It’s no secret that cigarettes are bad for your health. It’s common for those who smoke to say they want to quit and maybe even make efforts to stop, but then they end up lighting up again.
What are some of the biggest reasons people want to quit? They include the following:
— To improve health.
— To save money.
— To reduce the risk for chronic diseases.
— Social pressure.
Quitting smoking improves health and reduces the risk of an early death. “Smoking is the number-one cause of preventable death in the U.S.,” says Thomas Ylioja, clinical director of health initiatives programs and a tobacco cessation expert at National Jewish Health in Denver.
In fact, 480,000 people in the U.S. die each year from smoking causes, such as cancer and respiratory disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lighting up is also expensive. If you smoke a pack a day, with the average per-pack price of $6.28, you’re shelling out $188 month — or more than $2,200 a year — according to a calculator from the National Cancer Institute.
Quitting smoking also reduces the risk for chronic diseases. The longer you smoke, the more likely you are to develop a chronic disease like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Smokers are 30% to 40% more likely to develop diabetes; smoking as few as five cigarettes a day can still raise your risk for cardiovascular disease, the CDC reports.
There are social pressures from friends or family to quit. Members of your household may not like the smell of smoke and they may worry about your health. Or, you may have a spouse who quit smoking and there’s no pressure on you to quit.
Quitting Is Not Easy
More than 50% of adult smokers reported trying to quit in the past year, according to the CDC. It takes smokers anywhere from five to 15 attempts to quit smoking before they actually do quit, smoking cessation experts say.
Quitting smoking is a tough, but not impossible, challenge. Here are some of the best ways to quit smoking, hopefully for good.
9 Best Tips to Quit Smoking
1. Reflect on why you smoke.
Everyone has a different reason for smoking, says Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor in the Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine, co-director of Medicine for the Greater Good and director of the Tobacco Treatment Clinic at Johns Hopkins Bayview in Baltimore.
For instance, do you smoke to relieve stress? Cope with anxiety? Because you’re bored? When you eat or drink? “Unless you understand what smoking means to you, you set yourself up,” he says.
During the quitting process, you can plan to avoid those common triggers, adjust your routine or find alternatives, Ylioja adds. For example, if you’re bored and want to smoke, you can chew a piece of gum, take a walk, do something nice for a friend or take a few deep breaths.
2. Be patient.
Not only can it take many attempts to quit smoking, it also can take months of time. You also may have setbacks during that time. Six months is a good benchmark, says J. Lee Westmaas, scientific director of behavioral research for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. “If someone makes it past the six-month mark by not smoking, they’re well on their way to being smoke-free,” he says. However, everyone is different, and you may need help to quit smoking longer than that.
3. Form a supportive team around you.
Let people know you plan to quit, Ylioja advises. Surround yourself with people who will help you quit with no judgment and no stigma, Galiatsatos says. If people around you make you feel guilty, guess what you might do?
Light up again to cope with the guilt. That’s why friends and family who will support you without judgment are so important. This same squad can help you when you crave that enjoyment that smoking gives, and they can remind you of your motivations to quit.
4. Use nicotine replacement therapy to help.
The use of nicotine replacement therapy can double your chance of successfully quitting compared to going cold turkey, Ylioja says. Nicotine replacement therapy comes in several different forms. There are 24-hour nicotine-based patches that can cut down your desire for smoking. The nicotine used in them is not combined with chemicals as it is in cigarettes, which make the cigarettes more addictive, Galiatsatos says.
Then there are nicotine gums, lozenges and nasal sprays that work best when you have an in-the-moment craving, Galiatsatos says. For instance, you may be doing OK with your quitting, then you get laid off of work and your stress level goes way up. That’s when the gum or lozenges come in handy.
The patches and gums/lozenges are available over-the-counter. They often are available for free through the state quitlines (800-QUIT-NOW). Some providers may recommend that you start nicotine replacement therapy before the actual date that you plan to quit, Westmaas says.
There are some side effects of a nicotine patch. For instance, you could experience irritation at the site where you use a patch, dizziness or sleep issues. It’s possible to adjust the dosing or brand of a nicotine patch to make it more tolerable, Galiatsatos says. Nicotine gum side effects include throat irritation and nausea.
Work with your health provider to find out if nicotine replacement therapies are right for you. Some people shouldn’t use nicotine replacement therapy, such as pregnant women.
There also are prescription-based oral medicines such as varenicline and bupropion that help to take away the feeling of wanting nicotine. They don’t contain nicotine, so you can use many of them along with nicotine replacement therapy.
5. Reach out for help through counseling.
Counseling can help you better understand why you smoke and help you find ways to stop. A combination of nicotine therapy along with counseling provides the best chances of quitting for good, Ylioja says. Because smoking is such a large public health risk, there are lots of free counseling options available for smokers, including by phone, text or online. There also are moderated in-person and online support groups. “Having a quit buddy, even if it’s online, is associated with successful quitting,” Westmaas says.
6. Think about how you’ll lower your smoking frequency.
Some people choose to go cold-turkey. They’ll announce that they’re going to quit smoking on an upcoming day and then stop (or try to stop) completely. Other people aim to reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke over the upcoming weeks and months.
For instance, Galiatsatos usually advises patients to reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke over the next three months. So, a person smoking two packs a day may cut down to a pack a day by three months. Then, the frequency would reduce from there.
Some people looking to quit before having a surgery may approach the process much more rapidly. If you try one approach and it doesn’t work for you, try the other approach, Ylioja suggests.
7. Learn from your previous experiences with quitting smoking.
With each attempt, you can learn what made you more vulnerable, Westmaas says. For instance, were you around friends who smoked and that’s why you did it again? Did you have a stressful event that caused you to light up? Analyze what happened and use that experience to help you do better this time around.
“Every try counts and helps you learn how to be successful. Just keep trying,” Ylioja says.
8. Avoid e-cigarettes.
You may have friends or family who say that e-cigarettes help them, but there are no U.S. FDA-approved e-cigarettes. Plus, e-cigarettes can still be filled with other chemicals that drive addiction, Galiatsatos says.
Sometimes, people who switch to e-cigarettes end up returning to smoking or using both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes at the same time, Ylioja says. Instead, smoking-cessation experts recommend sticking with nicotine replacement therapies as a safer strategy.
9. Take advantage of nationally available free resources. Westmaas suggests a few organizations where you can get more information to help you quit smoking:
— American Cancer Society, How to Quit Using Tobacco.
— National Cancer Institute, Smokefree.gov.
— American Lung Association, Freedom From Smoking.
— Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1-800-QUIT-NOW. This will provide information on state-supported quitlines.
More from U.S. News