During this season of giving, consider giving yourself and your family the gift of health. With the cigarette tax in Massachusetts increased by $1 per pack and the excise tax on many other tobacco products increased as well, it is a good chance to not only improve your health, but to improve your bottom line. If you are a smoker, quitting smoking improves your health, no matter how long you've smoked or how old you are.

When you quit for good, your health improves immediately, regardless of your age or health status. In addition, family members' health is also greatly improved. A child living in a smoke-free environment is less likely to develop asthma, allergies, bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections, lower respiratory tract infections or die from sudden infant death syndrome. Decreased exposure to secondhand smoke also leads to a lower risk of heart disease and lung cancer for the nonsmoking adults in the family. Remember, health benefits begin as soon as 20 minutes after quitting.

Here's a checklist to help you get started:

Give the gift of quitting

Holidays can be a hard time to quit smoking. If you want to quit as a holiday gift, pick a quit date in January, after the hubbub is over. A date two to four weeks away from today will work well. This will give you time to prepare your quit plan. Mark your quit date on a calendar, wrap the calendar, and give that as a gift.

Write your list and check it twice.

Making a plan ahead of time will help you quit for good. Write a list of your triggers -- the certain times, places, people or feelings that make you want to smoke. Then list what you will do to beat them. List how you will prepare for your quit date: for example, by cutting down on cigarettes, removing cigarettes from your home and car and by asking people close to you for their support during your quit attempt.

Find support among the cheer

Holiday gatherings of family and friends are a great place to line up support for quitting smoking. Let people know how they can support you when you quit. Talk to ex-smokers and find out what worked for them.

Steer clear of grinches

Stay away from people who discourage you or try to tempt you. Surround yourself with positive people.

Try something new

Quit-smoking medicines like the nicotine patch or prescriptions can double your chances of quitting. If you've tried a medicine before, don't give up. Try again. There are several options. Give your doctor a call to see which medicines might work for you.

Quitting smoking can be hard, but the rewards of quitting are immediate. Twenty minutes after your last cigarette, your blood pressure goes almost completely back to normal and within 24 hours your chance of a heart attack decreases. Five years after quitting, your risk of heart disease will be that of a nonsmoker.

The gift of health is the best gift of all, and it's the gift that keeps on giving.

Many free resources are available to help you quit and many health insurance plans cover FDA-approved medicines and counseling for quitting, including MassHealth. When you use quit-smoking medicines or counseling, you can double your chances of quitting for good! For information call the Massachusetts Smoker's Helpline at 1-800-784-8669 or visit makesmokinghistory.org.