If you’ve ever tried to stop smoking, you know it’s not a walk in the park. It’s more like a maze, where every turn seems to lead you back to tobacco.
Quitting isn’t easy, but fear not. You’re not alone on this journey and certainly not without a plan.
Tobacco smoking can increase your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, lung disease, lung cancer and other cancers. It also kills more than 480,000 people each year in the United States. If a life where your lungs breathe freely, your wallet isn’t burning a hole and the only thing on fire is your determination to quit sounds appealing, you’re in the right place.
Here are five steps to help get you on the right path to a smoke-free life.
1. Talk to a health care provider
One important part of quitting smoking is getting help from those around you. Your health care provider or a smoking cessation specialist can be a great place to start.
They can help you pinpoint your triggers and provide you with smoking cessation medication, which are medicines that help make it easier to quit.
“Success rates soar when counseling is complemented by medication,” said Sachin Chaudhary, MD, a pulmonologist and director of the interstitial lung disease program with Banner – University Medicine. “Counseling helps you make long-term behavioral changes and medication helps with the physical cravings caused by nicotine addiction.”
Medicines that can help you quit smoking include nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) options like skin patches, lozenges, gum and nicotine inhalers and prescription medicines like Chantix and Zyban.
Medication and counseling are usually covered by insurance, and they’re cheaper than smoking long-term. Don’t let money stop you from quitting.
“Medicare and Medicaid cover professional help and many insurance plans provide support for smoking cessation,” said Dr. Chaudhary. “Public health programs like 1-800-QUIT-NOW also offer free cessation services like counseling and access to NRT.”
2. Make a plan
Choose a Quit Day. If your life is super busy, it might feel like there’s never a good time. But waiting for the perfect time might delay kicking the habit.
“Choose a time to quit and try to make your life less stressful during that time,” said Dr. Chaudhary. “If you’re feeling motivated, that’s a great time to start.”
As you prepare for the day, write down your reasons for quitting and make a plan. This may include clearing out smoking reminders, like ashtrays, lighters, vapes and matches, or avoiding places that trigger cravings. Then arrange your life to give yourself the best chance of sticking to your plan.
Your health care provider or smoke cessation specialist can help you create a quitting plan, whether you choose to cut down gradually, go cold turkey (giving up smoking suddenly) or need the help of prescription medications.
3. Focus on the rewards
The statistics about the dangers of smoking are staggering – but there’s good news. The benefits of quitting smoking can dramatically impact your health and well-being.
“Within minutes of smoking your last cigarette, your body begins to recover,” said Dr. Chaudhary. “Within 24 hours, your oxygen level will rise, making physical activity and exercise easier.”
After a year, your risk of heart disease drops to about half. Your sense of smell and taste will improve, and you’ll cough less.
4. Replace smoking habits
Break the smoking habit by finding healthier activities to replace the rituals and routines related to smoking. Here are some ways to fill the time when you’re tempted:
- Chew gum or snack on healthy options: Keep your mouth busy with sugar-free gum or mints, carrot sticks, nuts and seeds or popcorn.
- Stay active: Physical activity can help distract you from cravings and improve your mood. Take a walk, practice yoga or hit the gym.
- Deep breathing: Replace the calming effect of smoking with deep breathing exercises and meditation.
- Keep your hands busy: Use stress balls, fidget spinners or take up knitting to keep your hands occupied.
- Drink water: Sipping water can help with oral cravings and keep you hydrated.
- Get support: Lean on friends, family or support groups. Having someone to talk to can make a big difference.
- Download a stop smoking app: Apps like quitSTART provide behavioral support such as education, motivation and advice on how to quit successfully.
- Avoid vaping as an alternative: Vapes (or e-cigarettes) aren’t approved as smoking cessation aids. Most vaping products contain nicotine and many other flavorings and chemicals and can lead to serious lung conditions like e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI). “With vaping, you risk trading one vice with another, or may end up using both,” said Dr. Chaudhary. “Using both simultaneously can increase the negative health effects.”
If you slip and smoke, don’t be too hard on yourself. Lean on your support system to talk about your relapse and how you feel about it. Use it as an opportunity to learn from the experience and strengthen your commitment to quitting.
Reward yourself when you achieve a goal, like not smoking for a certain period of time. It’s a way to celebrate your success and make quitting smoking feel good. It can be as simple as a favorite snack, a movie night or a small treat.
Quitting smoking is a journey and each step you take is toward a better you. It’s not just about stopping a habit – it’s about taking back control of your life.
Celebrate the little victories – and remember you’re not alone in this. You have the tools and support to help you enjoy a healthier, smoke-free life.
Ready to get started? Speak with your health care provider or a Banner Health specialist.