You know it and your family and friends know it: it’s time to quit smoking.
Maybe you have been clinging to the idea of your Grandpa Joe who smoked for 50 years and wasn’t sick a day in his life. Maybe you feel like you have so much stress in your life that quitting just isn’t an option. Maybe you have been smoking for so long that you don’t even know where to begin quitting.
Whatever the reason, whatever is holding you back, know this: quitting smoking, although challenging, can be done, and it is the best thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones.
Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in the U.S. Latest estimates of annual deaths due to smoking have indicated that over half a million people die every year from smoking (one study in Australia found that 66% of smokers were likely to die of smoking-related disease). Secondhand smoking causes an additional 40,000 deaths annually, many of which are children. For every one person in the U.S. who dies of smoking, another 30 are living with a smoking-related disease (that’s 16 million people in the U.S.).
But really, even if you didn’t know the specific numbers, you know the deal. Smoking is not good for any system of the body. It’s time to make the commitment to yourself and your family to quit for good in 2016. There are important steps you can take to set yourself up for success.
Step 1: Make the decision to quit for all of the right reasons
The right reasons are whatever makes sense and is motivational to you. Maybe you want to be around to hold your child’s children. Maybe your child has started having asthma that you think may be related to your smoking. Maybe you don’t want to spend $6 a day on cigarettes.
Whatever the reason is, make it strong and compelling to you. It’s not enough to quit because someone told you to. That may be a good place to begin, but ultimately, you need to have a reason that will keep you on track.
Step 2: Make a plan
Smoking is a lifestyle. As odd as that sounds, when you think about it you may see that your life revolves around your smoking routine. Who you socialize with and when you socialize may be governed by cigarette breaks at work. You may plan your meals around a cigarette (i.e., stopping off to get coffee at a certain place every morning because you can smoke there). If the majority of your friends are smokers, they might not understand why you are quitting and may give you a hard time. A good plan for quitting smoking involves the following considerations.
- Removing temptation: Getting your car detailed, deep cleaning your house, and washing all of your clothes and coats will remove the smell of cigarettes.
- Figuring out what to do with your hands: The ritual of smoking keeps your hands occupied. Think about what you might do with them after you quit smoking. This may seem like a minor consideration, but part of quitting smoking is breaking the physical habit of the act of smoking. Consider taking up knitting, or write a list of things that can be done in five minutes (e.g., fold laundry, play with the dog, etc.). Whenever the urge to smoke strikes, consult the list and pick an activity until the urge passes.
- Planning for your extra time: As a smoker, you may not realize how much time smoking takes up. If you take several cigarette breaks a day at work, this can add up. One great way to utilize this extra time is to go outside at your normal break time, but instead of lighting up, walking around the block.
- Gathering a support system: It is important that the people around you know that you are quitting and understand that it will be a struggle for you. For those who smoke occasionally, nicotine leaves the body within four days, but for regular smokers, it may take two weeks or more for all traces of nicotine to leave their system. During this time, you may feel short-tempered and have other withdrawal symptoms. A positive support system can help you to deal with these by offering understanding when your temper gets short.
- Creating a system for dealing with cravings: Physical (and mental) cravings for cigarettes are very real, and it is important that you figure out what you will do when they arise before it’s an issue. Some people replace cigarettes with food, leading to weight gain that is also unhealthy.
Other ways to deal with cravings include:
- Eating sugar-free candy
- Drinking a big glass of water when the craving hits
- Going for a walk or exercising intensely (the seven-minute workout is great for this!)
- Reaching for a healthy snack like an apple or carrots and celery
There is some evidence that licorice and cinnamon candy also helps with cigarette cravings. Keep your candy sugar-free and you should be able to address your cravings in a healthy way.
Step 3: Quit
Don’t put it off. Once you have made the decision to quit and created a plan for success, don’t delay making this important decision any longer. Quitting smoking has immediate positive health effects that start within 20 minutes, including:
- Within 20 minutes of your last cigarette: Your heart rate slows
- Within one hour: Carbon monoxide, a toxic gas that is a by-product of smoking, drops to normal levels in your blood
- Within two weeks to three months: Your risk of heart attack begins to drop
- Within nine months: Your lungs begin to function properly, reducing the chance of lung infections and illness
- Within one year: Your risk of heart disease plunges to just half that of a smoker’s
- Within five years: Your risk of stroke is the same as a person who has never smoked
- Within ten years: Your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreas decreases dramatically, and your chance of dying from lung cancer is half that of a smoker’s
- Within 15 years: Your risk of heart disease is the same as that of a non-smoker
Don’t wait. The sooner you quit, the better.
Step 4: Know that there may be lapses
Smoking is an addiction that is both physical and mental. Quitting is difficult, and you may have setbacks. There are ways to try to prevent those, like certain medications that can help support a gradual path to smoking cessation, but acknowledging that what you are doing is difficult can actually help you to persist. If you do slip and smoke a cigarette, start again the next day.
Step 5: Reward the small victories
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about the potency of using meaningful rewards to help you create new habits. Think of a meaningful reward that is motivational to you and implement it. Some former smokers put the money they would use to quit smoking into a jar as often as they would have bought cigarettes and then used that money to do something special. Others might splurge on a fancy meal or massage. Whatever will help keep you on track: that’s the reward.
Make 2016 the year you stop making excuses and quit smoking. With planning and support, you can do it.