Quitting smoking is like going into battle. For the best results, you need to plan your campaign carefully and prepare for the assault!
The most effective way to quit smoking is with counselling to help break the smoking habit and medication to relieve the cravings for nicotine and withdrawal symptoms. The support and advice of a health professional has been shown to increase your chance of success. Click here to find out why 'cold turkey' (going it alone) rarely works.
Most smokers who quit require repeated attempts before finally succeeding, so it is important to keep trying. Every attempt to quit is a learning experience and means you are more likely to succeed.
Weigh up the pros and cons
It helps to think about the reasons for and against smoking as this builds motivation. What are the things you like about smoking? What are the things you don’t like about being a smoker?
Write down the pros and cons in a list and see which way the balance tips. Is continuing to smoke worth it?
Keep the list of pros and cons with you after you quit. Read it if and when the going gets tough.
Keep a smoking diary
Monitor your smoking habit by recording the details for a day or two. As you smoke each cigarette, write down the time, why you smoked and the intensity of the craving from 1-5 (1 is no craving, 5 is the strongest). Most importantly, think about how you could deal with each craving instead of smoking next time.
It is easier to change a habit when you understand it better. You may decide to cut out the low ranking cigarettes which you really don’t need. Think about how you can avoid smoking the higher ranking ones so you will be prepared.
You can download a one day diary here.
Stop smoking in the house or car
This first step really helps to break the association between smoking and the triggers at home, such as on rising or when finishing a meal. It also helps to protect your family from secondhand smoke. Click here for more about a smoke-free home.
Driving is also a common trigger to smoke. Remove the car ashtray and clean and freshen up the inside of the car.
Change your lifestyle
As a smoker, you probably spend an hour or two smoking each day. It helps to plan activities to fill the extra time you will have available after quitting. You could take up a new hobby or sport, spend more time in the garden, take on some part-time work or organise some social activities.
Now that you have decided to quit, why not also make some other healthy changes and really get yourself into shape? Commit to exercising regularly (see below), drink less alcohol and improve your diet.
There are likely to be certain situations (e.g. Friday night drinks) or people (e.g. a particular friend) which you associate strongly with smoking. It helps to change your routine to remove those triggers. Consider avoiding those situations or people for the first few weeks after quitting. Develop some new healthy interests which you don’t associate with smoking, such as quilting or learning a musical instrument.
Regular exercise is especially useful when trying to quit and is recommended for everyone. Exercise helps in many ways.
Studies have shown that a short 10 minute walk can relieve the urge to smoke for up to 45 minutes. Exercise also helps ease withdrawal symptoms and makes quitting more comfortable. Click here for more about exercise and cravings.
Exercise improves your mood after quitting and is great for relieving stress and anxiety, which can often be a trigger for smoking.
Exercise also helps to reduce weight gain after quitting.
Continuing to exercise after quitting has been shown to reduce the risk of slipping back to smoking.
Other health benefits
Exercise improves health generally, undoing some of the harms of past smoking.
Some simple suggestions for being more active include:
- Get off the bus one or two stops early and walk the rest of the way
- Park your car a block or two away and walk
- Use the stairs instead of the elevator
- Rake the leaves
- Take a walk after dinner instead of watching TV
- Walk the dog
- Walk with a friend at lunchtime
- Walk to the store and home instead of driving
- Garden in the yard or clean a room
If you would like to be more active:
- Start jogging or swimming
- Join a gym or have a regular game of tennis
- Buy a pushbike and cycle to work
- Get a personal trainer
Any form of physical activity is good, either at home or outdoors. It is important to start slowly with small doses if you are not used to being active.
Exercising with a friend is more fun and helps to you maintain the habit. Try to exercise on most days if possible.
If you are over 40 or have health problems check with your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have not exercised for a while.
Make an exercise plan and try to stick with it. Here is an example:
After you quit, you should halve your intake of caffeine, especially from coffee but also from energy drinks, cola and tea.
Smokers clear caffeine from their bodies faster than non-smokers. After quitting, the caffeine builds up to higher levels and can cause anxiety, restlessness, difficulty sleeping and concentrating (caffeine toxicity). Smokers sometimes assume this is due to nicotine withdrawal.
Click here for more about caffeine.
What about alcohol?
Alcohol is a powerful trigger to smoke for many people. It also impairs your judgement and can make it harder to stick with your plan to not smoke. It is a good idea to avoid alcohol if possible for the first 2-3 weeks after quitting.
Try to drink less alcohol too. After you quit smoking, alcohol levels build up in your body and you need less alcohol for the same effect.
To help break the link between alcohol and smoking, alternate with non-alcoholic drink, drink in a different place or change your drink.
If you are a heavy drinker, consider becoming sober at the same time as quitting smoking. Research has shown that doing both together can be effective. Talk to your doctor before stopping suddenly as this can make you sick.
Click here for more about the relationship between smoking and alcohol.
Get social support
Tell your family and friends before you quit and ask them for support. People who get support from family and friends usually have an easier time quitting smoking and staying smoke-free.
Identify your 'support team', people in your life who can help you. Tell them how they can help or what they should or should not say. Explain that you may be irritable or anxious for a short while and ask for their understanding.
Ask your smoking friends not to offer you or give you a cigarette, even if you ask for one. Ask them not to smoke around you. If your partner or flatmate smokes, try to negotiate a smoke-free environment, or at least no smoking in shared areas. Explain to them that smoking is their choice, but you have chosen not to smoke. Nagging them to quit can be counterproductive.
Click here for more ideas for getting support.
If you want to help someone else quit smoking, click here to find out what you can do.
Smokers often use a cigarette as a reward, for example for completing a task. Nicotine also activates the reward centre in the brain and can give you a sense of pleasure. It is no wonder that smokers sometimes feel deprived when quitting and feel something is missing.
Think instead about what you will be gaining—a new lease on life, freedom from being controlled by an addiction, better health, more energy, and improved self-esteem.
Nevertheless, the sense of loss from quitting can be very painful and many smokers feel like they are ‘losing their best friend’.
It is helpful to plan some rewards to counter these feelings. Quitting smoking is not easy and you deserve a reward! How much money are you saving from not smoking? Spend some of this ‘ash cash’ on a well-earned treat for yourself or a loved one, such as your grandchildren.
Write down some short and long-term rewards so they are more concrete.
- Short term rewards (say after 1 week) could include a new CD, a massage, dinner at a special restaurant, a new item of clothing or spending more time doing something you enjoy.
- Longer term rewards (say after 1 month or 6 months) might be a new dress, gym membership, magazine subscription or that holiday you could never afford.
Start your stop-smoking medication
Most smokers require medication to relieve the powerful nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms after quitting. Medications double your chance of quitting successfully and make the process a lot more comfortable.
With any medication, there is a risk side-effects, but any health risk from anti-smoking medication is negligible compared to the substantial risks from smoking!
Stop-smoking medication is usually started 1-2 weeks before quit day. Choose your medication and get started now while you are working on your quit plan. When your quit day arrives you will be ready to go!
Click here for more about stop-smoking medication.
Set a Quit Day
Pick a day in the next 2 weeks and make a commitment or promise to yourself to quit on that day. Decide whether a week day or weekend day is better for you. Pick a day without too much pressure but still have activities to keep yourself busy.
Remember that there is no perfect time to quit. Life is filled with ups and downs and it is a mistake to keep putting off quit day till everything is 'just right'. Be sure to give yourself enough time to prepare and plan your strategy.
A firm quit day is not essential and some smokers chose to work towards quitting and quit when they just feel ready. Some smokers say 'the quit day chose me!'.
Decide whether you will stop abruptly or if you would prefer to cut down gradually. Both methods are equally effective and it is a matter of personal choice.
Last Modified: 31-05-2017