Ready to give up cigarettes, but not sure how to start? Heather Patrick, a health scientist and program director with the National Cancer Institute, shares tips on how to stop smoking once and for all.
Q: Is the start of a new year the best time to quit?
A: Any time is a good time. Pick a date that allows enough time to prepare, but not so long that you lose the drive to quit. Choosing a special day, like a new year, an anniversary or a birthday, is also a good strategy.
Q: What’s the best method to use?
A: Research shows that a combination of counseling and smoking cessation medication, which work by reducing the urge to smoke and/or relieving withdrawal symptoms, is the most effective way to quit. Counseling—either in-person or using a toll-free telephone service like the National Cancer Institute’s 1-800-QUIT-NOW “quitline”—provides support and practical advice that can make it easier to quit and stay smoke-free.
“But advice for quitting smoking is not one-size-fits-all. If the thought of quitting completely is overwhelming, sometimes getting down to fewer cigarettes can make the quit date feel like less of a leap. The trick to making the gradual approach work is to still choose an actual quit date. A lot of times people drag out the cutting down and never really get to a quit date.
Q: If one method fails, should a quitter try it again or enlist a different approach?
A: First, don’t give up! The average number of quit attempts is between four and six. If part of your plan isn’t working, you don’t have to abandon it entirely; it may just need a little tweaking. It also helps to know what triggers you to slip up. For example, research shows that stress and anxiety can make it difficult to stay smoke-free, especially for women.
Q: How public should someone be about his or her efforts to quit smoking?
A: This is a really personal choice, and it depends on your own needs for social support. Many of us have very well-meaning friends and family members who simply cannot provide the support we need—or who have very different definitions of what it means to be supportive. If you find there are several people in your life whose efforts may actually make it harder to quit, consider creating some distance from those folks temporarily.
Q: What can I do to support my loved one’s stop-smoking effort?
A: It’s natural to want to help. But smokers know that smoking is bad for them, so they don’t need to be persuaded about the evils of smoking. And sometimes our attempts to convince can come off as judgmental. That said, do have a conversation with your loved one. Allow them to talk about what makes them afraid to quit and what smoking does for them in their life right now. Ask how you can be a support when they’re ready to quit.
Q: What is the biggest myth or misconception about quitting smoking?
A: That it’s just a matter of willpower. We all know someone who woke up one morning and “just decided to quit” and has been smoke-free ever since, but that is not a typical quit experience. Most people try to quit several times before they find the right mix of strategies that work for them.
For free resources to quit smoking, visit the National Cancer Institute’s website smokefree.gov.