According to the CDC, 42.1 million Americans smoke tobacco, and 16 million Americans have some kind of smoking-related disease. Smoking is a leading cause of preventable death in America, killing 480,000 people a year. But it’s not all doom and gloom; the CDC also estimates that almost 50 million Americans are former smokers — people who have successfully quit.
So if quitting smoking is your New Year’s resolution this year, you’re in good company. If you smoke, quitting is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to improve your health. Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, at least 70 of which are carcinogenic. Smoking causes 90 percent of all lung cancers and 80 percent of all cases of COPD, but it’s harmful to every part of the body, not just the lungs.
To successfully quit, start by making a quitting-smoking plan. List the reasons you want to quit smoking. Get support from others. Above all, be patient, and don’t give up. If you slip up and smoke a cigarette, that’s no reason to buy a whole pack.
Make a Plan of Action
Making a quitting plan can mentally prepare you for your quit date, but it also helps to have procedures in place to deal with cravings and smoking triggers in advance. Choose a specific date on which to quit smoking altogether; you may or may not choose to taper off prior to that date, but having a “cold turkey” quit date is best since it removes the temptation to continue smoking indefinitely.
Other elements of your plan should include:
- Writing down your smoking triggers — the people, places, and things that make you want to smoke
- Listing things you will do to distract yourself when triggers and cravings arise
- Finding support from others, either in real life or online
- Making an inventory of all your smoking supplies, so you can throw them away on your quit date
- Developing a system of rewards that you will give yourself after a day, a week, a month, and a year of not smoking
If you want to use medication or over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy, you can include this in your plan too. Counseling may also be helpful — if you’re in the U.S., you can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free telephone counseling. If you’ve tried to quit unsuccessfully in the past, think about what worked then and what didn’t, and alter your plan accordingly.
List Your Reasons to Quit Smoking
Most people have similar reasons for wanting to quit smoking. They may want to stop exposing their children and loved ones to secondhand smoke, save money, and improve their health. If you’re already taking a medication like Advair for COPD, your goal may be to avoid further damage to your health.
If you don’t already have health problems from smoking, it can be difficult to truly understand that smoking is capable of cutting people down in the prime of their lives. Visit a site like WhyQuit.com to learn about smokers who succumbed to smoking-related illness while still young, and gain a deeper understanding of the true health risks of smoking.
Write down the list of reasons why you want to quit smoking, and carry it with you. Whenever you feel the urge to smoke, take out your list for a reminder of why quitting is important to you.
Anyone who’s ever beaten an addiction has had to learn to resist urges to use and cravings for the substance of choice. While cigarette cravings can be very powerful, they rarely last very long — usually only about three to five minutes.
Instead of fighting your cravings, learn to let them run their course through a technique known as urge surfing. Be patient; the physical symptoms of nicotine addiction last only a few days, and with time, even the psychological cravings will disappear altogether.
Quitting smoking is one of the hardest things a person can do, so it’s vital to get the support of others. Encourage your family and close friends to support your efforts and encourage your victories, no matter how small. Post about your progress on social media — the support of your virtual network can help keep you accountable.
Don’t be surprised if other smokers in your life aren’t as supportive as you’d like them to be. Your efforts to quit may remind them of their failure to do the same. Maybe they just don’t want to quit and don’t see why you should. It’s normal for people to resist change in those closest to them, because they fear they’ll have to change, too. If this happens to you, let your loved ones know that your quitting is about you, not them. If your loved ones can’t support you, ask them to at least not actively discourage you.
Don’t Give Up
Most smokers don’t manage the quit the first time they try — or even the second, third, fourth, or fifth time. It’s also perfectly normal to give in to cravings and smoke a cigarette even if you haven’t smoked for days or weeks. If that happens to you, don’t be discouraged — one mistake doesn’t make you a failure. Renew your resolve to quit and start over.
“Quit smoking” is a popular New Year’s resolution, and for good reason. If you’re trying to quit smoking this New Year, remember that there are more former smokers in this country than there are current smokers. If almost 50 million other Americans can quit smoking, you can do it, too.