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How to Stop Smoking -- for Good

This year, resolve to live a longer, healthier smoke-free life. Whether it’s your first or hundredth attempt at quitting, follow these tips to make it your last.

Choose a method. Going cold turkey isn’t the only option. There are lots of resources (many of which are free) and products designed to ease the pain of quitting. Your doctor can prescribe medications (like Zyban) that help with withdrawal symptoms. You can also find over-the-counter nicotine replacements that can help wean you off your habit (like the nicotine patch, gum and lozenges). But read the instructions and talk to your doctor or pharmacist to make sure they’re right for you. Keep in mind there are tons of resources right at your fingertips: Log on to websites like SmokeFree.gov or dial 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free help and support as well as referrals to cessation programs and other resources. Regardless of which method(s) you choose, keep in mind that they’re not all created equal (those fancy electronic cigs haven’t been proven effective), and the same technique your coworker or even significant other used to quit won’t necessarily work for you. To increase your likelihood of success, talk to a doctor or cessation counselor who can help you map out a personalized strategy.

Prepare. Pick a date to officially quit, then map out a game plan. For example, if you’re using nicotine replacement methods, read the directions and talk to your doctor, pharmacist or counselor ahead of time to set up a schedule to slowly decrease the amount you use until you’re completely nicotine-free. If you want to try a cessation program, make sure to sign up ahead of time, so you don’t blow off your resolution. Take advantage of the vast array of materials provided by the government or the National Cancer Institute (see #1) to prep for success. And of course, now’s the time to ditch your stash, including the “emergency cigs” you keep on the top shelf of the linen closet, under the sink … and in the glove compartment. But don’t stop there: Search your car, desk drawers and pockets, and toss any visual reminders (like lighters and ashtrays) that could trigger a craving. Then literally give yourself a fresh start (and make relapsing less tempting) by booking a teeth cleaning and washing your drapes, clothes, car and anything else that is covered in smoke.

Anticipate challenges. Whether it’s your first or 10th attempt, kicking a nicotine addiction isn’t easy, so it’s important to trouble-shoot roadblocks and strategize for challenges in advance. Think you’re strong enough to skip this step? Consider this: When going through nicotine withdrawal, many individuals feel depressed; have trouble sleeping; become abnormally cranky, frustrated or mad; experience increased appetite; gain weight; feel anxious, nervous or restless and have trouble thinking clearly. Now that you know what you’re up against, we have some good news: Half of all adult smokers successfully quit, so your chances are good. But to make them even better, you need a plan. Think about what caused you to fall off the wagon last time or what might derail your efforts this time and come up with a plan to thwart these obstacles ahead of time. Worry you’ll never be able to make it through your commute without smoking a cig? Before you get in the car, pack gum (to keep your mouth busy) and pens (to hold between your fingers). Couldn’t resist a few drags (which became a few packs) the last time you hung out with your smoker pals? Keep your distance for a few weeks (when your cravings will be strongest) or ask them to help you stick to your resolution by not smoking around you (or by teaming up with you to quit).

Find a new habit. Habits aren’t easy to kick, but the folks who study this stuff say that replacing your bad habit with a different (not-so-bad) habit can help. Consider when and why you smoke. Do you pick up a pack whenever you’re stressed? Find a new calming tactic for when you’re drowning in deadlines or your in-laws come to town. Whether it’s taking a 10-minute walk, watching a funny video on YouTube or meditating at your desk, you’ll have to consciously swap the old smoke break for your new habit every time you crave a smoke until it becomes automatic. But be patient: Replacing an after-dinner cig with an espresso may not bring the same satisfaction (or relief) at first. And be careful: Replacing your after-dinner cig with dessert, could bring the added stress of weight gain. Choose a new habit that won’t give you a reason to start smoking again.

Tell on yourself. Here’s a case where peer pressure can actually work for you. Telling your partner, coworkers, close friends and relatives about your plan to quit will help strengthen your resolve later. You’ll probably hesitate to light up if you know you’ll be held accountable, and you’ll have to admit that you failed. Plus, you’ll be more inclined to ask for help in a weak moment if your friends and fam already know you’re trying to quit.

Log your motivation. The most successful quitters find compelling reasons not to light up. Make a list of reasons you want to quit: Your girlfriend hates kissing an “ashtray.” Or you don’t want to be a bad influence on your future kids or to get lung cancer. Or the money you save could be used toward a dream vacation…. Be sure to include any emotionally sensitive ones as well (read: my habit puts my partner’s health at risk too). Chances are, they’ll resonate longer than the practical incentives. Then keep your list handy at all times. Trust us; the moment will come when you’ll need to be reminded why you shouldn’t just take one drag.

Gross yourself out. Got nauseous at the sight of meat after watching Food Inc.? Pretty powerful tactic for encouraging someone to become a vegetarian, huh? Use the same strategy to become a nonsmoker. Here, we’ll even help you: We know you’re well aware that smoking can lead to lung cancer and heart disease, and, of course, kill you. But since you already know that and choose to puff on those cancer sticks anyway, here’s some other nasty nicotine side effects to turn you off about your habit: There are more than 4,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, including some of the ones used in wood varnish, insect poison, arsenic, nail polish remover and rat poison. Smoking weakens your taste buds, sense of smell and immune system. And a few more superficial but often very compelling reasons: Smoking will give you Austin Powers’ style teeth, wreak havoc on your skin, and oh, yeah, give you wrinkles.

Learn to overcome cravings. When you start jonesing for a butt, keep in mind that the urge to light up will come … and go. So when you feel one coming on, take a shower or go for a run or do anything that will distract you for 10 minutes. Chances are your craving will dissipate by the time you’re done. Keep a stash of gum or sucking candies at work when the urge hits, and even considering employing the most clichéd relaxation tip ever, taking 10 deep breaths. It’s been found to be a very effective technique for breaking a habit because it forces you to pause. (Plus, it works great when you’re in a jam.) Whatever you do, don’t ever say, “I’ll just take one drag.” One puff will only make your cravings worse. Instead, whip out that list of reasons for quitting. Then focus on getting through the moment or day. Worry about the next day tomorrow and the next month in the next month. You’ll find cravings a lot easier to ignore when you take things one day at a time.

Change your routine. Stay busy -- especially during the first few weeks -- so you have as little time as possible to think about smoking. Book yourself solid for the first two to three weeks; catch up with friends, start a fitness routine or do whatever it takes to keep your mind occupied and off of the Marlboro Man. But avoid activities or places where you used to light up. (Hey, it’s a great excuse to finally try out some new restaurants.) If you always smoked in the car, take the wheel instead of letting your mate drive. Or ride your bike (it’s better for the environment anyway). Love to smoke during Letterman? Tune into The Daily Show instead. Starting a new routine will help you to break free of your old puffing patterns.

Don’t derail. If you do give into a craving (or end up smoking an entire pack), don’t beat yourself up or throw in the towel. Remember that physical addictions are hard to break and many people slip, especially in the first three months. But don’t forgive yourself too easily either. Figure out why you gave in this time and come up with a better plan to cope with that trigger the next time. If this is your first lapse in five months, perhaps you let your guard down too soon. If can’t seem to make it past the three-week mark, maybe you need to tweak your method and try a nicotine replacement or a support group. Remember: You’ve come so far; don’t throw it all away.

-- Kristin Koch

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