Becoming a non-smoker is without doubt one of the most powerful choices you can make to improve your health and reduce your risk of a wide range of serious, life-threatening health conditions including several cancers, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, emphysema and dementia.
There are many ways to go about giving up. The most effective approach by far for many people appears to be a combination of expert support and medications that reduce your cravings (either nicotine replacement therapy or medicines prescribed by your doctor).
In fact, if you use professional support together with medication to help manage your cravings, you are up to four times more likely to be successful.
Effective strategies for going smoke-free
If you decide that you want to stop smoking, there are many changes you can make to your lifestyle to help you along the way.
The hardest thing that you’ll have to overcome will probably be the nicotine cravings, so anticipating this and making plans to overcome them is essential.
Managing cravings effectively is widely recognised as the single most important factor in successfully stopping smoking.
Nicotine replacement therapy
Using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) will help you satisfy your cravings whilst gradually reducing your nicotine requirement and can double your chances of successfully quitting.
NRT is available in many forms, from gum to patches, lozenges and inhalators, as well as mouth and nasal sprays and e-cigarettes.
Products like patches release nicotine into your system slowly and steadily, so they’re ideal for relieving background cravings.
Nasal and mouth sprays will release nicotine much more quickly in short bursts, so they’ll help with those really intense desires to smoke.
An e-cigarette will provide an immediate dose of nicotine and also replicate the feeling of holding a cigarette.
An effective tactic can be to use patches throughout the day, but keep a fast working product with you to deal with any cravings if they arise.
Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to help you decide on the best NRT product for you and your lifestyle, and your GP will be able to help you if you need an item on prescription.
Your doctor may be able to prescribe you specific medications that control your cravings such as Zyban and Champix.
Zyban works by altering brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which are partly responsible for addictive behaviour. Studies suggest that smokers who try and quit with the aid of Zyban are twice as likely to stop smoking as those who try and quit on their own.
Champix stimulates the nicotine receptors in your brain, while at the same time preventing nicotine molecules from attaching to them. Much like Zyban, studies indicate that smokers using Champix will double their chances of quitting compared to those who try to quit without help.
You should generally start taking either of these medicines a week or two before you plan to stop smoking as they take a few days to start working properly. Your doctor will be able to help you decide if either of these medications are right for you.
Remember this every time you have an urge to light up...
Although your urges might feel very strong at the time, they will be fairly short lived and should pass quickly - probably within a few minutes. Each time you resist that craving, you're one step closer to getting past the craving phase and stopping smoking for good.
NRT and stop-smoking medicines can definitely help control your cravings but they won’t always eradicate them fully. You will need focus, self-discipline and consistency so we also recommend that you follow these proven self-help strategies.
• Set a date and stick to it
• The first step is to decide on a quit date - you’ll find it much easier to quit if you have a single point in time to focus on.
• Remind yourself of why you’re doing this.
• Try making a list detailing all of the reasons why you’d like to quit. Make this list very personal to you and keep it somewhere you can get to for inspiration later on.
• Think about your eating habits.
• If you enjoy a smoke after eating, you may be interested to know that certain foods have been found to make cigarettes taste better, while foods such as cheese, fruit and vegetables have the opposite effect.
• The same applies with drinks, with alcoholic beverages, fizzy drinks and coffee all found to improve the taste of cigarettes - swapping them with juice and water may help.
Side-step the cravings
You should definitely plan for cravings, which generally last for around five minutes. Planning what you are going to do when your craving strikes is a good way of helping you deal with it as it passes, so think up five minute activities to use throughout the day such as going for a walk, doing some housework or phoning a friend.
Your cravings are likely to be at their worst during the first week or so after quitting. They will pass, so if you slip up and start smoking again, don’t panic. It can take a few attempts to quit for good.
Avoid the smoking triggers
Sit in a different chair to watch the TV at home and take a shower as soon as you get up if these are times you would normally smoke. If your routine was a cigarette with a cup of coffee, drink a glass of orange juice or tea instead. If your favourite cigarette of the day is after dinner then get up and go for a walk.
Physical activity can help reduce your cravings and stimulate the brain to produce anti-craving chemicals. It can also help you reduce stress and keep your weight down. When you have the urge to smoke, try going for a fast walk or taking a trip to the gym or swimming pool.
Cravings at special events like holidays, funerals or weddings can be particularly tough. Try having a fast acting NRT product with you just in case the urge to smoke is really strong.
Surround yourself with support
Leaning on family and friends can really help, especially if you know other people wanting to quit to. Tell people close to you that you’re stopping - including smokers - and let them know that you’re going to need their support. It might also help if you spend your time with friends who don’t smoke while you are out socialising.
Explore alternative approaches
Other approaches to stopping smoking such as hypnotherapy and acupuncture appear to be effective for some people, so you may want to consider giving these a try - either on their own or preferably in combination with the strategies already presented above.
The benefits of stopping smoking - what’s in it for you?
The benefits of stopping smoking go on and on - here are just a few:
• You will reduce your risk of developing illness, disability or death caused by cancer, heart disease, lung disease, stroke and dementia
• You will save money - as much as several hundred pounds a month if you're a heavy smoker
• You will improve your breathing and general fitness
• You will enjoy the taste of food more
• The appearance of your skin and teeth will improve
• You will no longer smell of tobacco
• You will no longer expose those around you to the health risks and unpleasantness of secondhand smoke
Nobody ever regretted stopping smoking!
Why not think about joining the many millions of people around the world that break free and stop for good every year - be healthier and wealthier and then breathe a big, fresh sigh of relief!