Guide to Quitting Smoking

You’ve decided to stop smoking. That’s a big step. Congratulations! The first week without cigarettes is difficult. Good preparation is key in increasing your chances of successfully quitting and staying quit.

According to the World Health Organization, “tobacco kills up to 50% of its users”. The US Surgeon General confirms the health benefits of quitting smoking by stating that “the single most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of their lives” is to stop smoking.

About this guide: This quit smoking guide will help you understand your smoking habit and offer advice on the most effective smoking cessation methods and products to maximize the likelihood of successful quitting. This guide was created with the help of tobacco control professionals, smoking cessation experts, and with feedback from ex-smokers.

Now that you are fully aware of all the negative consequences smoking has on your health, your wallet, the environment, and your loved ones – it’s time to do something about it.

The key to successful smoking cessation is preparedness – only 2.1% of smokers who try to quit smoking without any sort of a plan actually succeed. Smokers who prepare and have methods and tactics for fighting cravings on the standby have 3 times higher rate of success, close to 7%.

Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

In order to fight your addiction, you have to first know it. Nicotine is the addictive substance that is in all tobacco products. It’s a psychoactive drug that alters brain chemistry and it’s the reason why people get ‘hooked’ on cigarettes.

Researchers agree that it is nearly as addictive as major drugs, cocaine and heroin. It is physically and psychologically addictive.

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Sweating and tingling sensation in hands and feet
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nicotine cravings

Not everyone will experience all of the withdrawal symptoms and most people will find nicotine cravings most difficult to cope with. Remember that the first three days are the worst – the cravings are most intensive and other withdrawal symptoms are more prominent. Getting through the first three days is crucial and after that it only gets easier.

Further reading: Quit smoking timeline

Quit Smoking FAQs

Smokers who are considering quitting smoking have a lot of questions. However, most of those questions do not revolve around how to successfully quit smoking – instead, they focus on the negative.

  • Is it too late to quit smoking?
  • Can I actually do it?
  • What if I fail?

To set the record straight: it’s never late to quit smoking. Even people who smoke two packs of cigarettes a day manage to quit – it’s difficult, but then again, it’s difficult even for those who smoke less than a pack a day. Everyone can do it, given the right motivation and willpower.

And guess what: almost everyone fails once. Some people tried quitting several times only to find themselves smoking again within a few weeks or months. Every time you fail you learn something new and you’re more prepared to try again.

Further reading: Quit smoking FAQs

Quit Day Checklist

The best way to prepare for smoking cessation is to write up a quit plan. It’s a visual reminder of why you’re quitting and how you’re going to accomplish it and succeed in the long run.

  1. Choose a quit date – any day will do, you know your routine best so try not to work against yourself. The important thing is that you stick to it and honor the agreement you made with yourself.
  2. Prepare in advance – wash your cigarette-smelling clothes, wash your furniture, get rid of ashtrays and lighters and tell your friends and family you’re planning on quitting.
  3. List of reasons – Build a specific list of reasons of why you want to quit smoking. Include health reasons, your loved ones, finances, and everything else you can think of. Make the list comprehensive and personal.
  4. Identify your triggers – situations and actions that drive you to smoke. Try to avoid as many of them as possible for the first couple of days. You won’t be able to avoid every one of them, though, so simply knowing that they are your triggers will make it easier to manage the cravings they cause.
  5. Have methods of coping with nicotine cravings – these will include a great many things, from ways of keeping yourself busy to finding a new hobby that can help you take your mind off things when the cravings start.

Further reading: Quit smoking checklist

Quit Smoking Methods

There are a lot of ways to go about quitting smoking. What eventually works for smokers is their own blend of a number of tested and tried methods.

Generally speaking, you can quit smoking in one of two ways:

  1. Unassisted Cessation – also referred to as ‘cold turkey’. Smokers simply quit without substituting cigarette nicotine with nicotine replacement products or medication.
  2. Assisted Cessation – cigarette nicotine is replaced with nicotine replacement therapy and/or medication that suppress nicotine cravings.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) and Medication

NRT is an umbrella term that covers various ways of delivering nicotine into the system:

  • Nicotine patch
  • Nicotine gum
  • Nicotine nasal spray
  • Nicotine inhalers
  • Nicotine lozenges

Nicotine replacement therapy is effective and makes it a lot easier to manage nicotine cravings. Some studies show that smokers who use NRT during their cessation period are 50 to 70% more likely achieve a favorable outcome.

Before starting nicotine replacement therapy consult with your doctor and make a plan on when and how you’re going to use it. Try not to combine more than two NRTs and don’t use them with nicotine suppressant medication.

When it comes to drug therapy, you have two choices:

  • Varenicline
  • Bupropion

Both of these medications act as craving suppressants that block neurotransmitters that nicotine targets. They interfere with them and deprive you of any nicotine-related pleasures. Also, they lessen the withdrawal symptoms and help minimize relapse incidents.

Further reading: NRT and medications

Alternative Quit Smoking Methods

There are other, alternative methods that can be used to increase your chances of a favorable cessation outcome. Some of them have been researched and their effectiveness is proven.

  • Electronic Cigarettes – electronic cigarettes are popular among ex-smokers and those trying to quit because they resemble regular cigarettes in both the feel and the look. Most researchers agree that they are far less harmful than regular cigarettes although more research needs to be done in order to determine if they are completely safe. E-liquids that are used in electronic cigarettes can be with nicotine or nicotine-free.
  • Behavioral Therapy –behavioral therapy can help you assess your smoking triggers and come up with a plan on how to minimize the risks of relapse. A licensed therapist will assist you in drawing up a list of reasons to quit smoking and will help you find the right motivators that are going to ensure that you stay on the right path.
  • Hypnosis – hypnosis can be effective for some but 1 out of 4 people can’t be hypnotized. It’s been widely used as pain control and as obesity therapy. A licensed hypnotist puts the smoker in an altered state of mind and reinforces 3 basic ideas about why they should quit smoking:
    • Tobacco is poison and destroys your body
    • You need your body to live
    • You should therefore not poison your body
  • Laser Therapy – laser therapy for smoking cessation is still studied and there is no conclusive evidence that it works. According to those who went through it, it’s effective to an extent. Practitioners claim that the laser stimulates the nerve endings on the face, affecting the brain and triggering a release of endorphins that substitute the effect nicotine has on the system.
  • Magnet Therapy – another controversial method that relies on transcranial magnetic stimulation. Proponents of this method claim that magnetic waves influence parts of the brain that are associated with cravings. Initial research is promising but inconclusive.
  • Acupuncture – some ex-smokers claim that the ancient Chinese practice of inserting needles into various body parts is indeed a successful method of fighting nicotine cravings. Unfortunately, none of these claims are scientifically backed and further research is needed.

Further reading: Quit smoking methods

Quit Smoking Tools

Having a good support system will often determine how successful the cessation outcome is. Surround yourself with friends and family members who will help you get through the toughest parts of the process – having a buddy system, someone you can turn to when you have an emergency, can be incredibly helpful.

Of course, cravings are sneaky and they can occur at any time. That’s why it’s important to have smoking cessation tools at your disposal. There are a lot of quit smoking apps that you can use that will help you to stay on track, especially for the first few days. Some of those apps include games you can play to distract yourself and features that allow you to track positive changes in your body as time passes and your systems clean themselves of toxins.

Further reading: Quit smoking tools