It takes a smoker an average of five to ten attempts to successfully quit smoking. But with good strategies and perseverance, giving up should be an attainable goal for everyone.

We all know how dangerous smoking is to our health. But despite all the warnings, the nagging from friends and family, around 700,000 Victorians continue to regularly light up.

It’s easy to imagine the smokers among us have their heads in the sand, but statistics show at least 82 per cent of them are keen to quit – and about 50 per cent actually try to quit each year. On average, a smoker will make five to ten attempts at quitting before they finally put down the cigarettes for good. But this is different for everyone – some people can give up first try, while others try many times.

So what’s the big deal? Why is it so hard? We talk to Dr Sarah White, director of the Victorian anti-smoking initiative QUIT, to get some ‘hot tips’ on giving up – and staying smoke-free.

Battling three demons

When you try to quit smoking, you’re not just fighting one addiction – but actually doing battle with three. According to Dr White, there are three distinct and separate parts to our craving for cigarettes: a nicotine addiction, an emotional addiction, and a habitual addiction.

Cigarettes are a method for delivering nicotine into our bloodstream. When you decide to give up, you can wean yourself off your nicotine addiction with patches or other nicotine delivery systems.

The emotional addiction, however, is much harder to break. This is the reason why most people continue to smoke, and it can be extremely complex. We use cigarettes for many reasons: to reward ourselves, to console ourselves when things are going badly, to calm ourselves down, to take time out.

As Dr White notes: “People trying to quit need to find another way to deal with stress, and another way to reward themselves.”

Thirdly, there is the habitual addiction. This relates to when and where you smoke – the ‘signposts’ of your habit. Perhaps you always have a cigarette with your morning coffee, or after lunch. Maybe one or two on the way home. Or when you have a drink. These habits are hard to break.

The medical profession describes smoking as “a chronic relapsing condition” – which basically means that for many people, the urge never completely goes away. This is why it can be brutally hard to quit.

Set yourself a date

QUIT and the Better Health Channel can suggest numerous strategies that have helped Victorian smokers to give up. From electing a ‘quit date’ and throwing away all temptations, to replacement therapies and online coaching – there are so many ways to make today’s cigarette your last.

Dr White says it’s always worth getting some professional help at the outset. A call to Quitline [on 13 7848] can offer a great start to your quitting journey, “For the cost of a local call, you can double your chances of success.” QUIT also offers free personalised online coaching and a free text messaging service to help you keep on track.

Three weeks to a new you

The good news about quitting is that, while the first two weeks can be very difficult, by week three you should have started to rewrite your habits – and saying no will steadily become easier.

The bad news is that you need to get through that frightful fortnight first. When you give up, you’ll inevitably suffer from some of the side effects of abruptly stopping nicotine – including irritability, frustration, restlessness, and difficulties in concentrating.

During this critical phase, it’s worth considering one of the many ‘nicotine replacement products’ that deliver nicotine to your bloodstream in an ever-decreasing supply. As well as highly effective nicotine patches (some of which are discounted under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme), other products that can help include nicotine gum, lozenges, inhalators and mouth sprays.

Change routines, change habits

The more you know about your own smoking habits, the easier it’ll be for you to work out new habits.

Dr White says that, for heavier smokers, this can mean a complete change of routine. “For at least three weeks, it’s worth putting yourself in a place where there are simply no temptations.”

For example, if you habitually have a cigarette at morning tea, take your morning tea in a place where you’re not permitted to smoke. Take an apple to eat on the way to the train station instead of having that after-work smoke.

Changing your emotional addiction

The first step to tackling your emotional addiction is to become aware of your emotional triggers and work out how else you can deal with these moments. Some things to consider:

  • If you use smoking to escape demanding social moments, is there another way you can do this?
  • If you like time alone, is there another way to engineer it? This is a good time to enlist the help of friends and family.
  • If you reward yourself for a job well done, what else tickles your fancy?
  • If family, work or traffic seem to be a cause, what other ways can you handle these situations without a cigarette?

A square of dark chocolate is much better for you than a cigarette – and a few extra calories are a small price to pay for kicking the habit.

Finding healthy ways to cope without a cigarette is one of the keys to staying smoke free.

Dealing with the triggers

Sometimes it may feel impossible to deny yourself the pleasure of a cigarette. This is because something has ‘triggered’ your old smoking habit.

When you smoke, your brain grows more receptors that want nicotine. When you stop smoking, these receptors eventually go to sleep – but they’re always standing by, ready to jump to attention and start shouting for nicotine if something triggers the impulse.

These triggers can include anything from seeing a cigarette packet to smelling smoke, seeing someone light up – or even hearing the sound of a cigarette lighter.

However much you try to stay away from temptation, chances are at some point you are going to be triggered – so it’s worth having a plan for how you will deal with the cravings this will bring back.

At QUIT, they recommend the ‘4Ds’:

  • Delay, and take a
  • Deep breath.
  • Drink water, and then
  • Do something else.

Of course, drinking alcohol can make it much harder to resist a trigger, as it’s common for smoking and drinking to go hand-in-hand. So you may need to avoid alcohol for the first two or three weeks as well.

Never give up giving up

Dr White reminds us that “there is no such thing as a failed quit attempt”. Each attempt to quit will teach you something about your habit and the triggers you find hardest to resist.

So don’t despair if you’ve tried to kick the habit several times. What you’re trying to do is very hard. And remember: the rewards of success will be amazing.

On the financial side alone, if you smoke a pack a day, you’ll be saving over $7,000 a year. And over the next few years, the price of cigarettes is expected to nearly double. You’ll also be giving up breathing in more than 7000 chemicals many times every day. The health benefits will quickly start to stack up, and you’ll also become a great role model for other smokers, and for your children.

The other great benefit, of course, will be to your self-esteem – knowing that you’ve won the battle against one of the world’s most addictive adversaries. There are now more former smokers than current smokers – hundreds of thousands of Victorians have quit, and you can too!

You can find out more about breaking your habit at QUIT

Would you like to inspire others to quit smoking? Add a comment below and share your story.

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BHC Team

BHC Team

Just like you, we live all things health. We're lucky enough it's also part of our work. Join us each week as we share ideas and new ways to enjoy even better health.