10 Simple Tricks That Help Smokers Quit
It’s never easy to quit smoking. If it were, there wouldn’t be so many smokers who’ve “quit” five times yet are still lighting up. But there are tips and tricks proven to make quitting easier, reduce cravings, and prevent relapse. Here are ten simple tricks to help you quit — for good.
1. Make a public pledge.
There’s a reason why the American Lung Association, the National Cancer Institute, and many other health organizations say that essential steps to quitting smoking include joining a support group, setting a “quit date,” and announcing it. Studies have also found that joining with coworkers in a workplace pledge to quit, or joining a national effort such as the Great American Smokeout, is an effective way to quit.
Why it works: Public shame and the support of others are powerful motivators. By telling everyone around you that you’re quitting, making a public pledge, and enlisting the support of other smokers who make the same commitment, you’re boosting your resolve with both forces.
2. Track your progress on a calendar.
Post a calendar where you can see it, and mark off each day you’ve gone without a cigarette. Then reward yourself at the end of each week with something you really want: a new pair of shoes, tickets to a ball game, or some new tunes to listen to. At the end of the third week, do something significant to commemorate the occasion, such as having dinner out or spending a day at the spa.
Why it works: It takes 21 days for a new thought pattern to become automatic, which is what’s required to eliminate a habit, says behavior modification expert Susan Gayle, founder of the New Behavior Institute in New York City. Three weeks without smoking is usually enough to make it stick. And as any smoker or alcoholic who’s tried to quit can tell you, the first few days are the hardest. After that, cravings weaken, and the intervals between cravings lengthen, giving smokers longer periods of feeling good.
3. Sign up for reminder texts.
A text-to-stop program initiated in Britain this fall was found to have great success; study results published in The Lancet showed smokers who signed up for the text-to-stop trial program, called txt2stop, were twice as likely to quit successfully as those who quit without the reminders. The trend actually started in New Zealand with a campaign called STOMP (stop smoking with mobile phones), which was then modified by the British researchers. The National Cancer Institute just launched its own text-to-quit-smoking program, SmokefreeTXT, with easy online sign-ups.
Why it works: Staying on track is key to “staying quit,” says behavior modification expert Susan Gayle, founder of the New Behavior Institute of New York. Although smokers often start out strongly motivated, it’s common for resolve to wane as cravings get stronger. Getting regular messages of support and encouragement reinforces that initial motivation, and then builds on it by making the smoker feel proud of his or her accomplishment up to that point.
Two factors that make texting programs successful: The messages can be tailored to reflect the issues and obstacles that are biggest for each individual smoker, and the service is private, so smokers can receive the messages in meetings, in transit, or in social situations without others seeing or hearing them.
4. Jump on the exercise bandwagon.
A program that combined counseling to quit with an exercise initiative was much more effective in helping teens quit smoking than just counseling alone, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics in September 2011.
Why it works: Research shows that quitting smoking is all about building a sense of control, and exercise has been shown to “build feelings of self-efficacy,” the study team concluded. Also, when people begin exercising, they start prioritizing health — particularly lung health. And exercise releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals in the brain, which can replace the pleasure reinforcers of smoking.
5. Freshen your mouth with mint.
We’ve all seen smokers popping candies in their mouths. Now it turns out there’s a good reason: Mint-flavored sweets, such as wintergreen and peppermint, are an effective quit-smoking tool because they freshen the mouth and relieve cravings for the taste of cigarettes. Stash mints everywhere, so they’re always handy: in the car, your purse or pocket, in your desk, and around the house.
Why it works: The cool, tingly feeling of menthol or mint makes a smoker’s mouth feel fresh and clean, which tricks the brain into feeling less desire for that hot intake of smoke.