O.K. Forget about what Chuck may or may not have said (please don’t hurt me Mr. Norris). Because the truth is, nobody quits smoking unless they want to. It has to be your own goal. While it’s quite common for the important people in your life to help influence your decisions, it’s just gots to be you. I’d heard this many times but never really believed it until I caught myself in a series of lies. A few years ago I quit smoking for awhile. I did it partially for myself but mostly because my girlfriend Amber didn’t like it. Then, for no good reason, I started up again…without telling her. I kept it a secret for a good long time. I even had family and friends lying for me. Everyone knew except her. It wasn’t until after she found out that I even considered how much being lied to like that must hurt. Lucky for me, she’s a better person than I am and we’re still together.
I started smoking right around the ripe old age of 14. My dad was a smoker at the time so cigarettes weren’t exactly difficult to come by (sorry Dad). Then at age 16, I started working at a gas station. And lets just say that it’s potentially quite easy for an underage gas station attendant to get away with buying cigarettes for himself. Now combine that prospect with a fresh new driver’s license and the possibilities are endless. The point is, it’s too easy to get smokes. Anyone who doesn’t work at a gas station but still wants to smoke can at least find a family member or a friend with an older sibling that they can count on to help ‘em out when the nic fit hits. The hard part is when you finally realize what you’re doing to yourself and you try to quit. I’ve been there (a couple times), and it sucks. So I’m here to show you how to quit smoking. In this article I’m gonna take you through the steps I took to quit smoking and mention a few other methods that I know have worked for other people.
Reasons to Quit Smoking
We all know there are at least a hundred good reasons to quit and we’ve all heard them over and over again. Well. Here they are again…at least some of them. Hopefully there’s something in here that you haven’t heard before.
These are just a few of the obvious, and more vain reasons:
- saving money
- lowering anxiety (from constantly wondering when you’ll get your next smoke)
- less coughing and shortness of breath
- increasing your senses of smell and taste
- whiter teeth
- not having your breath and clothing smell like a smoking tree
- fewer wrinkles
- better skin
- avoiding smoker’s voice
As for the life threatening effects of smoking, here are just a few:
- According to the American Lung Association “Smoking related diseases claim an estimated 430,700 American lives each year.” And “It is directly responsible for 87% of lung cancer cases and causes most cases of emphysema and chronic bronchitis.”
- Smoking can also cause peripheral vascular disease and effect the walls of the blood vessels that carry blood to the brain, which can cause strokes.
- The risk of heart attack is greater.
- The risk of cataracts and even macular degeneration is increased.
- Women over the age of 35 who smoke and take birth control are at higher risk of heart attack, stroke and blood clots in the lungs.
- Women who smoke are more likely to miscarry or have lower birth weight babies. These babies are more likely to die or to have physical problems as well as learning problems.
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that adult male smokers lose an average of 13.2 years of life and females 14.5.
- Besides all of that, smoking can lead to erectile dysfunction. And…darn. That could suck.
Tell someone close to you that you’re going to quit smoking. This was by far the most important step I took. By telling people, you are not only making the commitment to yourself, but to others as well. Make sure you tell someone who is important to you. Because really, telling the bum at the end of your street just ain’t gonna do it. That guy will probably just ask you to give the rest of your cigarettes to him. I would start by telling (if you have one) your significant other. After that, make sure the people you hang around most often are aware of your plan. You’ll be surprised how supportive people are, even if they themselves are smokers.
Set a quit date. You don’t have to dive in headfirst if you don’t want to. Have a look at a calendar and see what works for you. I recommend giving yourself somewhere in the vicinity of two to four weeks. This should give you enough time to get used to the idea and to prepare yourself for it. Some people, myself included, make the commitment to quit at the end of a pack. As I watched the number of smokes in my last pack dwindle, I could easily see my goal approaching. So I slowed down my smoking, stretched it out and paced myself. I feel that this method also helped to reduce the physical nicotine addiction and made quitting smoking easier.
Get rid of everything that could possibly be related to smoking. I’m talking any and all leftover tobacco products including chew, snuff, cigars and especially any cigarettes you might come across. You should also get rid of all your ashtrays, matches and lighters. Even if you just use them for burning incense or lighting candles, just get them out of the house for a couple months. Once they’re in the trash, take it out to the curb. Don’t allow yourself the temptation of digging them out.
Change your routine. This is a hard one, but necessary. When you feel the urge to smoke, take your butt (ass) outside and go for a walk. It doesn’t need to be a long one, just long enough for the urge to pass. After a meal, instead of a smoke have yourself a hard candy or a piece of gum. Since many people have the tendency to trade tobacco with food, make sure you keep some healthy snacks on hand. Get a big bag of baby carrots and some pretzels (low sodium of course) or some fresh or canned fruit. And if you can’t bring yourself to do the healthy snack thing, just remember it’s quite common for people to gain a few extra pounds after quitting smoking. Remember also that it’s much better for you to pick up a few extra pounds than it is to pick up another cigarette. Just be aware of what you are doing, a lot of extra pounds is another source for concern.
Avoid smoking triggers and start a smoking journal. For the first couple/ three months after quitting cigarette smoking, try hard to avoid the things that you know make you want to smoke. Some of the most common triggers are drinking alcohol, drinking coffee and hanging out with other smokers. This sounds scary, but it’s not that bad. As far as alcohol is concerned, just think of the money you will save by not drinking, or if you do go out (or stay in) just control what you do drink. Don’t have so much that you lose your inhibitions. Stay strong. The first time I drank after the last time I quit smoking and didn’t spark up, I was pretty darn proud of myself. With the coffee, if you don’t think you can go without the caffeine, try some black tea. Many black teas are very good either straight black, or with some cream and sugar. When it comes to not hanging with smokers it can be difficult. Especially if some of your close friends are smokers. But, you will be amazed at how supportive they will be with your decision to stop smoking. In my own experience, some of my smoking friends simply refused to smoke around me for awhile. As you go through the first few weeks, pay attention to what is going on around you when the urge to smoke suddenly hits. Figure out what it is and write it down in a smoking journal. This will make it much easier for you to figure out what your triggers are. It could be anything from boredom to playing video games to clipping your toenails. Just give it a shot, it can’t possibly hurt.
Smoking Cessation Aids
For some people the odds of quitting smoking are greatly increased and in many instances doubled with the help nicotine replacement drugs. NRT gives the body nicotine in a safe form to allow the body some relief from withdrawal symptoms. The following section covers some safe and effective over the counter products as well as some prescription products to help quit smoking.
Common OTC Nicotine Replacement Drugs
- The patch. The nicotine patch is a small rectangular bandage that provides the user a steady and controlled dose of nicotine that is absorbed through the skin throughout the day. The patch is simple to use and comes in different dosages to be used depending on what stage of quitting you are in. This is a simple and highly effective means to help you quit smoking, and best of all, you can use the patch in the shower, bath or hot tub. Some possible side effects are: a brief period of itching under the patch, dizziness, diarrhea, vomiting, headache and upset stomach. Make sure to read and follow the directions before use and after talking to your doctor or pharmacist.
- Nicotine gum. Another safe and easy over the counter smoking cessation tool is nicotine gum. This also is available with different dosages of nicotine. As the gum is chewed, a small dose of nicotine is released and absorbed by the tissues of your mouth and released into the bloodstream. Each piece of gum is chewed for roughly 30 minutes. Shortly after starting, a tingly sensation accompanied by peppery taste is noticed and the gum is pinched between the cheek and the gums. After the initial tingling stops, chew again until the peppery taste is noticed again and pinch the gum in a different area of the mouth. This is repeated until the nicotine is gone from the gum. Some possible side effects are: dizziness, upset stomach, jaw muscle aches and mouth ulcers. After talking to your doctor or pharmacist, make sure you read and understand the directions thoroughly before use.
- Nicotine lozenges. Very similar to nicotine gum, nicotine lozenges release nicotine that is absorbed by the tissues of the mouth, are released into the bloodstream and thus help you stop smoking. Shortly after the lozenge is placed in the mouth a strong nicotine flavor is noticed. At this point the lozenge is pinched between the cheek and the gums until the nicotine flavor passes. Sucking is resumed and the cycle repeats until the lozenge is gone. Nicotine lozenges are readily available without prescription from most pharmacies. Some side affects are: dizziness, indigestion, flatulence,insomnia, headache and coughing. Read directions carefully and do not take nicotine lozenges without first talking to a physician or pharmacist.
Common Prescription Nicotine Replacement Drugs
- Bupropion (Zyban). Bupropion a.k.a. Zyban was initially released as the anti-depressant Wellbutrin. In studies for depression, smokers were reporting a decreased desire to smoke. The rest is history. Nicotine causes the release of dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine is the chemical behind such feelings as pleasure, love, anger, orgasm and others. Norepinephrine, as I understand it, is a chemical released by the body during stressful situations to help us cope. So…nicotine causes both dopamine and norepinephrine to be released. Bupropion, by blocking the uptake of these chemicals, reduces the effects of nicotine and the desire to smoke.
- Varenicline (Chantix). Varenicline, like bupropion is available only from your doctor through prescription. The method by which varenicline works is similar to that of bupropion but much easier to understand. Varenicline is a nicotinic receptor partial agonist. Which sounds scary, but all it does is help to block nicotine from entering receptors that are generally reserved for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (which is really just fancy talk for a chemical compound created in your peripheral and central nervous systems). My dad, who started smoking at the age of about sixteen quit smoking last year using this drug. He is now 55 years old. My pops also said that other people he knows who have used the drug Chantix reported that it made the cigarettes taste like burnt plastic. Once Dad started on the drug, he only had a total of four more cigs.
Natural and alternative ways to quit smoking
Herbal smoking cessation products. Products such as Cig-Arette, Nicocure and Final Smoke all claim to be effective products in helping you to quit the habit. Many herbal remedies contain a barrage of herbal ingredients including lobelia extract, licorice root extract and passion flower.
Hypnosis is a common and sometimes very useful method to get yourself out from under nicotine’s clutches. There are numerous hypnosis specialists to help you with this as well as programs to teach you self-hypnosis.
Low level laser therapy, like nicotine, raises endorphins that trick you and your body into thinking that you’re feeling better. The big difference is that while the good feelings you get from a smoke only last an hour or two, the ones you get from LLLT can last from 3-5 days. This extended time period allows your body to rid itself of nicotine.
Acupuncture, as we all know, is an age old method to cure what ails you. By placing itty bitty needles in all the right spots, the body produces endorphins that are believed by many to help block the physical responses to nicotine. Just make darn sure you seek a professional, do your research and talk to a physician.