People who smoke often make several attempts to quit before they succeed. Following some simple strategies and getting extra support when you need it can help you to stop smoking and avoid relapses.
Quit courses, counselling and telephone support can provide extra support. Nicotine replacement therapy is available from pharmacists and supermarkets, or your doctor can prescribe medication or subsidised nicotine patches to help you quit.
Wanting to quit smoking
Around 13 per cent of the Australian population smokes every day and most people who smoke want to quit. According to Quit statistics, 81 per cent of Victorians who smoke have tried to kick the habit at least once, while about 40 per cent try to quit each year.
Successful quitters see their past attempts as practice and experience to learn from and build on. Some people find that going ‘cold turkey’ – quitting completely and immediately – is a successful method for them. However, if you haven’t succeeded in stopping smoking on your own, getting extra support can increase the likelihood that you will quit successfully.
Benefits of quitting smoking
Quitting at any age will reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic bronchitis and several other health conditions related to smoking. The earlier you quit, the greater the health benefit.
Your health will improve in the first few months after quitting, benefitting your heart and lungs, increasing blood flow to your hands and feet, and improving your immune system.
Although quitting can initially be stressful, after six months, your stress levels and mood may be better than when you smoked.
People who quit smoking by the age of 30 gain 10 years of life expectancy and avoid most smoking-related diseases. Even quitting at the age of 60 improves your life expectancy by a few years.
If you already have a smoking-related disease, quitting will improve your condition and help with your treatment.
Deciding to quit smoking
Motivation is central to quitting smoking. First, work out the main reasons you want to stop. Take a piece of paper – on one half, write down the reasons you smoke and on the other half, write down all the reasons you can think of to quit.
Now you have a clearer idea of what you will lose and what you will gain from stopping smoking. Circle the most important reason for you to quit. Write it down on a separate piece of paper and keep it where you can easily look at it when you need to.
If you seem to have more reasons to smoke than quit, you may want to talk to someone about this, such as your doctor or a Quitline advisor.
Barriers to quitting smoking
Many people keep smoking because they feel it helps them in some way, or they are afraid of the possible side effects of quitting. Some common concerns include:
- The need for cigarettes as stress relief – there are plenty of other ways to relax that are actually beneficial to the body, such as exercise and meditation.
- The fear of weight gain – the best approach is to focus on how you look and feel physically, rather than your weight. There are things you can do to help maintain your weight.
- The fear of depression – within a few months people who successfully quit smoking are less likely to have depression and generally have a better mood and quality of life. For people with a mental illness or who have had a mental illness, special support is available through your doctor and the Quitline.
- The fear of withdrawal – nicotine is an addictive drug and the effects of withdrawal can be unpleasant. However, these symptoms are only temporary and using quitting medications can lessen the effects.
Tips for quitting smoking
Planning how you are going to quit can be very useful.
- Decide on a quit date and stick to it.
- Ring Quitline on 13 7848. For the cost of a local call, professional telephone advisors provide advice, encouragement and support to help people who smoke to quit.
- Quitline also provides a call-back service, a free Quit pack and information on Quit courses. Find out more about Quitline, QuitCoach and QuitTxt on the Quit website.
- Tell your family and friends of your intention to stop smoking and ask for their support.
- Think about prior attempts to quit and what went wrong. Plan how to avoid the same pitfalls this time.
- Decide on your strategy. For example, do you intend to go cold turkey, use nicotine replacement therapy or use an SMS or internet support service such as QuitTxt or QuitCoach?
- Write a list of all the reasons why you want to stop smoking and refer to this list whenever you feel tempted to light up a cigarette.
- Throw away all cigarettes, lighters and ashtrays in your home and car. If your partner smokes, suggest that they stop too, or only smoke outside the house and away from you.
- Plan for situations that you know make you want to smoke.
- Avoid possible weight gain by eating more fruit, vegetables and wholemeal cereals, and less processed food that is high in fat and sugar (such as chips, biscuits, lollies and soft drink). Do some exercise you enjoy, such as walking or swimming.
- Your body will absorb more caffeine than usual after quitting. Cut down on coffee and tea to prevent caffeine-induced anxiety and restlessness.
- Treat yourself with the money you have saved. Your efforts deserve to be rewarded.
- If you do have a cigarette, it’s not the end of your quit attempt. A slip-up is a setback, not a defeat. It is safe to keep using quitting medications, including nicotine replacement products, and to keep trying to quit.
Dealing with cravings when quitting smoking
Cravings only last a few minutes. Get through them by using the 4Ds:
- Delay acting on the urge to reach for a cigarette.
- Take deep breaths.
- Drink water.
- Do something else to occupy your mind while your craving passes.
Nicotine withdrawal when quitting smoking
Nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes that makes people who smoke want to keep on smoking. Withdrawal symptoms are the way your body reacts when it stops getting nicotine and all the other chemicals in tobacco smoke.
Quitting smoking ‘cold turkey’ means suddenly stopping smoking without help. This is a popular quitting strategy, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Some people are so irritated by the associated withdrawal symptoms that they start smoking again.
Nicotine replacement therapy
There is a range of products that can ease the withdrawal symptoms when you stop smoking, and increase your chances of success. These include nicotine skin patches, nicotine chewing gum, nicotine lozenges, nicotine mouth spray, nicotine oral strips and the nicotine inhalator. For addicted smokers, using a nicotine patch with another low dose nicotine product can better your chances of quitting over using one product alone.
Nicotine products are available over the counter from pharmacists and some are available at supermarkets. Nicotine patches are now available at a reduced cost through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
Prescription drugs for quitting smoking
The prescription medications buproprion and varenicline can also reduce some nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Together with counselling, these medications can increase your chances of stopping smoking. They are approved by the PBS. They must be prescribed by your doctor as they are not suitable for everyone and can trigger strong side effects in a small number of people.
It is important that you read all of the Consumer Medicine Information that comes with the medications and talk to your doctor about any symptoms that worry you. This information is printed for you at the pharmacy when the prescription is being filled.
Courses for quitting smoking
There are courses available to help and encourage smokers to quit in some areas. Participating in a Quit ‘Fresh start’ course can increase your chances of successfully quitting. Call Quitline for more information and referral.
There are other smoking cessation (stop smoking) courses available. When you consider these courses, remember that:
- Full details of the course should be made available before you sign up and pay your money, including cost, length of sessions, length of the course and techniques used.
- Follow-up advice and information should be available after the course finishes.
- The course should make no unrealistic guarantees about its success rate. Typical rates of successful quitting for group courses in the long term are around 14 per cent. Be wary of claims that far exceed this.
- If claims such as no weight gain, and no anxiety or withdrawal symptoms seem too good to be true, they probably are.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Your pharmacist
- Quitline Tel. 13 7848
Check out our top tips to help you quit smoking in the slideshow below.
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