Are you one of the many people in the United States planning to enjoy a smoke-free 2019? A new year comes with the promise of a clean slate and the opportunity to make resolutions to improve your quality of life, leaving you a healthier, stronger and happier person. A YouGov NY poll conducted last year found that nearly one in ten people resolved to quit smoking in 2018, yet smoking cessation is far from easy, with many smokers trying and failing on numerous occasions.
Despite an overall decline in the number of American smokers, tobacco use is still a significant public health issue, with around 38 million people still smoking and over 16 million living with a disease caused by smoking. If you aim to quit smoking in 2019, give yourself the best chance for success by putting everything in place to ensure you are successful in your efforts and by following our guide to quitting smoking.
1. Form a quit plan
Fail to prepare and you risk preparing to fail. Even a basic quit plan can help keep you on the road to a smoke-free life and help you overcome the temptation to light up again.
Set a quit date
Mark your 2019 quit date in your calendar and stick to it! Setting a specific date for quitting smoking (we suggest New Year’s Day!) can help you measure your success but it also gives you plenty of time to prepare. Knowing you have a cutoff date for your last cigarette gives you a window to gradually cut down, which can help minimize the withdrawal symptoms after you reach your quit date and throw away your last pack.
Identify your smoking triggers
Every smoker experiences certain stressors or situations that increase cravings. Regardless of what your smoking triggers are, whether it’s a stressful day at work, drinking alcohol or spending time around other smokers, identifying your smoking triggers can help you analyze your own habits and form plans to ensure you do not succumb to cravings.
List your reasons for quitting smoking
Draw up a list of all the reasons why you want to quit smoking cigarettes and keep reminding yourself why you decided to work towards being tobacco-free. For some Americans, the health benefits are the most compelling reason to quit smoking. Stopping smoking reduces the risk of lung cancer, lung disease, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and diabetes, and on average non-smokers live 10 years longer than smokers, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Try to think beyond the numerous health benefits and consider how being a non-smoker will improve your life. Do you struggle with the cost of cigarettes? Do you want to improve your health for the sake of your family? Is smoking affecting your social life? Whatever your reasons, write yourself a list to give you the strength to resist when the urge to light up is strong!
Cold turkey or gradual smoking cessation?
The decision to quit cold turkey can be a daunting one, so many smokers opt to gradually reduce their nicotine intake, whether by cutting down on their cigarette smoking or by using or e-cigarettes nicotine replacement therapy products, such as patches or lozenges.
Going cold turkey may appeal if you want a clean break and fresh start when you stop smoking, but you may need to contend with more significant nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Recent studies suggest smokers who quit cold turkey have more success than those who use a gradual smoking cessation method, but ultimately, you will have to decide which approach works best for you. If you have tried and failed to quit before, try to think about how you went about it last time and what you could change to improve your chances of success.
2. Explore nicotine replacement therapy options
If you decide on a gradual smoking cessation plan, nicotine replacement therapies could help curb your cravings and keep you on the right track. In the early days of quitting, it can help to use two forms of nicotine replacement therapy: a long-acting form, such as a nicotine patch, to maintain a steady amount of nicotine in your body and reduce cravings; and a short-acting form, such as an inhaler or gum, to be used for instant relief when the urge to smoke is particularly strong.
Nicotine replacement therapies
Products such as nicotine lozenges, patches, gum, inhalers, and nasal sprays deliver controlled quantities of nicotine into your body, helping you break the habit of smoking while reducing the withdrawal systems. There is no evidence that one form of nicotine replacement therapy is more effective than another, so pick the one you feel most comfortable using.
If you are concerned about weight gain while quitting smoking, nicotine replacement therapy could be a good option for you, although there is still a risk you will put on weight once you fully cut out all nicotine use. Studies suggest that quit rates are around twice as high among those who use nicotine replacement products, so if you have tried and failed in the past, integrating these into your plan could help you stick to a resolution to quit smoking in 2019.
A word on e-cigarettes… E-cigarettes are increasingly popular among smokers trying to quit, as they offer a way to get a nicotine hit and still experience a sensation similar to smoking. However, e-cigarettes are not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a quit smoking aid, and there are other potential drawbacks to this option, for example, it is not easy to regulate the quantity of nicotine delivered through an e-cigarette. If you plan to quit but want to gradually reduce your nicotine intake, you may be more successful using one of the FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies available.
3. Consider medication to help you quit smoking
Only two FDA-approved smoking cessation prescription drugs are currently available in the US. These can be prescribed by your physician to help you break your nicotine addiction. They counter some of the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting smoking, such as depression, anxiety, and irritability, as well as reducing the urge to smoke. Prescription drugs may be particularly helpful if you are a heavy smoker or have tried and failed in the past.
Perhaps the most well-known medication specifically used to help people quit smoking is Chantix (varenicline), which works by blocking the effects of nicotine on the brain, reducing the urge to smoke. This option may not be suitable for pregnant women and people with kidney problems so you should always consult with your physician before starting any course of medication.
Zyban (bupropion) is an antidepressant medication used alongside a quit-smoking program to help reduce your urge to smoke and minimize any nicotine withdrawal symptoms, which can include irritability, anxiety, and restlessness. It is not certain precisely how Zyban works to reduce the urge to smoke, but it is believed to help restore the natural balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Always consult with your physician if you plan to use medication to help break the smoking habit.
4. Change your habits
Nicotine addiction is a physiological addiction but most smokers have also integrated smoking into their daily routine, leading to a particularly strong urge to smoke at certain times or in certain circumstances, for example, first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee, when drinking alcohol, or during a smoke break at work.
Your 2019 quit plan should include identifying your triggers and habits and looking for ways to avoid triggers and adjust your routine. Breaking the smoking habit may require changing your daily routine or replacing smoking with an alternative. For example, if you tend to have a cigarette after dinner, try choosing another activity to keep you occupied after eating, such as going for a walk.
The American Cancer Society recommends that you spend as much time as possible in public places where smoking is not allowed in the first days after your chosen quit day. It also advises avoiding drinks such as coffee or alcohol if you associate these with having a cigarette and looking for ways to form new habits that you do not link with smoking.
Routine changes such as exercising in short bursts, eating smaller, more frequent meals to maintain steady blood sugar levels and energy, and avoiding sugary or spicy foods that may trigger the urge to smoke.
If you struggle to break the habit-forming aspect of smoking, you may benefit from behavioral therapy as it can help restructure the way you think about smoking and provide you with tools to help you adjust your behavior regarding cigarettes and tobacco products. Behavioral therapy with a healthcare professional can provide you with valuable quitting tools, such as strategies for dealing with cravings and withdrawal symptoms, methods for identifying your triggers, and ways to avoid your triggers.
5. Seek Support
Quitting smoking is far from easy, so enlist all the support you can to ensure your quit plan is a success, whether this is from friends and family, a healthcare professional, a support group or simply chatting with an advisor on your state’s quitline.
Friends and Family
Support need not only come through groups and from healthcare professionals. Enlist your friends and family to help you in your quitting efforts. Telling your loved ones about your quit plan will provide motivation to follow through and remain smoke-free and give you someone nearby to talk to or to distract you when the cravings are particularly strong.
Informing those close to you about your efforts to quit can also encourage them to be more sensitive in the first days of quitting. If they are smokers, you may wish to request that they do not smoke around you to help you avoid your triggers and the temptation to light up. Informing them of your plans may also help them be more patient and understanding if you struggle with anxiety, depression, irritability or other withdrawal symptoms.
Healthcare professionals and support groups can provide you with valuable tools for quitting smoking. Talking to others who are working on cutting smoking out of their lives can give you further tips on coping strategies and ways to deal with withdrawal. For many people, just knowing there are others going through the same quitting process and being able to talk about their shared experience is helpful. Remember you are not alone, there are many other Americans working towards a smoke-free life.
Quitlines, quit smoking links and other resources
If you do not wish to go to a support group or cannot find one nearby, you may wish to try a tobacco quitline. These are available at no cost to US residents and offer a variety of services, including individual counseling, practical tips on how to quit, information on cessation medications and more.
National Cancer Institute: https://www.smokefree.gov or 1-800-QUIT-NOW number. This toll-free number connects you with your state’s tobacco quitline service.
The American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org or 1-800-ACS-2345
The American Lung Association https://www.lung.org/stop-smoking or 1-800-LUNGUSA
The American Heart Association https://www.heart.org or 1-800-AHA-USA1
6. Reward yourself!
Quitting smoking is hard so don’t forget to look after yourself and celebrate every little victory as each cigarette you avoid smoking will be beneficial to your health and bring you a bit closer to being a non-smoker.
Setting targets and planning rewards for each milestone reached can provide valuable motivation to maintain your efforts to be smoke-free. Quitting is not only great for your health it is also good financially as your expenditure on tobacco is reduced and eventually cut out completely. Consider using some of your savings to treat yourself when you achieve a milestone or avoid smoking under particularly trying circumstances.
Good luck with all your efforts to quit smoking in 2019. Stay strong, stay healthy, and stay smoke-free!