Wage Up! Smoking cessation programs (and why your HSA should fund them)

Quitting smoking is hard. And smoking can be a very expensive habit. With the American Cancer Society's annual Great American Smokeout coming up on November 15, right now might be a great time to tap into your HSA funds to pay for a smoking cessation program (or even get a prescription from your doctor for smoking cessation products, like nicotine patches or gum).

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.

While HSA funds can only be used to buy smoking cessation products like nicotine patches or gum when prescribed by your doctor, that money can also be used to pay for a smoking cessation program without a prescription. The Great American Smokeout is a great reason to take the leap and decide to stop smoking for good. Then all the money you end up saving on cigarettes can go into better things… like your HSA.

Whether you're spending steadily or saving for something big, Wage Up! is where we highlight the latest services available to buy with your HSA, every Monday on the HSA Learning Center. And for everything else about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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