Maybe you are one of the 70 percent of smokers who say they would like to quit in the United States. Maybe you saw the Great American Smokeout day come and go, but couldn’t summon the willpower to quit smoking. Maybe you have tried to quit smoking once or twice before and failed. If so, don’t be too hard on yourself. Nobody is saying this is easy, but with all the resources available, hopefully you won’t need to match the famous Mark Twain quote.
“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world,” said the great American writer, “I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” Very funny, you may say, but how does this help me? You should know on average it may take between five and 10 attempts to finally succeed in quitting the habit. Each time is not an opportunity lost, but a chance to learn and improve your odds for the next try.
Once the decision to quit smoking is made, prepare yourself for a long journey to a smoke-free future.
The Center for Disease Control, the National Cancer Institute and countless health organizations have detailed strategies to help people quit smoking, and all remind us that quitting has instant benefits. The lungs begin to repair the damage done, blood pressure drops and circulation improves.
How to quit smoking
The basic plan to quit smoking has four main steps: pick the day to quit, get support, change your routines and stay smoke-free.
Set a quit day
To quit smoking, you may choose a day that has a special significance, like a birthday or anniversary, but don’t use this as an excuse to delay your decision another six months.
As an alternative, any given Monday is a good day to start, since we tend to view Mondays as the day to make a fresh start.
Quit and Stay Quit Monday is a campaign that promotes this day of the week as the best to give up smoking or to try again if the attempt fails. In either case, pick a day that gives you at least two-weeks time to make the necessary preparations, but is not more than a month away.
To successfully quit smoking you need planning and a strong commitment:
- Use this time to get rid of everything related to smoking in your house, in your car and at work.
- Write down a list of reasons supporting your decision to give up tobacco: health, costs, family…
- Tell everybody about your intentions so no one will smoke around you and they will bear with you if you are feeling cranky at first.
- Stock up on sugarless gum or any other substitute that may help you.
- Start cutting back on the number of cigarettes smoked each day, unless you prefer to stop cold turkey, which works for some smokers.
Get support to quit
There has never been a wider range of resources available to break the physical and mental addiction created by smoking. Studies suggest a combination of two or more methods works best when quitting. With the help of your doctor, decide what the right option is for you, and keep in mind many health plans cover medications and counseling:
- Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) will relieve the physical withdrawal symptoms and comes in many forms: patches, gum, inhalers…
- Prescriptions drugs, such as antidepressants or medication that blocks the effects of nicotine in the brain may be useful.
- Individual counseling, in person or by telephone; according to the American Cancer Society, those who use telephone counseling are twice as likely to be successful in quitting compared to smokers who don’t take advantage of this resource. Telephone counseling is available at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
- Support groups such as Nicotine Anonymous; it is proven the longer the counseling lasts, the greater the chances of success.
Change your routines
Smoking is linked to the smoker’s routines throughout the day: the first cigarette in the morning, smoking during coffee break, after work, with alcohol… Even when using NRT, a smoker may miss having something in his hand.
- Switch to tea or herbal tea, instead of coffee; avoid alcohol and foods you used to eat while smoking.
- Drink a lot of water or other fluids.
- Chew on sugarless gum; munch on vegetable sticks or any substitute that works for you.
- Stay active and spend more time exercising. Exercise will help improve your mood and energy levels; it will curb the weight gain you may experience after you stop smoking. Walking is a good way to start.
The first three months are typically the hardest and when most relapses occur. Remind yourself that nicotine withdrawal symptoms don’t last long.
- Don’t fool yourself thinking you can smoke just once.
- Avoid situations that will tempt you to smoke; plan ahead for those moments that will be the hardest.
- Reward yourself: put aside the money you would have spent on tobacco and use it to buy something you really like.
- If the desire to smoke seems too great, remind yourself of all the effort you have made so far; review the reasons you had to quit: smoking can cost you 10 years of your life!
- If you slip, don’t be discouraged: learn from your mistakes and you will be better prepared for next time.
Finally, most quitlines insist there is no scientific evidence to back the use of other methods such as acupuncture, hypnosis or laser therapy when giving up tobacco. Still, you may know of someone who successfully quit smoking using one of these less conventional approaches. While they are generally safe, when performed by a reputable practitioner, you will find they are not covered by insurance plans. On the other hand, electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have been declared unsafe by the FDA, and you should always be cautious of “magical” formulas that promise instant result at a high cost.