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Top Tips to Quit Smoking

Tips and support you need to stop smoking.

How to quit smoking

Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. It plays a role in many illnesses. These include heart attack, stroke, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and a long list of other cancers. Quitting can drastically reduce these risks, no matter how long you’ve smoked.

Most smokers know that quitting is good for their health. Still, it can be difficult because you can become physically and psychologically dependent on smoking. But with the right strategies and support, you can stop smoking.

In the U.S., there are more ex-smokers than smokers. All strategies to quit smoking recommend that a smoker establish a “quit date” and prepare for it in a way that minimizes the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

Prepare to quit

Dr. Rx

Quitting smoking is hard! Be as informed and prepared as you can before your quit date, so you can have a plan when the withdrawal symptoms hit. And don’t be discouraged if you relapse. When you are ready to try again, identify what made you start smoking again, and address that problem directly so it doesn’t become an ongoing issue. —Dr. Bina Choi

  • Set a target date for quitting and make sure everyone knows about it. Friends and family, as well as your primary care doctor, can be important sources of support. Be prepared to quit completely on that day, not even a single puff of a cigarette.
  • Before quitting, find activities that make you feel good, healthy, and energetic. Plan to do them during the first few weeks of quitting. This is a way to both distract and reward yourself.
  • Start an exercise program. More people who exercise are able to quit than those who do not. It will improve your energy level and help keep you from gaining weight.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Snack on raw vegetables and drink 6 to 8 glasses of water every day.
  • Avoid alcohol, coffee, and other caffeinated drinks. These can increase the desire for nicotine.
  • Practice deep breathing. When you feel the urge to smoke, replace it with several deep, slow breaths followed by a drink of water. You may need to do this frequently during the first week or two.
  • Avoid smoky environments and being with other smokers.
  • Think about other times you changed a bad habit and what you did to make it happen.
  • Make a list of all the reasons you want to quit (good health, better for family members, feel better). Every night before going to bed, repeat one of the reasons 10 times.
  • Prepare for withdrawal symptoms. Keep in mind that the first week will be your hardest. Your body is still dependent on nicotine and the withdrawal symptoms are strongest. These include craving a cigarette, irritability, anxiety, depression, inability to concentrate, and other symptoms. But know that they are temporary. They peak 2 to 3 days after quitting and can last up to four weeks, depending on the symptom.
  • Know that most relapses happen in the first 3 months after quitting, when smoking triggers can occur, such as a stressful event or being with a friend who smokes.
  • It may take several tries. Realize that most successful ex-smokers quit for good only after several attempts. If you slip and have a cigarette, make a decision to quit again immediately.
  • Join a support group. Smoking cessation groups may provide support to quit and not start again. These are organized by local hospitals and chapters of the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, and The American Cancer Society.
  • Consider behavioral counseling. Quitters have the most success with a combination of behavioral counseling and medications. Behavioral counseling can include joining a support group, calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW for coaching tips and local resources, or seeing a therapist.

Nicotine replacement therapy

Nicotine replacements like patches, gum, lozenges, nasal spray, or inhalers, can help people quit smoking. They slowly reduce the physical dependence on nicotine.

Long-acting nicotine replacements like patches release nicotine into your bloodstream in study amounts to avoid ups and downs. Short-acting nicotine replacements like gum and lozenges can be used when nicotine cravings strike. Most patients do best with a combination of long-acting and short-acting nicotine replacement.

Studies find that using a nicotine replacement doubles your chances of quitting successfully. Patches, gum, and lozenges are available over the counter and can be purchased at your drugstore or online. Sprays and inhalers need a prescription.

There are other prescription medications (varenicline and bupropion) that are used to help people quit smoking. Talk to your doctor about whether you should try one.

Pro Tip

A common misconception is that it is expensive to quit smoking. The Affordable Care Act requires most insurance companies to cover some or all of your costs for smoking cessation, such as counseling and nicotine replacement. —Dr. Choi

Coping with the symptoms of quitting smoking

Pro Tip

It is more than ok to seek help from friends, family, doctors, and counselors. You don’t have to do it on your own. Having a support team will set you up for success. —Dr. Choi

A number of frustrating symptoms can develop immediately after you quit smoking. If you decide to use a nicotine patch, gum, nasal spray, or inhaler, your withdrawal symptoms will be less intense than without one of these.

Few people experience all of the symptoms below, but most people experience some of them.

Here are some strategies to combat specific symptoms. If you are having ongoing or severe withdrawal symptoms, talk with your doctor about possibly adding on another medication or intervention.

Craving nicotine

  • Body’s craving for nicotine.
  • Is most intense during the first week but can linger for months.

Advice: Distract yourself as much as possible. Take a brisk walk. Try chewing on gum or a light snack, or any of these strategies from the National Cancer Institute.

Irritability, impatience

  • Body’s craving for nicotine.
  • Lasts 2 to 4 weeks.

Advice: Exercise; take hot baths; use relaxation techniques like deep breathing; avoid caffeine.

Insomnia

  • Body’s craving for nicotine temporarily reduces time spent in deep sleep.
  • Lasts 2 to 4 weeks.

Advice: Avoid caffeine, and definitely after noon. Use relaxation techniques and try to exercise daily. Remove electronics from the bedroom. Use the bedroom for sleeping and sex only.

Fatigue

  • Body adjusting to lack of stimulation from nicotine.
  • Lasts 2 to 4 weeks.

Advice: Take naps; do not push yourself.

Lack of concentration

  • Body adjusting to lack of stimulation from nicotine.
  • Lasts a few weeks.

Advice: Reduce workload; avoid stress.

Hunger

  • Craving for cigarettes may be confused with hunger pangs.
  • Lasts up to several weeks.

Advice: Drink water or low-calorie drinks; eat low-calorie snacks.

Coughing, dry throat, nasal drip

  • Body getting rid of mucus in lungs and airways.
  • Lasts several weeks.

Advice: Drink plenty of fluids; use cough drops. Talk with your doctor about whether you need any nasal sprays or other inhalers.

Constipation, gas

  • Intestinal movement decreases with lack of nicotine.
  • Lasts 1 to 2 weeks.

Advice: Drink plenty of fluids; add fiber to diet; exercise.

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