When you’re at the mall or on a hike, there’s usually a map somewhere with an “X” that says, “You’re here.” If you’re a smoker, you may be at the point where you want to quit, but you need a guide on how to go from the “here” of smoking to the “there” of not smoking.
Here’s how to start your smoke-free journey
Add up the costs of smoking
Smoking harms your body, the people around you and your wallet:
• Smoking puts you at increased risk for many health problems, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It can also reduce your life expectancy.
• The people around you — your family, your friends, your co-workers — can be affected by second-hand smoke.
• Do the math. A pack of cigarettes costs around $12. A daily pack times 30 costs $360/month. Smoking also costs you time — time away from work, family, and activities while you take a smoking break.
• Electronic cigarettes have similar physical and financial costs, although the health risks are not fully understood as they are relatively new. Also, these products are not FDA approved, so there are no regulations on their content.
Know when you’re ready to quit
Why is it so hard to quit? Nicotine stimulates the reward pathway in the brain, releasing dopamine, which feels good. Over time, you begin to crave the sensations that nicotine gives you, and it begins to feel normal. When your body has no nicotine, it goes into withdrawal.
When you reach the point where the harmful effects outweigh what you gain from smoking and you recognize the control nicotine has on your daily life, you are ready. But the decision must be yours. It is a commitment you make to yourself. You may have tried to quit before and failed, but you may have made the effort for others, not yourself.
Switch from “here” of smoking to “there” of not smoking
Becoming a non-smoker is a process. Making a quit plan can help you prepare for and follow through on your decision to quit.
Here are some elements of a successful quit plan:
• Commit to quitting. Tell your family, friends, loved ones and those who will be part of your support system.
• Choose a date. Be realistic and give yourself time to implement your quitting plan.
• Form a support system. You may want to find someone to quit smoking with you, join a social network or online support group, or seek counseling to help you deal with triggers, withdrawal, and emotional challenges.
• Know your triggers. Maybe it’s driving, doing a particular activity, or when you’re stressed. Think about how you will handle your triggers or avoid them altogether.
• Consider food cravings. Brainstorm how you will manage cravings and deal with withdrawal symptoms. Have healthy snacks on hand, practice mindfulness, go for a walk, or text a support person.
• Think of helpful aids. This can be nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches, gum, lozenges, or an inhaler, or medication help with bupropion or varenicline.
Work on discouragement
When people try to quit smoking, if they make a mistake, they tend to think the worst: “I’m a failure. I blew it. These thoughts can generate anxiety, which may cause you to return to your favorite coping technique: smoking.
But if you have a cigarette or a vape, all is not lost:
• Be kind to yourself. It’s hard. Less than one in 10 adults successfully quit smoking each year. However, over time, 60% of those who try to quit – usually more than once – are successful.
• Reset and restart. Tomorrow is really another day.
• Review your quit plan. You may need to adjust it and consider what other tools you need in your toolbox.
• Check with your support system.
Congratulations on your decision to quit smoking. Remember that there isn’t just one path to your goal and you have many options to help you succeed. Good luck.