Big life changes can be tough, even when for your benefit. Starting a new job, moving homes, becoming a parent, and even quitting smoking.
Your friends might tell you to “just give it up” already, or to “quit that nasty habit”. But quitting smoking, like all other big changes, is much more difficult than it is given credit for. Quitting is often something that we believe has to happen suddenly, when it reality quitting smoking is more of a journey. It requires a certain degree of thought, planning, commitment, and follow-through.
If change is hard and quitting is too, then why stop smoking? Smoking is related to 480,000 deaths per year in the United States alone. Smoking cigarettes is also the leading cause of preventative disease, and has been shown to shorten a woman’s lifespan by approximately 11 years (1). This is a major motivator for people who have the desire to quit: it could extend your life.
But we get it: quitting smoking is way easier said than done. Even though you might have great reasons to quit, you are probably left wondering how to quit.
What’s the best way to quit smoking? Well, not everyone is the same when it comes to quitting. Some strategies are scientifically proven to work better than others. On a more personal level, certain people find certain strategies to be more practical than others.
That’s why we’re bringing you ten tips to quit smoking – so that you may choose from the best options available. These tips are all great, and you can certainly incorporate them all or simply pick and choose the ones that suit you best.
Top Ten Tips on How to Stop Smoking
1 – Make a Plan – Making a plan is the natural first step when it comes to quitting, and as a starting point this tip is highly recommended. One of the suggestions made by the American Cancer Society is to pick a date – and stick to it. But there’s a catch: you have to write it down, circle it on a calendar, or do something else actionable. You have to take the date and make it visible (2).
Not only will this promote commitment on your part, but it also gives you time to prepare and strategize to ensure your success. If this is not your first attempt at quitting, it is also suggested to reflect on what worked and what didn’t work during your last attempt (2). This will help you start the frame work for your smoking cessation plan.
2 – Have a Support Team – It has long been supported that your social environment impacts your health (3). This is why having friends and family in your corner can be really important when you are planning to quit. One study found that smokers who were educated on health and supported by a family member had more success with smoking cessation than those who were provided with health education only (4).
On that note, don’t be afraid to set boundaries with the people around you when it comes to smoking. Let your friends and family know that you are planning on giving up cigarettes, and ask them not to smoke around you (1). This is one way to resist the temptation of seeing another person light up.
3 – Eat your Fruits and Veggies – There are a couple benefits of upping your fruit and vegetable consumption when you quit smoking. Firstly, you are adding nutrients, specifically vitamin C, which is heavily depleted by smoking. It also helps to replace the hand to mouth habit – instead of holding a cigarette, you are adding something beneficial to you. You can even start this before you quit, as studies suggest that increased fruit and vegetable consumption precedes smoking cessation (5).
4 – Behavioral Support – Behavioral interventions are one of the best ways to promote your success of kicking the smoking habit for good. Behavioral support can come in many different forms including discussions, and activities that promote change techniques. Individual counselling, group counselling, and self-help books are all examples of behavioral interventions (6).
In our age of technology these interventions are both convenient and almost limitless. One recent study found that internet-based behavioral support increased the incidence of cessation by 29% in the long-term and 19% in the short term (7). Just think of it as one more way to give yourself an edge when you’re trying to quit.
5 – Meditation and Mindfulness – Stress can be a huge trigger when it comes to smoking. When stress goes up, self-control goes down, which is why this is something you want to pay attention to when you are planning to quit. Meditation is one way to help moderate stress levels, and it has also been shown to be effective in reducing smoking. This result was seen after only 5 hours of meditation training. The conclusion of the study was that brief meditation improves self-control capacity and reduces smoking (8).
Similar to this, another study found that mindfulness training helps also helps with quitting. Participants who received mindfulness training recorded formal and informal practice in a daily diary. The results supported the idea that informal mindfulness practice (affirmations, utilizing techniques, and performing tasks mindfully) helped the participants break the link between craving a cigarette and smoking one (9). We think meditation and mindfulness is worth trying out, as it is one of the more cost-effective and convenient cessation tools available.
6 – Download an App – Want to quit smoking? Yup, there’s an app for that. Although the research on these effectiveness of these apps is relatively new, some are promising. The apps that utilize cognitive behavioral therapy techniques are the most likely to promote success (10). CBT is often short-term and goal-oriented, which allows users to feel empowered psychologically and help them quit (11).
7 – Nicotine Replacement Therapy – One component of smoking that really makes it difficult to quit is nicotine addiction. Nicotine is found in tobacco and is highly addictive. Nicotine Replacement Therapy, or NRT, is one way to combat this.
In fact, the statistics are staggering: one study concluded that NRTs increase the rate of quitting by 50-60%. The authors of this analysis added that they were “very unlikely to change” the confidence with which they estimate the effect to be (12). This makes nicotine replacement therapy the leading strategy in terms of smoking cessation success.
Options for NRT include an inhalator, sublingual lozenges or tablets, transdermal patch, and nasal spray. When it comes to NRTs, adverse effects are rarely reported. The effect of nicotine addiction is one of the biggest preventers of abstinence from smoking. Since NRTs reduce nicotine cravings and ease withdrawal, they are a valuable tool to promote smoking abstinence (13).
8 – Avoid trigger situations – A trigger situation is any situation that may trigger you to want to smoke. Often these situations are environmental, but they can also be emotional. Feeling sad, anxious, or lonely might lead you to feel you want to smoke. Talking about your emotions and finding support can help (14). If you aren’t feeling the best emotionally, try calling a friend or family member before you decide to light a cigarette.
Some triggers are more pattern-related. This would be a situation that would typically go “hand in hand” with smoking a cigarette for you. Common pattern triggers include drinking alcohol, drinking coffee, and driving. Keeping your hands busy or replacing the habit with something else (like chewing gum) can help with disassociating the two activities together. Forming new habits can also help break the habit of pattern-related smoking. For instance, if you associate drinking coffee with smoking a cigarette, try switching your usual coffee for green tea (14).
9 – Take up Yoga – Whether or not being active is already part of your routine, taking up yoga might help you stay clean. One study showed that women who took part in a twice-weekly Vinyasa flow yoga class had reduced anxiety, better perceived health, and higher rates of abstinence compared to their counterparts who were assigned to a general health and wellness program (15).
This works much the way that mindfulness and meditation does to help you quit – by reducing stress participants feel less of an urge to light up. Participants of yoga have also reported higher body awareness, which may help quitters stay motivated (16). If you’re having a particularly hard day on your quitting journey, it might be a good time to sign up for a yoga class.
10 – Try GABA – When it comes to supplements that can help you quit smoking, GABA is an interesting one. GABA stands for gamma aminobutyric acid, and actually acts as a neurotransmitter in the body. GABA has been found to support the regulation of neurons that are partly responsible for mediating nicotine’s the reinforcing effect. What this basically does is break the tie of nicotine dependence (17). Don’t forget to consult with your doctor before adding any new supplements to your cessation plan.
What to expect
What are the effects of quitting smoking? There are a few key things you may want to prepare yourself for:
Increased sense of taste and smell – Supported both anecdotally and by research, smoking has been found to increase the risk of taste and smell impairment (18). Long story short, long-term smoking dulls your sense of taste and smell. One study found that upon smoking cessation, participants rapidly recovered their taste sensitivity. Now you can take that money you once spent on cigarettes and go buy yourself a delicious meal.
Nicotine withdrawal – Nicotine is the addictive substance found in cigarettes. Some people find withdrawal from it harder than others, and nicotine replacement therapy is often used to combat the symptoms. Symptoms of withdrawal include low mood, irritability, anxiety, poor concentration, and increased hunger (19). For most people, withdrawal can be compared to the flu, and only lasts a few days to a couple of weeks (20).
Dealing with deficiencies – Unfortunately, long-term smoking can result in some nutritional deficiencies. While you may have not noticed before, it is possible that you could become more aware of these once you give up smoking.
Antioxidants like vitamins A and C are used more rapidly in smokers. Your body uses these antioxidants to try and protect itself from the harmful effects of smoking (the oxidative stress). Not only are these antioxidants in high demand, but research shows that smokers tend to eat less nutrient-dense foods than their non-smoking counterparts (21). Low levels of vitamin A and C can result in dry skin, slower healing, and increased susceptibility to illness.
Weight gain – When it comes to quitting smoking, the benefits totally outweigh the effects. That being said, weight gain is a common concern among those considering quitting. The mechanisms behind this aren’t yet understood, however this effect can be mediated by dietary intervention. Nicotine gum (one of the nicotine replacement therapies) has also been shown to delay cessation weight gain. Both the dietary intervention and nicotine gum are also support a greater success rate among quitters.
Now you know the facts, but you might be lacking motivation. We’re going to share with you some serious smoking facts, and we hope it gives you the inspiration you need to move forward and try to give up smoking – for good.
- There are more than 7000 chemicals in cigarettes including lead, tar, and arsenic. They also contain substances like ammonia, acetone, and carbon monoxide. Also found: formaldehyde, which is used in embalming. I know – we winced at this one too.
- Smoking is also harmful to your loved ones. Just like smoking, secondhand smoke is also known to cause cancer – the most prevalent being lung cancer (1).
- Although useful when transitioning to complete smoking cessation, it is important to know that electronic cigarettes (also known as e-cigarettes) are not a proven safe alternative to smoking cigarettes. Like cigarettes, most e-cigarettes do contain nicotine, which is highly addictive (1). E-cigarettes contain less toxins than cigarettes, but you can still find harmful substances like heavy metals and some cancer causing agents. Experts do not support e-cigarettes as a suitable smoking cessation tool (22).
- Going “cold turkey” (giving up cigarettes all at once) has been found to be no more or less effective than weaning off of smoking cigarettes (2). Secondhand smoke is also correlated with increased frequency of illness and ear infection in children.
- More Americans are killed every year than alcohol, illegal drugs, car accidents, guns, and HIV combined. Statistically speaking, 1 in 5 deaths in the United States is smoking related (1).
- Smoking is responsible for 80% of lung cancer deaths, which is the mostly likely cancer to lead to death in both men and women. Lung cancer is very difficult to treat, and the best way you can protect yourself is simply by quitting.
- Even your dental health is compromised by smoking. Smoking lowers immunity in the mouth specifically, and this has the potential to result in periodontal disease and oral cancer (23). Just one more reason to quit smoking: your smile!
- Depression and smoking are frequently seen together. Originally it was thought that depression may hold back an individual from maintaining abstinence, however the current research illustrates that depressed smokers are actually quite resilient when it comes to quitting. Get this: quitting long-term may even be associated with a decrease in depressive symptoms (24).
- A “pack a day” smoker spends at least $2000 a year on their habit. Thinking about how you might otherwise spend that cash can help you stay motivated to quit (25).
- Planning on expanding your family? Smoking affects fertility, and women who smoke have a harder time conceiving. Smokers are also more likely to have ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages, and stillbirths.
- Do you notice that you’re getting sick more than usual? Smoking compromises your immunity and promotes chronic inflammation. If you give up smoking you might gain a day or two, simply because you won’t be losing a day or two to illness as often. Enhancing your quality of life and overall health sounds pretty good, doesn’t it (22)?
Feeling like you still need some help? We would never leave you hanging, so here are some ideas of resources available that you can tap into for further support:
- Join a support group – Nicotine Anonymous and Smokers Anonymous are both groups that use support and 12 step programs to help smokers quit.
- Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW , a free phone-based service offering education and support
- Use SmokefreeTXT, which is a 24 hour text messaging service that provides advice and encouragement for quitters who want to stay abstinent.
- Contact the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, or the National Cancer Institute for more information on smoking.
Whether you’ve tried quitting before or embarking on your first attempt, we hope these tips will help you make a plan and stick to it. We appreciate that even though there is a ton of information available, you may have a hard road ahead of you. Quitting is not easy, but given the right tools it is attainable. Millions of people have quit for good before, and we’re confident you can too.