Tobacco Use and Cessation


Information from and


In the 1980’s, more than half of service members smoked (51%). While that number declined by 2005 (32%), the overall percentage was still well above the national rate of smoking among adults. And nearly 30% of Veterans Affairs (VA) patients smoke. Service members also use other tobacco products, including chewing tobacco and snuff.

This high smoking rate leads to:

  1. Health Problems. Smoking-related illnesses such as heart and lung disease and cancer take a toll on physical readiness and quality of life for service members, veterans, and their families.
  2. Work-related Problems. Smokers are more likely to miss work, have poorer motor and perceptual skills, and less endurance.
  3. Financial Problems. The Department of Defense spends an estimated $875 million annually on smoking-related health care costs and financial losses due to work absences and decreased productivity. The Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that health care costs for smoking-related problems will be as much as $2 billion per year within the next decade.

Many service members report that being in theater led them to smoke more. Service members say they smoke to relax, to relieve stress or boredom, and to fit in socially. Added stress during deployments may lead to higher levels of smoking.

Physical Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking

  • Improved circulation and blood flow
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved taste, smell, and enjoyment of food
  • Improved breathing and less shortness of breath
  • Reduced risk of home fires
  • Improved effectiveness of medication
  • Greatly reduced risk of death by heart attack, stroke, or cancer of the lungs or other organs
  • Reduced risk of lung disease (emphysema and bronchitis)
  • Slowed progression of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, bronchitis, or kidney failure.

Tips for Quitting

  • Why do you want to quit? Write down your reasons and post them in your home and office.
  • If you need help, call a helpline.
  • Build a support network of family, friends, and coworkers.
  • Set a “Quit Day” and stick to it.
  • Before your Quit Day, throw away all your cigarettes, lighters, ashtrays, and promotional items.
  • Clean and air out your house and car; get rid of as much of the tobacco smell as possible.
  • Make a dental appointment to have your teeth cleaned.
  • Avoid alcohol while you’re quitting.
  • Learn to relax and manage your stress.
  • Keep something handy to replace the cigarette in your fingers: hold a pencil, play with a paper clip, or a rubber band.
  • Drink lots of water, chew gum, eat healthy snacks (vegetable sticks or fruit).
  • Be more active — work on projects, hobbies, or house/yard work. Avoid watching television or just sitting.
  • Be physically active every day.
  • The urge to smoke will soon go away, whether you smoke or not. Distract yourself by focusing on something else.
  • List situations which trigger you to light up a cigarette—and try to avoid those situations.
  • If you know other people who smoke, ask them not to smoke around you.
  • Keep track of how much you spend on cigarettes. Put your daily cigarette money into a savings account and use it to buy a reward for yourself after your first smoke-free year.
  • You will likely have withdrawal symptoms, because nicotine is addicting. Symptoms may include nervousness, irritability, temporary depression, dry mouth, and cough. Remember that these withdrawal symptoms are temporary and will go away in a few weeks.
  • Take it one day at a time. If you slip, you are not a failure. If you smoke today, tell yourself you will quit again tomorrow.
  • Studies show the more often you try to quit, the more likely you are to quit permanently. Using two methods at once also increases your likelihood of success. For example, you may want to join a smoking cessation class and use nicotine gum or the nicotine patch at the same time.


Resources for Tobacco Addiction Programs


San Diego VA Healthcare System
Please contact your Primary Care Provider or member of the OEF/OIF Care Team for a referral for tobacco cessation services available at the San Diego VA.
Primary Care Line: (858) 552-7475

OEF/OIF Care Team Contacts:

Mission Valley & Chula Vista :
Bridget Salzman, MSW
(619) 400-5271

La Jolla:
Rikka Bonnette, LCSW
(858) 642-3615

Patrick O’Shea, MSW
(760) 643-2079

VA Pharmacy Telephone Tobacco Cessation Clinic

The Pharmacy Telephone Clinic provides telephone counseling and medications for quitting tobacco use. For Information/Registration, please contact:
(858) 642-3903 or 1-800-331-8387 (VETS) ext. 3903 to enroll in this clinic.

Smoking cessation medications are provided to participants at the La Jolla and Mission Valley Tobacco Free groups. Smoking cessation medications can also be obtained from a primary care provider.

VA Tobacco Cessation Groups

These groups are for all Veterans interested in quitting tobacco use. Veterans will receive counseling, support, and tobacco cessation medications for quitting tobacco use. All groups meet weekly for 60 minutes on an ongoing basis. These are drop-in groups. Patients can start attending at any time. No referral or appointment is needed. Check-in and make an appointment when you arrive.


La Jolla Tobacco Free Group:
Every Wednesday at 10:00 am, 2nd Floor, 2 North, Room 2436
Check-in at 2-North window

Mission Valley Tobacco Free Groups:
Every Tuesday at 1:00 pm, 2nd Floor, Room 2141
Check-in at Mental Health window

Oceanside Tobacco Free Group:
Every Monday at 10:00 am, 2nd Floor, Conference Room B
Check-in at Primary Care

VA Groups for Mental Health Patients:

La Jolla, Every Tuesday, 9:30-10:30am, 2nd floor, 2-North Room 2436. Check-in at 2-North window.

Questions? Call Dr. Mark Myers 858-642-3436 or 1-800-331-VETS ext. 3436
Oceanside, Call for availability Dr. Anne Nisenzon 760-643-2058

SmokefreeVET – A Text Messaging Program to Help Veterans Stop Smoking

We are pleased to announce the launch of SmokefreeVET, a new mobile text messaging service available to Veterans who wish to quit smoking. This text messaging program is designed to provide 24/7 support, tips, and encouragement to Veterans interested in quitting smoking. SmokefreeVET is based on NCI’s text message smoking cessation program, which has a proven track record of success: after one month, 17% of NCI’s text program users reported that they had quit smoking and 11% were able to stay tobacco free through 6 months. Veterans can sign up for the program by:

After signing up for the program, Veterans will begin receiving between 1 and 5 text messages per day, tailored to their quit date. Messages are sent beginning two weeks prior to the quit date and end six weeks afterwards. Veterans can receive additional supportive messages by
texting the keywords URGE, STRESS, or SMOKED at any time to 47848.

Smoking Cessation and Tobacco Control
2750 Fourth Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103
(858) 356-2963

Provides self-help manuals, audiotapes, and videos for people who want to quit using tobacco products. Offers an informational packet that contains guidelines for selecting a program and self-help resources. Provides information on all aspects of tobacco use, production, and marketing, as well as information on local, state, and national no-smoking laws.

California Smokers’ Helpline
1-800-NO-BUTTS (800-662-8887)

Quit smoking service operated by the University of California San Diego’s Moore’s Cancer Center. The Helpline offers self-help materials, referral to local programs, and one-on-one, telephone counseling to quit smoking. The Helpline also provides information to friends and family members of tobacco users.

Tobacco Chewers’ Helpline
1-800-844-CHEW (800-844-2439)

Why does it work?

  • Builds your motivation & confidence
  • Gives you strategies you can really use
  • Helps you create a plan to quit for good


Tobacco Cessations Programs in San Diego County

Nicotine Anonymous
(619) 682-7092

Weekly meetings for individuals struggling with nicotine addiction. Meetings are held in several locations throughout San Diego County; call hotline for most current locations.

Smoke Stoppers of San Diego
3699 Park Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 296-8700

One-week program helps individuals quit smoking. $229 for program, stop smoking or pay nothing guarantee.


Website offers tools and resources for individuals struggling with tobacco addiction, and provides an online community of support groups.

Toll-free Hotline: 1-800-QUITNOW (800-784-8669)

Offers information, resources, and guides for quitting tobacco. Hotline connects individuals to counselors and local resources.

Behavioral Health Services – Mountain Health and Community Services
Alpine: 1620 Alpine Blvd, Alpine, CA 91901: (619) 445-6200
Escondido: 255 N. Ash St. Suite 101, Escondido, CA 92027: (760) 745-5832
25th Street: 316 25th St. San Diego, CA 92102: (619) 238-5551

Offers behavioral health services including substance abuse programs, smoking cessation groups, and general counseling services.

Behavioral Health Services – Paradise Valley Hospital
2400 East Fourth Street
National City, CA 91950
(619) 470-4321

Offers outpatient services, support groups, and counseling for tobacco addiction.

Second Breath Program – Sharp Healthcare
(858) 505-1400

Group program is designed to guide individuals through the process of becoming tobacco-free by addressing habit and addiction components of smoking. Six-weekly sessions help build skills in behavior change, stress management, weight control, effective medication use and relapse prevention. Long-term support and follow-up is provided. Fee is $125, and participants who experience a relapse are welcome to repeat the program within one year free of charge. Sessions are held at Sharp Rees Stealy locations throughout San Diego.