For over a century, cigarette smoking has been the source of many health problems in the United States. And while stricter anti-smoking laws and hiked cigarette taxes have helped to mitigate the number of smokers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates cigarette smoking still leads to more than 480,000 deaths per year.
In fact, it’s the number one cause of preventable disease and death, with more than 16 million Americans living with a smoking-related disease and over $300 billion spent annually on health care costs and lost productivity.
These are hard-hitting numbers, but for the smoker who’s spent years lighting up, how do you quit, and remain a non-smoker, in the future? Experts will tell you, it’s personal. The answer lies in an individual’s motivation, commitment, and reasons for the change.
Creating a smoking cessation plan is a good start. Then, it’s making a concerted effort on a daily basis not to revert to an old habit. Sound difficult? Let’s take a look at some tried-and-true tips and resources that can provide you with valuable smoking cessation assistance.
Step 1: Preparing to Quit Smoking
You know smoking is bad for you. Tobacco contains a deadly mix of 7,000+ harmful chemicals, it damages every organ in your body, it causes disease from secondhand smoke, and the list goes on. What you also know is the nicotine in tobacco is extremely addictive. So, to quit, you’ve got to have a pretty powerful reason.
It might be that you’re pregnant and don’t want to harm your baby, or you want to achieve a life goal of running a marathon. Maybe you’ve seen another smoker with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) fighting to breathe. Or maybe you want to be more than a memory to your significant other, kids and grandkids.
Whatever your reason or reasons, be clear about what they are, write them down, keep them handy, and use them as the motivation to build a strategic quit plan. Thinking about quitting is one thing, but putting it all into practice is the hard part.
- Set a Quit Date – Commit to becoming smoke-free by setting a date on your calendar. Consider what’s going on in your life, and try to choose a time that’s not going to be too busy or stressful. A lot of smokers pick a date that’s about two weeks away; this gives them time to prepare, without putting it off into the distant future.
- Inform Your Social System – With support from family and friends in your life, it’s much easier to quit. Let them know of your plan, and explain what they can do to help you, being specific about what support will be most helpful. By telling those close to you about your goal, it will also hold you accountable. While it may be hard to bring this subject up, anyone who loves you will be more willing to help than you think!
- Discard Reminders – Keeping smoking paraphernalia around can mean that you’re not truly dedicated to quitting. While it may be hard to do, pitch your remaining cigarettes, ashtrays, lighters, and matches. Plus, since even the smell of cigarettes can cause a craving, it might be helpful to clean your house, workspace and car. You may even want to dismantle any “smoking space” or hang out you have along with any specific smoking coats or jackets you wore while outside smoking.
- Identify Your Triggers – Like any habit, smoking and inherent nicotine addiction is probably tied to other parts of your life. Determine what these activities, people, feelings, or specific times might be. Write down ways to deal with them when you’re trying to quit. Then, if an instance arises, you’ll be ready to combat cravings.
- Develop Coping Mechanisms – To ensure you’re able to stay strong and smoke-free, there are several products and medications at your disposal. Some are available over the counter, while others require a prescription from a doctor. Besides medications, there are other strategies you can adopt that have proven effective in fighting withdrawal symptoms.
Step 2: Quitting Smoking
As part of your smoking cessation plan, you should determine what methods you’ll use to stop smoking. Some individuals choose to quit cold turkey with no aids. Others prefer smoking cessation medications or products, many of which involve nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) that delivers a controlled amount of nicotine to slowly wean you from cigarettes.
Which smoking cessation method(s) you pick will be dependent on your willpower and your ability to cope with nicotine withdrawal symptoms. While they are strongest in the first few days, irritability, depression, insomnia, headaches, tremors, and an increased appetite, among other symptoms, can last several weeks in the heaviest of smokers.
Because medications can’t address behavioral factors associated with smoking, the most effective smoking cessation program includes counseling in addition to medication. Thus, be sure your plan involves talking to a professional. Many local hospitals and clinics have counselors to help you quit for minimal or no cost.
In addition, you can talk to a counselor over the phone for free through the National Cancer Institute’s Smokefree.gov 1-800-QUIT-NOW helpline – or you can receive 24/7 support, encouragement and advice through SmokefreeTXT or Smokefree Apps available for download on Apple and Android devices.
Some individuals have even tried smoking cessation hypnosis, laser therapy, and acupuncture to help reduce the desire to smoke. But there’s little to no proof that these methods actually help you successfully quit.
Step 3: Staying Smoke-Free
Should you feel the urge to smoke while trying to quit, remember your reasons for quitting as well as how your body feels smoke-free.
After just 20 minutes of smoking your last cigarette, your heart rate drops. After 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood returns to normal.
Within the weeks and months following smoking cessation, your heart attack risk begins to drop, your lung function improves, and your coughing and shortness of breath decrease. Then, in the years afterward, your risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer decreases substantially.
With all that positive news, you still think you can’t resist the desire to light up? Here are some effective tricks to curb your cravings:
- – Intense exercise, like running, cycling or circuit training, can provide a dopamine release to replace the one you got from cigarettes. Focusing on exercising can also divert your attention from cigarettes and help your health improve faster.
- – To deal with cravings, occupy your time with a new hobby. If not more regular exercise, maybe painting, creative writing, or cooking. Cooking is especially good, as you’re newly improved sense of taste and smell will allow you to have a better appreciation for what you’re eating.
- – Since nicotine is an appetite suppressant, when you quit smoking it’s normal to experience an increased appetite. Having healthy foods close by to snack on can occupy your hands and mouth, helping you to stay calm and fight the urge. And research suggests that certain foods may be more beneficial than others. In addition, sticking to a regime of eating 5-7 small meals throughout your day can further help curb your cravings.
- – Consuming water speeds up your nicotine detox, flushing toxins out of your system. It can also ease your cough as your lungs are clearing out mucus – and, the more water you drink, the more it suppresses your appetite. Drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages, while being water-based, are not the same. Only crystal, clear HO will do you right!
- – By being more in tune with your body, you’re better able to understand what’s triggering your cravings. Activities like yoga and meditation are a great way to handle some of the psychological aspects of nicotine withdrawal. Simply by focusing on deep breathing or specific mantras, you can become more aware of your thoughts and feeling, and more relaxed!
- If you feel like you’re going to relapse, there are several trusted resources available, including your own networks of support, such as close friends, non-smoking coworkers, or your spouse. It’s also important to remember it’s normal for many smokers to try quitting several times before they give up the habit for good. Keep trying until you succeed! Be sure to speak to an expert, not just for quitting, but even after the process starts and you are going strong! Everyone needs a little encouragement, from time to time.
- Join a Quit Smoking Study – when you have tried many of the above methods without avail, research studies may be your answer. When you join a smoking cessation study, you are could possibly receive treatment that has yet to reach the general public. Plus, you get to be on the bleeding edge of cessation research that could help many others kick the habit as well!
Optional Step 4: Get Involved
The best way to stay on the smoke-free bandwagon is help others get healthy too! By enacting yourself as an authority, you make your own path back to becoming a smoker that much more difficult to ascertain. A few simple ways to do this:
- as many smoking cessation programs will tell you, a majority of the people that work the phones and chat lines working with those trying to quit, are ex-smokers themselves. Be sure to pay it forward to the next generation of quitters by volunteering some of your time to make the future smoke-free for good!
- Many cities and neighborhoods across America are enacting their own smoking prohibitions and creating civic legislation that protects their citizens and communities from tobacco use. You too could lead the initiative in your own town and make smoking a thing of the past! Check out the way San Francisco is ending smoking with ordinances and laws that impact everything from how cigarettes can be displayed, promoted, and sold to the public, to where people can smoke. While most states prohibit smoking within a certain distance to a building entrance (typically 10 feet), San Francisco take it a step further banning smoking in ATM lines, concert ticket lines, and public housing commons, like community rooms and shared laundry facilities.
- The Truth Initiative is a youth-inspired, not-for-profit that focuses on ending smoking. And not just as a habit at the user-level, but is targeting the tobacco industry as a whole! Check out their website for unique ways to get involved.
Cessation in a Summary
The health epidemic America faces with smoking is very real. But so is your ability to quit. If you or a loved one is a smoker, know that quitting and remaining smoke-free is possible.
When considering what aids are most effective, however, be wary of e-cigarettes. Electronic nicotine delivery systems, like e-cigarettes, vape pens and e-hookah, are currently not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and should not be used as smoking alternatives. Highly addictive and attractive especially to youth because of their myriad of flavors, e-cigarettes also contain nicotine and other dangerous toxins.
You don’t need cigarettes, or e-cigarettes for that matter. By focusing on your reasons to quit, creating a smoking cessation plan, and taking advantage of those resources ready and waiting for you, it’s possible to commit to a smoke free lifestyle – and change your life, as well as the lives of others, for the better.