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Quitting smoking is hard. And smoking can be a very expensive habit. Whether the Great American Smokeout is on the horizon or your family and friends have finally got you on the path to quitting, right now might be a great time to tap into your HSA funds to pay for a smoking cessation program or HSA eligible smoking cessation products like nicotine patches, gum and lozenges.
The stats are daunting – according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there are almost 38 million cigarette smokers in the U.S., smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year (about 20% of deaths), and more than 16 million people have a smoking-related disease.
Rebecca and John's smoking cessation journey
How hard is quitting smoking?
Rebecca quit nine years ago and described the process as "one of the most difficult things" she's ever done. Just doing something with her hands was a challenge along with getting off nicotine.
Rebecca said when going out she would cut cigarette-sized straws to hold and ask friends to blow smoke in her face to meet both challenges. It took more than a year before she felt fully free from cigarettes.
"As a result of smoking for 22 years, I now have really bad asthma, but it's controlled. I'm just glad my body has taken care of me -- I've mistreated it horribly, but we are on good terms now," said Rebecca.
John had a different experience. He tried quitting five different times over a 15-year period before succeeding on January 1, 2017. John's journey included trying both nicotine patches and gum. He tried cutting back on the number of cigarettes he smoked, but that fell through the first time he met friends for a beer.
Using a vape device didn't work because he didn't like the artificial flavors that didn't approximate an actual cigarette. He finally decided to go cold turkey by stopping New Year's Eve 2016 and hasn't looked back.
The smoking cessation process was treated like an experiment by design by John. He said he knew some products might work better for him than others so he actively kept an open mind about what could help him quit smoking. He also gave himself permission to fail as many times as needed before quitting successfully while understanding why he failed to keep himself accountable.
"The toughest part I think for every smoker is they must understand the urge will never go away. Ever," said John. "You're not going to wake up one day and suddenly no longer be susceptible to smoking. If that were the case, drug rehabilitation would have a 100% success rate.
"The tough part is three months in when you smell a cigarette in the car next to you in traffic. The tough part is a year later when you've had a few beers at a sports bar with friend and you go outside to answer a phone call and you find yourself in smokers' alley. Those are not the times of temptation, they are the times where you miss smoking the most. You just must come to terms with that and move on. Quitting is a tough journey, but it is worth it."
"If it takes one, 10, or 1,000 times to quit, you will love yourself for the decision," he added.
Why you should quit
Per the ACS, the smoking rate is down. It was at 42% in the U.S. in 1965 and decreased to under 15.5% by 2016, but if you do currently smoke it is worth taking steps to end the habit. It isn't easy and it isn't quick as you can learn from any ex-smoker.
With the passage of the CARES Act in March 2020, HSA users can use their funds to cover smoking cessation products like nicotine gum, patches and lozenges, as well as costs associated with a smoking cessation program.
Then all the money you end up saving on cigarettes can go into better things… like your HSA.