Back in 1604, King James I of England called smoking “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, [and] dangerous to the lungs.” Obviously, the idea that smoking is an unhealthy activity goes back a long way. And modem science verifies the accuracy of the king’s instinct.
It’s easy to see why. Smokers are more than 3 times as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than nonsmokers, 12 times more likely to contract chronic lung disease, and 25 times more likely to contract lung cancer. Smoking causes up to a third of all cancer deaths and a quarter of all fatal heart attacks in the U.S.
And how easy is it to get hooked? According to the chief epidemiologist of the World Health Organization, it takes just 100 cigarettes—four packs—of the deadly product.
Incredibly, more than 40,000 studies have proved that smoking causes disease and death. Based on this evidence, experts say that not smoking—or quitting if you already smoke cigarettes—is the number one thing people can do for their health. Here are eight ways to quit smoking.
1 Repeat the statement, “If I quit now, I will live longer.” The body has an amazing ability to heal itself. For example, 15 years after quitting, the risk of death for ex-smokers returns nearly to the level of people who never smoked.
Male smokers who quit between the ages of 35–39 add an average of five years to their lives. Females who quit add an average of three. These are averages, with many people extending their lives by considerably more.
2 Do some research. Knowledge is power, and information can lead you to freedom. So visit a library or bookstore, or use a search engine to find Web sites that can provide helpful information. Read and reflect, then put the information into action. “Action,” as the clergyman Thomas Fuller observed, “is the proper fruit of knowledge.”
3 Develop your own personal motivations for quitting. Despite all the scientific evidence about the dangers of smoking, most people who quit do so for more personal reasons. A man may quit because he witnessed a loved one die from a smoking-related disease. A woman may quit because she is pregnant and concerned about the health of her unborn child.
A retired man quit because his energy level was getting lower and lower. “Knowing your own reasons for quitting—and remembering them when times get tough—will be a big help to you in becoming a nonsmoker,” says Dr. Edwin Fisher Jr. in 7 Steps to a Smoke-Free Life.
Dr. Fisher advises going through a list similar to the one below and checking the reasons that would be most important to you:
- I will have more control over my life.
- I will be healthier.
- My heart rate and blood pressure will be lower.
- I will save a lot of money.
- I am tired of smoky-smelling breath and clothes.
- I will be a better example for my kids.
- I will have more energy.
- The chance of fire in my home will decrease.
- I lessen my chances of death from heart disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and cancer.
“Once you have made your list, study it for two minutes a day, every day,” he advises. “Keep adding to it as new reasons occur to you. Make this an active process, not just a crumpled list lost in a drawer. Continue to collect reasons to quit. When you have an urge to smoke, ask someone for a reason to quit. Every time you hear one you like, add it to your list.”
4 Consult with your doctor and other medical authorities. Make an appointment to see your doctor, and let him or her know of your plan to quit smoking. Most doctors are eager to support you in quitting and can help you develop a program that meets your unique personal and medical needs.
A doctor can guide you through your quitting options and strategies, which include various nicotine replacement products, such as nicotine patches, nicotine gums, nicotine nasal sprays, and nicotine inhalers. Some are available over the counter, while others require a medical prescription. If you are uncomfortable with drug therapies, many smokers have experienced success using programs such as the 5-Day Plan developed nearly 50 years ago, now called Breathe Free. Another program, Quit Now, suggests a seven-step approach to quitting and therapies such as acupuncture.
5 Exercise. Fortify your decision to quit by exercising regularly. Many studies show a clear link between exercise and quitting. In one study, researchers tracked the progress of 281 women enrolled in a smoking-cessation program. All the women attended the same behavior-modification sessions. Half of the participants engaged in three vigorous exercise workouts per week, while the other women attended health lectures. The results were impressive. At the end of the twelfth week, twice as many of the exercisers were smoke-free as the nonexercisers.
Additionally, the women in the exercise group had gained less weight. Researchers in smoking cessation believe that exercise significantly aids in the effort to stop smoking by:
- boosting confidence;
- reducing nicotine cravings, especially in the early weeks;
- cutting stress and promoting relaxation;
- improving moods that, in turn, reduce depressive feelings;
- and assisting in weight management, a concern for many who quit smoking.
Consider the experience of Judith Knauer, who wrote this letter to Prevention magazine: “I am 45 years old, and I had been a smoker for 27 years. Since I began to jog, I haven’t touched or wanted a cigarette. The mere thought of inhaling cigarette smoke now fills me with revulsion. I suspect that there is some biochemical or physiological connection between jogging (or running) and no desire to smoke.”
6 Focus on the positive. Rather than thinking about how much you miss having a cigarette, remind yourself how great it is that you have made the commitment and have stopped smoking. Focus on how much better food tastes, how good it is not to wake up each morning coughing, how your breath no longer smells like smoke, how much healthier you are becoming day by day, how much better your complexion appears, and that your teeth are whiter and your eyes brighter.
7 Don’t hesitate to pay for help. Counselors and therapists offer ongoing classes specifically designed to help people stop smoking. These classes are usually highly effective, but there is usually a fee to attend. Don’t be like some people who hesitate to pay for help to quit smoking. The modest fees charged will yield lifetime benefits.
“You may not want to pay for a stop-smoking program, but if you’re a typical smoker, you’re going to pay somebody,” Patricia Allison points out in her book Hooked But Not Helpless. “Right now you’re paying the cigarette companies anywhere from $60 to $100 a month. And what about the throat lozenges, special toothpaste, sinus medication and nasal sprays? . . .
“That’s what smoking is costing you now. Eventually, you’ll be paying hospitals and surgeons. Doesn’t it make sense to invest a modest sum now to save yourself thousands of dollars in the future? Money spent to stop smoking is an investment, one of the best you will ever make.”
8 Make plans to deal with the stress of nonsmoking. Beating an addiction is not an easy task. Be prepared to deal with the stresses connected to smoking cessation by making some advance preparation. The American Heart Association (AHA) offers these tips for handling the stress on nonsmoking:
“Don’t talk yourself into smoking again. When you find yourself coming up with a reason to have ‘just one,’ stop yourself. Think of what triggered you and come up with a different way to handle it. For example, if you feel nervous and think you need a cigarette, realize that you could take a walk to calm down instead. Be prepared for times when you’ll get the urge. If you smoke when drinking, cut down on alcohol so you don’t weaken your promise to yourself.”
The AHA also suggests changing your habits. Instead of having a cigarette after dinner, go for a walk. Spend more time in places where smoking is not allowed. In restaurants, ask to be seated in the nonsmoking section. Spend your time with people who don’t smoke. And ask others to be respectful of your desire to quit and to be supportive.
You don’t have to continue being a smoker. Decide today that you’ll quit, and then take some deliberate steps to put cigarettes behind you forever!
Are you hooked?
Tobacco: You Can Be Free! contains strategies for recovery as well as basic self -tests, such as the Fagerstrom test for nicotine dependence, below. Take time to complete it now, and deter mine how hooked—and in need of help—you are.
- How many minutes after you wake up do you first smoke?
Do you find it hard not to smoke in places you shouldn’t?
- more than 60 (0 points)
- 31-60 (1 points)
- 5-30 (2 points)
- less than 5 (3 points)
Which cigarette would you find hardest to give up?
- No (0 points)
- Yes (1 point)
Do you smoke more in the first few hours after waking than during the rest of the day?
- first in the morning? (1 point)
- any other than the first (0 points)
How many cigarettes do you smoke each day?
- No (0 points)
- Yes (1 point)
Do you smoke even if you’re sick in bed most of the day, or have the flu or a bad cough?
- 10 or less (0 points)
- 11-20 (1 point)
- 21-30 (2 points)
- 31 or more (3 points)
- No (0 points)
- Yes (1 point)
Total: ________ points
Your nicotine addiction level
- 1-2 points: low
- 3-6 points: moderate
- 7-10 points: high