior?
Young: This is helpful information, especially coming from a pediatrician. One way to combat our state’s rising tobacco use numbers is to teach the next generation to never pick up the habit. We appreciate your time.
If you’re looking to stop smoking, check out our Help Me Quit page on the NashvilleHealth website. There are more resources beyond the QuitLine – including the apps mentioned in this interview. We’d like to extend a special thank you to the Tennessee Department of Health for connecting us with Dr. Michelle Fiscus, MD FAAP for this interview.
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