How to Quit Smoking

In the past year, more than 50 percent of smokers have attempted to quit, often with limited success. The average former smoker needed more than six attempts before one finally took. The difference between an unsuccessful attempt and a successful one is hard to pin down. The right approach isn’t a guarantee of victory, but it can certainly help.

The important thing to remember is that addiction is both mental and physical. Chemicals in tobacco rewire your brain so that you actively feel bad when you haven’t had a cigarette recently, but this rewiring can be undone. It doesn’t even take very long; when you quit smoking, the physical cravings usually fade within two weeks.

Overcoming the mental addiction is also important, and done differently. One thing that helps is to replace habits. Find something else you can do with your hands, or your mouth. One ex-smoker found that she lit up while talking on the phone, so she started keeping a pitcher of water on her desk.

Another strategy is to make sure you have someone to whom you’re accountable. Find other people quitting smoking and support each other, or tell friends who can help you stick to it. This doesn’t have to be intimate; cartoonist Jeph Jacques announced on Twitter when he had what he intended to be his last cigarette. Even if you don’t tell anyone, the mere act of writing down your intention to quit smoking, of having it down in front of you in black and white, can help encourage you to stay the course.

Remember, too, that you don’t have to quit cold turkey. There are a variety of products and techniques to help get you over the hump of withdrawal cravings or old habits. Your doctor will be more than happy to help you develop a plan to quit, whether that involves cigarette substitutes, medications, or something else, if you need it.

Tomorrow is the Great American Smokeout. If you’re having your last cigarette today, congratulations, you’re taking an important step for your health. Good luck.

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