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4 tips for quitting tobacco from Millie Martinez, a former menthol smoker

As the current administration considers eliminating menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars from the market, many menthol smokers may take this opportunity to think about quitting. At a recent event where public health and civil rights groups called on President Biden to finalize the proposed rules, Millie Martinez – a former menthol smoker who quit with help from the EX program – spoke directly to menthol smokers looking to make the same life-changing choice. “Nobody should have to do this alone,” she said. “We need the government to make sure everyone has the help they need to quit... we cannot let the next generation of young people be exposed to these deadly and addictive products. It’s time to lay menthol cigarettes to rest.” 

Millie Martinez is from the Bronx, New York, and started smoking menthols when she was just 15 years old because it was the ‘cool thing’ to do. She’d been smoking menthols ever since, surrounded by a community where menthol cigarettes were a part of everyday life.  

Martinez documented her journey to quit smoking in a video blog from the EX Program, a digital quit-smoking plan and online community of thousands of smokers and ex-smokers developed by Truth Initiative in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic. The video follows her throughout her first week of quitting where she shares her motivations, struggles, and how the EX community is helping her take each day at a time.

Menthol cigarettes are easier to smoke and harder to quit, and they have long been marketed to Black Americans with predatory tobacco industry marketing tactics including through heavy marketing in predominantly Black neighborhoods, publications, and at Black cultural events. Due in part to this targeted marketing, 81 percent of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes. Menthol has been repeatedly exempted from legislation on flavored tobacco products, the result of massive tobacco industry lobbying efforts including attempts at spreading fear that removing menthol would unfairly target Black Americans and would lead to further criminalization. However, the FDA has made it clear since April 2021 that enforcement of the rules would be focused on manufacturers and retailers, not individual consumers. The FDA’s proposed rules to eliminate menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars have been delayed until March 2024, marking a significant victory for Big Tobacco’s exploitative practices.

If you or someone you care about is making a pledge to quit smoking, there are tools and resources to help. Here are some of the strategies that Martinez relied on during her journey to quit smoking.

Find your motivation and set a quit date

When people decide to quit smoking or vaping, they are often motivated by a specific, personal reason. During the early days of quitting, it can be crucial to remind someone why they wanted to quit nicotine and talk about the positive outcomes that come with living nicotine-free.  

For Martinez, the main motivation for quitting smoking was to live a healthier life for her grandson. She wanted to be a positive role model for him and didn’t want her family to be exposed to cigarette smoke. Before even starting her quit journey, Martinez decided that she would start quitting before her grandson’s next visit.  

Martinez made an initial quit attempt a year after her grandson was born but only made it two days – it was too big a challenge to take on by herself. A few months later she discovered the EX Program and joined their online community where she texted with a counselor, heard from fellow quitters and former smokers, and developed her own plan based on proven strategies. With support from her family and help from EX, she finally put down her last cigarette.   

Setting a quit date – no matter how far in the future it may be – is a great first step to quitting smoking or vaping. It allows people to mentally and emotionally prepare to quit and motivates people to imagine a life without nicotine.

"I have to stop putting it off. I plan to see my grandson in November, and I want to be done with [smoking]."

Get daily reminders and words of encouragement

Quitting smoking or vaping is one of the best things someone can do for their health, and there are tools to help. For many people, daily encouragement and reminders can go a long way. With EX, people can take a daily pledge to quit tobacco, one day at a time. Users can also read journal posts from other people who are quitting, chat with a counselor, and receive daily reminders via text.   

“This program is very good. You Know, you get a lot of conversations, you go on blogs, and you get a lot of support from people here.”   

Words of encouragement can also come from family and friends. Martinez shared her goal of quitting smoking with her best friend, who was able to offer support along her journey to quit. For people quitting smoking or vaping, finding support networks across multiple spheres of life can make a big difference.


Identify triggers and plan for how to overcome cravings

For some people, the urge to smoke or vape can be triggered by certain activities, emotions, or the surrounding environment. Martinez noticed that when she drinks alcohol, her cravings for smoking intensified. She shared this with her friends, who reminded Martinez that she doesn’t need to smoke when she’s out having fun.   

“I’m feeling good about this. Tomorrow’s another day. [I’m with] Jen, a good friend of mine. So this is my support system here and hopefully I think I can do this.”   

Coping with cravings from nicotine withdrawal can be one of the biggest challenges for quitting smoking or vaping. Fortunately, there are strategies to help take your mind off cravings, including getting exercise, finding alternate ways to relieve stress, or taking up a new hobby.

Try nicotine replacement therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy, which comes in several forms including nicotine gum, lozenges, or the patch, are approved medications that are regulated by the FDA. Decades of research, as well as a 2020 report from the Surgeon General, confirms that NRT is safe to use (even long-term) and is an effective way to quit tobacco products for good.  

Martinez accessed resources about NRT through EX and was able order two four-week supplies through the online program – an easy way to determine which NRT may work best.

"I feel confident and I feel fresh, you know, I haven’t smoked in five days. I actually feel better. I’m breathing better, I’m exercising more."

Resources to quit smoking or vaping

The good news is, if you are currently vaping, smoking, or using other tobacco products, there are resources to help you quit.

The EX Program

The EX Program combines the scientific leadership in digital tobacco solutions from Truth Initiative with a proven treatment model from the Mayo Clinic, providing the personalized support that tobacco users need to combat the behavioral, social, and physical aspects of addiction. The EX Program also has the longest running online community where current quitters and former tobacco users gather to support each other. It’s a special place to get support, and research shows that people who follow the EX quit plan are four times more likely to quit.

This is Quitting

This is Quitting is a free and anonymous text messaging program from Truth Initiative designed to help young people quit vaping. The first-of-its-kind, evidence proven quit program has helped over 700,000 young people to date on their journey to quit vaping.  

To enroll in This is Quitting, teens and young adults can text DITCHIT to 88709.

*You'll get daily texts full of advice and support from experts and other quitters just like you. Enter your mobile number to get started. By clicking SUBMIT, I agree I'm cool with receiving emails and texts from truth and agree to the Terms & Conditions. Text STOP to opt-out. Expect texts daily. No purchase necessary. Msg & Data Rates May Apply.