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How to quit smoking

Updated 04.04.2022
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While most of us know that there are no health or financial benefits to smoking, it can be difficult to stop. Some people think stopping is all about willpower, and they insist on going cold turkey to give up – but experience tells us that they are more likely to return to smoking in future. Let’s talk through some tried and tested methods to put yourself in the best position to quit and stay that way.

Getting started

For most of those who successfully quit, the free NHS Stop Smoking service offers you the best chance to quit. An expert adviser will encourage you to pick the best date to stop and help you mentally prepare. They may encourage you to look at reasons you wish to stop, barriers to stopping, and reasons that keep you smoking. They may ask about previous attempts to quit. They will then champion you all the way along your journey to quitting. Breaking the behavioural habit is much harder than the chemical addiction – you may associate cigarettes with a break from work, a reward, stress relief, or a night out with friends. They need to be addressed rather than ignored, and strategies put in place – such as avoiding some social situations at the beginning – rather than hoping for the best. Your doctor can put you in touch with your local Stop Smoking service, or your hospital if you are receiving treatment there. Other options include apps, helplines, and text messaging services – ask your doctor what’s available in your area.

Nicotine replacement therapy and anti-craving medication

Nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes. Withdrawal causes cravings to smoke and this peaks after about three days and continues for about two weeks. Nicotine replacement therapy can reduce these cravings, and you will be prescribed a reducing regimen to ease you off the chemical addiction. These come as gum, lozenges, patches, or tablets. Zyban and Varenicline are tablets prescribed to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms and reduce the pleasurable effects of smoking and nicotine. These are available on prescription.

Vaping and e-cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes or vapes have become popular in recent years, and offer two ways to help stop smoking: they give you something to hold and draw on, imitating a cigarette, and they can provide nicotine as an alternative means of replacement. Unfortunately, these are not available on the NHS as it’s too early yet to know long-term risks and there is no regulatory control over what substances are put in them. That said, the UK medical authorities consider them considerably better for your health than cigarettes, so this may be an attractive option for you. Bear in mind that you should ultimately aim to quit vaping at some point, too.

Simple steps

Your body will feel better within hours of quitting, although it can take time for your lungs to work through damage and repair tissue. Some people find taking up exercise helps – they can monitor an increase in fitness and wellbeing from the date they quit, and it helps release endorphins and clear any stress that can build up with quitting smoking. Distraction techniques can be a useful tool to help quit – immersing yourself in a hobby or starting a new project, or simply setting aside time for reading, cooking, or listening to music at the times you would have had a cigarette. Setting your quit date is important – you can discuss this with your adviser, but why not plan something fun to look forward to then? Or take time away or on holiday to remove yourself from any initial temptations to smoke. Make sure your remove all smoking paraphernalia and everything that reminds you of smoking before quitting. Let your family and friends know, so they can support you. If they smoke, you could even quit together to boost your chances. And keep tabs on the money you’re saving from kicking the habit – perhaps save up from something nice to reward your hard work.

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