The writer Mark Twain supposedly quipped: “Giving up smoking is easy – I’ve done it a thousand times.” It’s a witty remark but it masks an undeniable truth: quitting smoking for good is very difficult and probably one of the hardest things you will ever do.
Smoking is both a physical addiction and a psychological habit. The nicotine in cigarettes gives you an addictive “high,” but it’s temporary so before long you need to light another cigarette to give yourself another “fix.” If you deny yourself that fix, your body will experience withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
Psychologically, people use smoking as a mood-lifter (having a cigarette during a break from work, for example) or to help them cope when feeling stressed or depressed, or they smoke simply because all their family and friends do.
If you truly want to stop, there is help out there – a lot of it. But first, a few questions….
Now that you’ve made the decision to quit, ask yourself what kind of smoker you are.
• Are you a heavy, more than a pack-a-day smoker? Or are you more of a social smoker who indulges at parties or when out with friends?
• Do you associate smoking with certain activities, places or people? For example, does a coffee break or the end of a meal always signal it’s time for a cigarette?
• Is smoking linked to another addiction you might have, such as drinking alcohol or gambling?
• Is smoking a way for you to cope with stress or a low mood?
Answering those questions can help decide which method will best help you quit. Whichever one you choose, set a date to start and tell everyone close to you and ask for their support. And support yourself by throwing away all your lighters and ashtrays and removing that smoke smell from your home by washing any clothes that smell smokey, as well as carpets, upholstery and curtains. If you smoked in your car, give that a good clean too.
A note on shisha
Since we’re in the Middle East, this is very relevant, although shisha is also popular in Southeast Asia, North Africa and, increasingly, in the UK.
The bad news is that smoking shisha is no safer than smoking cigarettes. Shisha usually contains cigarette tobacco and therefore nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide and heavy metals such as lead and arsenic. Contrary to common belief, drawing tobacco smoke through water does not make it less harmful. Shisha is also just as addictive as cigarette smoking because it contains nicotine.
In a typical shisha session lasting an hour, a shisha smoker can inhale the same amount of toxins as if they’d smoked 100 cigarettes.
Even if you use tobacco-free shisha, you are still inhaling carbon monoxide and all the other toxins in the coal or charcoal that’s burning the shisha.
Quitting smoking with medication
• Nicotine replacements such as nicotine gum, patches, lozenges, inhalers or nasal spray relieve withdrawal by delivering small but steady doses of nicotine into the body but without all the other harmful ingredients in cigarettes, such as tar and other chemicals. This is very helpful in breaking the psychological dependence on smoking and makes it easier to concentrate on learning new behaviors and coping skills. Any of these aids can be used alone or in combination.
• Non-nicotine medications include Champix (also known as Chantix) and Zyban. Champix works by blocking the nicotine receptors in the brain, thereby reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. A usual course of treatment lasts 12 weeks, although you should notice reduced cravings within nine days.
• Zyban was originally marketed as an anti-depressant until someone noticed that smokers who took it for depression also lost interest in smoking. Even people who had no real plans to stop smoking found they could do so relatively easily. Zyban works by acting on brain chemicals associated with nicotine cravings.
• Both drugs are intended for short-term use only – between seven and 12 weeks. As with any treatment involving medication, consult your doctor first.
There’s an app for just about everything these days and quitting smoking is no exception. A quick search online reveals at least 150 promising to help you stop smoking. These have been rated the best for both iPhone and Android devices. All are either free or free with in-app purchase.
• QuitNow!: This app focuses on four sections – your new ex-smoker status, 70 ex-smoker achievements to keep you motivated, a strong ex-smoker community and health improvements. So far, it has helped two million smokers quit.
• Smoke Free: This app takes a science-based approach, with more than 20 evidence-based techniques to help eliminate smoking from your life. It has graphs to monitor your craving patterns and progress and you can also choose to take part in a rigorous scientific experiment that will help more people quit more successfully.
• SmokeFree: Not to be confused with the one above, this app gives you the option of quitting immediately or reducing your smoking over time to help your body adapt more gradually. Features include motivational tips, personal stats and tracking improvements in health and finances.
• Quit Tracker: This app is a motivational tool which tracks the health and financial benefits you will enjoy every day you resist lighting up and includes a timeline.
• EasyQuit: Allows you to monitor health improvements from blood circulation to oxygen levels to sense of taste and smell. It also has a slow mode with customized plans and a memory game for when cravings strike. You can also earn badges as rewards.
• Quit Genius: Uses behavioral modification tools based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help you gain control over your actions. It allows you to set your own goals and rewards you by telling you how much money you’ve saved and how many years of life you have regained.
• My QuitBuddy: Using a live map of your body, it shows improvements in your lungs and other organs as well as listing how much money you’ve saved and how much tar you have avoided putting into your body. It also provides games to take your mind off the cravings.
• Flamy: No messing about with this app, which offers a challenge to stop smoking in two weeks or a “one less every day” option to gradually cut cigarettes out completely. It also has distraction games and challenges for you and your friends to motivate each other.
• Stop Smoking: A no-nonsense name for an app that helps you do exactly what it says. It has a progress diary that you can share with other app users and a tracker which not only calculates the money you’ve saved but also allows you to use it to buy things on Amazon.
• Quit Smoking-Stop Smoking Counter: This follows methods pioneered by the British stop-smoking guru Allen Carr, and is a one-stop shop for information and support. It tells you how much nicotine and tar you are not putting into your body with each cigarette you don’t smoke, and offers stories and tips from successful quitters.
• Smoking Log-Stop Smoking: This app is all about goals. You set your own and it supplies the tools to get you there, along with information on how you’re doing with a dashboard and charts, stats and notifications.
• Hypnosis has worked for many smokers. It’s got nothing to do with stage-act hypnotists making you cluck like a chicken. Rather, during hypnosis you are placed into a state of deep relaxation, where you are open to suggestions that strengthen your resolve to stop smoking and increase your aversion to cigarettes. There’s also the Quit Smoking Hypnosis app with daily hypnosis audio by a qualified hypnotherapist to train you out of smoking by changing your mindset and resetting behavior patterns. It claims to be effective within one to three week
• Acupuncture is one of the oldest medical techniques in the world. It works by triggering the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain relief, which helps with managing withdrawal.
• Behavioral therapy focuses on learning new skills to break old habits and rituals involved with smoking. It doesn’t have to mean long-term counselling – just a few sessions can be enough
• Motivational therapies – There is a ton of information available from self-help books and online on how to give yourself the motivation to stop smoking and stay stopped. Remember why you want to stop: is it for your own health or to protect your family from passive smoking? Is it to save money? Calculating how much you spend on smoking can be reason enough. Try putting that money aside and saving it to spend on a reward for yourself, such as a holiday.
Quitting with no help
Commonly called “going cold turkey,” about 90 percent of people try to stop smoking with no aids or support of any kind. However, only five to seven percent manage it.
What NOT to do
• Vaping: it can help you quit smoking but it’s not necessarily any safer. Some research has linked e-cigarettes to severe lung disease. The fact is that we simply don’t know enough about exactly what’s in an e-cigarette or the long term effects.
• Smokeless tobacco, also known as chewing tobacco, is no safer or less addictive than cigarettes as it contains nicotine. Not only that, the amount of nicotine absorbed from smokeless tobacco can be three or four times higher than what you get from a cigarette.
Nicotine withdrawal begins quickly, usually within an hour of your last cigarette, and peaks two to three days later. Symptoms can last from a few days to several weeks. The most common symptoms are irritability, restlessness, headaches, increased coughing, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue and, of course, cravings. But remember, they are all temporary and will ease as your body gets rid of all those toxins.
Managing the cravings
• Put something else in your mouth: suck a mint, munch on a carrot or celery stick, chew gum or sunflower seeds or even suck on a drinking straw.
• Distract your mind: pick up a book or magazine, do a crossword, sudoku or other puzzle, play an online game.
• Keep your hands busy: squeeze a ball or fiddle with a paper clip, do housework – anything that takes your mind and hands away from lighting up a cigarette.
• Brush your teeth: you’re less likely to want to spoil that clean, fresh breath feeling.
• Drink a glass of water slowly: staying well hydrated helps to minimize the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
• Light something else: instead of a cigarette, light a candle or some incense.
• Be active: go for a walk or a jog, do pushups or yoga stretches.
• Relax: have a warm bath, meditate, read or do some deep breathing exercises
• Delay: if you feel yourself giving in to the craving, tell yourself to wait 10 more minutes and do something else, like going somewhere where you can’t smoke, such as a mall, store, cinema, café or any public building.
What if you relapse?
First, if you slip up and smoke a cigarette, it doesn’t mean you’re incapable of quitting for good. Think about what made you smoke again and analyze the trigger and work out how to avoid it. Even if the relapse sends you back into habitual smoking, it doesn’t mean you can’t try again.
If you have cigarettes lying around, throw them out. This is especially important if you’re using medication to quit as some cannot be used if you’re smoking at the same time, so talk to your doctor.
And remember, the benefits of quitting start IMMEDIATELY.
Within 20 minutes, your heart rate will return to normal.
Within a day, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood fall.
Within two to three weeks, your chances of having a heart attack begin to recede.
And if you still need a push to quit, try vanity. Smoking really damages your looks, because:
• Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, many of which destroy collagen and elastin, the fibers that give your skin its strength and elasticity. Even passive smoking can degrade what are, in effect, the building blocks of skin, leaving you with wrinkles and sagging — and not just on your face. Research has shown that smoking is a leading cause of sagging breasts. Smokers also typically get bags under the eyes.
• Smokers tend to have poor skin tone and are more likely to get age spots because smoking deprives the skin of oxygen and nutrients.
• It’s dangerous for your eyes: smokers are more likely to develop cataracts as they age, which affects vision and requires surgery.
Anna Pukas has reported from all over the world as a foreign correspondent for British media. She is now an editor based in Abu Dhabi.