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Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

How Medicare Can Help Smokers Kick the Habit

I understand that COVID-19 hits smokers a lot harder than nonsmokers but quitting at my age is very difficult. Does Medicare offer any coverage that helps beneficiaries quit smoking?

Smokers and individuals who vape have a higher risk of severe COVID-19 complications because the coronavirus attacks the lungs. That is why quitting now is more important than ever before.

If you are a Medicare beneficiary, you will be happy to know that Medicare Part B covers up to eight face-to-face counseling sessions a year to help you quit smoking. If you have a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, certain smoking-cessation medications are covered too. Here are some other tips that can help you kick the habit.

It Is Never Too Late

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 12.5% of Medicare beneficiaries smoke. Many older smokers indicate that they would like to quit, but because of an addiction to nicotine, it is very difficult to do.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable illness, responsible for an estimated one-fifth of deaths in the United States each year. Research shows that quitting, even after age 65, greatly reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis and many other complications from diseases including COVID-19. Quitting also helps you breathe easier, smell and taste food better and saves you quite a bit of money. A $6 pack-a-day smoker, for example, saves about $180 after one month without cigarettes and nearly $2,200 after one year.

How to Quit

The first step is to set a "quit date," but give yourself a few weeks to get ready. During that time, you may want to start by reducing the number or the strength of cigarettes you smoke to begin weaning yourself.

Also check out over-the-counter nicotine replacement products – patches, gum or lozenges – to help curb your cravings (these are not covered by Medicare). Just prior to your quit day get rid of all cigarettes and ashtrays in your home, car and place of work. Try to clean up and even spray air freshener. The smell of smoke can be a powerful trigger.

Get Help

Studies have shown that you have a much better chance of quitting if you have help. So, tell your friends, family and coworkers about your plan to quit. Others knowing can be a helpful reminder and motivator.

Counseling can also be an important part of the process. Do not go at it alone. Start by contacting your doctor about smoking cessation counseling covered by Medicare and find out about prescription antismoking drugs that can help reduce your nicotine cravings.

You can also get free one-on-one telephone counseling and referrals to local smoking cessation programs through your state quitline at 800-QUIT-NOW. Or, call the National Cancer Institute free smoking quitline at 877-44U-QUIT.

It is important to identify and write down the times and situations you are most likely to smoke and make a list of things you can do to replace it or distract yourself. Some helpful suggestions when the smoking urge arises are to call a friend or one of the free quit lines, keep your mouth occupied with some sugar-free gum, sunflower seeds, carrots, fruit or hard candy, go for a walk, read a magazine, listen to music or take a hot bath.

The intense urge to smoke lasts about three to five minutes, so do what you can to wait it out. It is also wise to avoid drinking alcohol and steer clear of other smokers while you are trying to quit. Both can trigger powerful urges to smoke.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published August 21, 2020
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