Struggling with your attempts to quit smoking? Here's our guide of the best ways to quit smoking. Learn how to quit smoking now.
Although smoking raises your risk of numerous life-threatening health problems, around 38 million Americans are still puffing away. Yet, about 70 percent of them want to quit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, more than half of adult smokers tried to quit during the past year.
Like Mark Twain said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.”
Nicotine is a hard drug to beat; it may be more addictive than heroin or cocaine. That’s probably why so many people don’t quit until they’ve developed a rough tobacco-related illness like heart disease, cancer, or stroke.
Physical dependence on nicotine creates unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you stop smoking. Many smokers also have a difficult time breaking away from social and emotional connections to smoking.
It's typical to rely on rituals, such as smoking after waking up, eating, or sex.
You are more likely to give up tobacco for the long haul if you have a strategy that fights both the physical symptoms and your emotional ties to the drug.
Here’s the best news: nearly 62 percent of adults who have smoked in the United States have quit. Quitting is hard, but people do hard things all the time. You can be one of them.
Get serious about your health
“Smoking cessation represents the single most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of their lives,” the U.S. Surgeon General said.
When you crave a cigarette, concentrate on the benefits of not lighting up. Quitting smoking lowers your risk of lung and other cancers, heart attack, stroke, chronic lung disease, macular degeneration (a leading cause of blindness), gum disease, and asthma.
If you think you’ve smoked so long that quitting won’t make much of a difference in your health, think again. In fact, you’ll gain benefits almost immediately when you quit cigarettes.
After just 20 minutes without smoking, your heart rate and blood pressure drop. A few days later, the carbon monoxide level in your blood returns to normal and, after two weeks to three months of no tobacco, your circulation improves and your lung function increases.
A year or two after giving up cigarettes, your risk of heart disease drops dramatically. Ten years after quitting, your risk of lung cancer is about half that of a smoker.
Reduce nicotine cravings with medications
If you are struggling with nicotine withdrawal, medications can help. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) eases symptoms by providing a small amount of nicotine without any other dangerous chemicals found in cigarettes. As your body gradually becomes accustomed to going without nicotine, the urge to smoke decreases and you can use less NRT.
NRT patches, gum, and lozenges are available over-the-counter. If they don’t seem to help, don’t give up — talk to your doctor about other options that are right for you.
Nicotine nasal sprays and inhalers are available by prescription as are the stop-smoking medications bupropion (Wellbutrin, Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix).
It’s not yet clear whether you can take Chantix at the same time as you use NRT. There is some consensus that using bupropion along with NRT might increase your chances of success, according to the American Cancer Society. It is also helpful to get counselling.
Learn to avoid and cope with smoking triggers
The urge to smoke will come and go, but there are some places and events where you are more likely to be tempted to light up again. Parties, bars, driving to work, and even watching television in a chair where you used to relax while smoking can be triggers. Identify your personal triggers, and plan ahead to avoid as many as possible.
If you feel yourself heading for a smoking relapse in a triggering situation, wait at least 10 minutes and the urge will lessen. Write down or say out loud the reasons why quitting smoking is more important than having a cigarette, including feeling better, protecting your loved ones from second-hand smoke, and saving money.
Keeping your hands busy to distract yourself from lighting up and chewing gum or popping a sugar-free candy into your mouth can help, too.
Beat stress without smoking
Many people smoke when they are in stressful situations, and giving up cigarettes is stressful. While this may sound like a Catch-22 situation, that doesn’t mean you can’t beat stress and smoking at the same time.
If you find yourself in a stressful situation, take a break, even for a few minutes. Instead of lighting up, try deep, slow breathing. Walking or other physical activity is also helpful. More than a distraction from smoking, exercise causes your body to produce natural mood-lifting and stress-reducing chemicals.
Quitting may help you deal with depression, anxiety, or alcoholism. Research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that smoking didn’t make those other conditions worse. The opposite was true — you can make headway on other problems at the same time as you ditch cigarettes.
"We don't know if their mental health improves first and then they are more motivated to quit smoking or if quitting smoking leads to an improvement in mental health," said lead investigator Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, PhD. "But either way, our findings show a strong link between quitting and a better psychiatric outlook."
Will it help to switch to vaping?
There is good evidence that vaping can help you quit ordinary cigarettes or cut back on how many you smoke a day. But be clear: the amount of nicotine in many vaping products is much higher than in ordinary cigarettes. You’ll still be addicted to nicotine if you continue to use e-cigs.
Where to get help
Reach out to friends and family who understand and support your goal to give up smoking permanently. Finding a support group in your area can also help you remain committed to quitting cigarettes forever.
Visit Smokefree, created by the National Cancer Institute, for online tips and resources for living a tobacco-free and healthy life.
Local and state telephone quit smoking lines
If you are struggling with staying on course to quit smoking and need immediate assistance, connect with someone who understands and can help with free hotlines:
- National Cancer Institute: 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848)
- American Cancer Society: 1-800-ACS-2345 (1-800-227-2345)
- American Lung Association: 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872)
June 28, 2022
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA and Janet O'Dell, RN