Once prescribed by doctors to ease anxiety, cigarette smoking is now recognized as one of the leading preventable causes of death, contributing to cancer, heart disease, stroke and other chronic diseases worldwide. Although cigarettes are physically and psychologically addictive, and stopping smoking can difficult, quitting is one of the top ten most common New Year’s resolutions. If it’s at the top of your list this year, consider these strategies to help you make a fresh start.
Decide the Date
Once you decide to quit smoking, select a stop date and mark your calendar. Choose a time when you are most likely to be successful. For example, if you smoke to cope with stress, stopping in the middle of final exam week or a new job transition may not work well for you. If you are a social smoker, quitting after all the holiday and New Year celebrations have passed may be best. If your stop date is not today, plan ahead to set yourself up for success.
Write It Down
Keep a journal to help identify the locations, people, activities and emotions you associate most with smoking. As you quit, use this knowledge to avoid triggers or plan ahead to cope with them when confronted. Also, make a list of your reasons for quitting and refer to it when the going gets tough. It may not ease the physical symptoms of withdrawal, but psychologically, it can inspire you to continue on your path as a nonsmoker.
Make a decision and hold yourself accountable, but let others hold you accountable as well. Tell everyone you know that you plan to quit smoking. Develop a network of friends, family members and coworkers who can support your cessation efforts at home, at work, and in between.
Change Your Habits
Until you quit, get rid of all lighters and ashtrays. Instead, light cigarettes with matches and re-use a single glass jar or tin can for ashes and butts. Never buy more than one pack at a time, and always finish one before you buy another. Abandon your favorite brand of cigarettes and smoke something less appealing. Change the location of where you keep your cigarettes. If you keep them in a purse or backpack, move them to a jacket. If you keep them in a pocket on your right side, move them to the left side. Each time you smoke a cigarette, hold and smoke it differently. If you use your right hand, switch to the left. If you use your index and middle fingers, start using your middle and ring fingers instead. If you smoke using the left side of your mouth, change to the right side.
Change Your Routine
If breaking your habits before you break your addiction will help ease the transition, start counting down four weeks before your quit date. Do not smoke while driving, riding in a car, laying in bed, talking on the phone, drinking alcohol, or in other situations you usually associate with smoking. For the first week, do not smoke within fifteen minutes of waking, eating or drinking. For the second week, wait for at least thirty minutes after these activities before smoking. Wait forty-five minutes during the third week, and one hour during week four. Also change cigarettes each week, always decreasing the amount of nicotine per pack.
Consider Cold Turkey
Although quitting smoking gradually may be easier for certain individuals, it hasn’t proven to be the most successful strategy. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at the University of Wisconsin analyzed stopping smoking success rates and compared cessation programs to individual methods. They concluded that the method of stopping smoking was the strongest predictor of success (it was even more important than daily cigarette consumption prior to quitting). Ninety percent of successful quitters stopped smoking without the help of an organized program and most of these individuals used a “cold turkey” approach.
Stopping smoking isn’t easy, and it's not always successful, regardless of the method. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of all adults who try to quit smoking are successful, but not always on the first attempt. If you start smoking again after you’ve quit, identify the reason and work through it, instead of feeling bad about yourself. Then, try again.
If you can’t quit on your own, seek professional support. Therapies that can be helpful in stopping smoking include hypnosis, acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, and botanical medicines (which should only be taken under the supervision of a doctor trained in their use). Or talk to your doctor about nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). Available as gum, patches, inhalers, sprays and lozenges, NRT can ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce the urge to smoke. For additional resources and referrals to programs in your area, call the National Network of Tobacco Cessation Quitlines at 1-800-794-8669 or visit the website of the National Cancer Institute at www.smokefree.gov.
When you reach your goal, reward yourself and celebrate your success. Use the money you are saving (now that you’re not buying cigarettes) to treat yourself to something that supports your new, healthier lifestyle, like a professional massage, cooking class, health retreat, or gym membership.