6 steps you can take to quit smoking and live a healthier life

Quitting smoking is a difficult challenge that lasts a lifetime, but it is possible with a handful of expert tips.

(CNN)Cigarette smoking is very addictive and can have long-term, adverse health effects. But there is hope for those who want to quit thanks to innovative apps, help lines and proven coping strategies.

In 2019, more than 30.8 million Americans smoked, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was almost 12.5% of Americans 18 and older.
Smoking is also the No. 1 leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for nearly 1 in 5 deaths.
    Cigarettes have chemicals that can make this addiction particularly insidious. When they enter the lungs, they can cause harmful effects like bronchitis, said Jonathan Bricker, professor in the public health sciences division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center at the University of Washington in Seattle.
      Over time, smoking can eventually lead to lung cancer, which has less than an 18% survival rate within 5 years of diagnosis.
        Fortunately, lung cancer can be prevented if you stop smoking and learn to "stay quit," said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, director of the Tobacco Treatment Clinic at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.
        Here are six actions you can take to help you or a loved one quit smoking and enjoy a healthier life:

          1. Focus on how to 'stay quit'

          Finding it hard to permanently quit the cigs? Break down your goal into smaller, more manageable steps.
          The goal should not be to quit smoking; rather, it should be on how to "stay quit," Galiatsatos said. He said he's had patients who say they've quit many times, but that they've not been able to permanently stop.
          He recommends people break up their larger goal of quitting into smaller goals.
          For example, learn your different triggers that could make you want to smoke. That way, you can be mindful and find solutions for those actions.

          2. Make each time you quit a learning experience

          Most people who smoke quit eight to 12 times, because of the addictiveness of cigarettes, before they successfully quit for good, Bricker said.
          Because relapse is so common, Bricker tells his patients to find a lesson they can take from each experience.
          "People will say things like, 'I learned how powerful these cravings are, or I learned how seeing my friend smoke was a big trigger for me, or I learned that stress in my life was a big trigger,' " Bricker said.
          Patients should approach quitting from the viewpoint that the more things they learn from their relapses, the greater their chance is of quitting permanently, he said.

          3. Use phone lines and apps for support

          Your smartphone can be of assistance -- whether you use it to call a help line or download a stop smoking app.
          Support groups for people who want to quit smoking are dwindling, so Bricker recommended calling a quitting help line to get outside assistance.
          The CDC funds a tobacco cessation hotline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669), which is free to US residents in all states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico. Your call goes automatically the quit line in your state or territory.
          Callers are connected to coaches who help smokers create a plan to quit and give them advice when facing withdrawals and cravings.
          Currently, state cessation hotlines only reach about 1% of people who smoke, which the CDC largely attributes to the lack of funding to promote the service.
          Bricker's team at Fred Hutch helped to create the app iCanQuit, which was supported by a grant from the US National Institutes of Health.
          The app focuses on acceptance and commitment therapy, which encourages people to accept their emotions and thoughts instead of pushing them away. The tool also offers resources for quitting and handling cravings when they arise, Bricker said.

          4. Speak to your medical provider

          Be fully honest with your physician about your smoking so she or he can come up strategies that will work for you.
          People who want to quit smoking can talk to their medical provider to come up with a treatment plan filled with multiple strategies, Galiatsatos said.
          Doctors can prescribe medication to curb cigarette cravings and make them more manageable, he said. It's a short-term solution to help train your brain to not crave cigarettes as strongly, Bricker added.
          The medications doctors provide will depend on your specific situation, Bricker said. The prescriptions tend to be minimal at first then escalate depending on the severity of the addiction.

          5. Support people addicted to smoking