The two things you need to do to stop smoking

Cancer, Family Health
Sep 7, 2023

St. Joseph’s/Candler’s Comprehensive Tobacco Cessation Program offers one-on-one sessions to help you kick the nicotine habit

There are many reasons people start smoking cigarettes and vaping. They are an impressionable age. Their family members smoke. Their social circle smokes. They are bored or stressed.

Whatever the reason, if you are a smoker now is the time to quit – no matter how long you have been smoking, you can quit. It starts with finding your motivation and developing a plan.

“That internal motivation is what drives success. You have to be ready to quit,” says Melissa Johnson, PharmD, BCACP, clinical pharmacy specialist with the Center for Medication Management and coordinator of the St. Joseph’s/Candler Comprehensive Tobacco Cessation Program. “It really does start with being open and honest about your smoking habit and being ready to quit smoking.”

To help find your motivation ask yourself, “What’s your reason for quitting?” Is it for your children or grandchildren? Is it for your health? Do you want to save money? Find your drive and then put your plan in place. Johnson can help with that through the Tobacco Cessation Program.

Related Article: How one image got a lifelong smoker to quit


Why is nicotine so addictive?

Nicotine is an addictive chemical found in cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and vape products, which unfortunately are becoming more and more popular but just as harmful. Nicotine is a stimulant that attaches to receptors in the brain and speeds up messages traveling between the brain and body. It releases dopamine and other feel good chemicals so people tend to feel happier and less stressed when they smoke, Johnson says.

Nicotine is very addictive and has many harmful effects on your body. Most people associate smoking with lung cancer, which does increase your risk. However, smoking has been linked to many other cancers. Smoking also slows down your body’s natural healing ability, and nicotine limits blood flow to your organs because it causes blood vessels to constrict, Johnson says. That can lead to cardiovascular disease and even heart attack or stroke. Smoking also increases your risk for COPD and worsens asthma.

“There are a lot of benefits to quitting smoking, and that’s another thing we focus on in the program,” Johnson says. “They’ve heard all the bad stuff all their smoking life so they may become numb to that. I try to talk about the benefits, like improved lung function so you can walk further without getting short of breath or their smell and taste improves. And then, there’s the saving money factor.”

“It really depends on what motivates them but it does start with being honest at where they are in terms of smoking and then interest in quitting.”

About the SJ/C Comprehensive Tobacco Cessation Program

With a doctor’s referral, Johnson sees patients on a one-on-one basis who are ready to quit smoking or vaping but need help. The first visit is about 45 minutes long so Johnson can ask questions about their smoking history, how frequently they smoke and try to determine their triggers. Then she’ll help make an individualized plan to help you kick the nicotine habit.

There are follow up visits that will be shorter but monitor your progress. How many follow up visits you need varies depending on your progress and sometimes insurance. Medicare, for example, covers eight visits per year.

If you do choose to take medication, either an over-the-counter option like gum, patches or lozenges, or a prescription medication, your first follow-up visit will typically be within one to two weeks to make sure you are not experiencing any side effects to the medication, Johnson says.

Medication is not required and not all patients need it, Johnson says. Behavioral counseling is the other aspect of the Tobacco Cessation Program. This is where you really look at what triggers your smoking habit.

“Current guidelines recommend a quit plan that involves both behavioral counseling and pharmacotherapy (medications) for the best chance of quit success. But, they don’t have to use medication if they don’t feel comfortable,” Johnson says. “In my opinion, the behavioral counseling is even more important sometimes because it does help patients identify why they are smoking and what their triggers are and ways to combat that. I’m not a therapist, but we can peel back some layers and figure out what is triggering your smoking.”

If you are ready to quit smoking, talk to your healthcare provider and ask for a referral to our Tobacco Cessation Program. It’s offered every Tuesday at our Centers for Medication Management office on Paulsen Street in Savannah. For more information, visit

If you need additional help or can’t attend a Tuesday session with our Tobacco Cessation Program, Johnson recommends calling the national quit smoking hotline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW. You can speak confidentially to a highly trained specialist and also ask for free samples of some of the over-the-counter products if you are interested in that. 

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