How to Quit Smoking
Everyone knows that smoking is bad for your health and everyone knows
how hard it is to quit smoking. If you have ever tried to quit smoking, you
know first hand how difficult it can be. I like to write on topics where I have
first hand experience and this is one of them.
I began smoking when I was about 19 or 20 and I smoked full time for
more than 4 years. Long enough that I had an inescapable monkey on my
back day and night. Make no mistake – smoking is both a habit and an
addiction. And understanding the distinction between addiction and habit
was important in helping me quit smoking.
I smoked between 1 and 2 packs every day. This was back in the days
when smoking was allowed in the workplace and many of my cigarettes just
burned up in the ashtray. I guess you would say that I actually smoked
about 1 pack per day.
I have successfully quit smoking for more
than 20 years and I would like to share my
insights and some techniques that helped
me stop. If you search the web for articles
on how to quit smoking, you will find lots of
advice. But, I have a few practical ideas
that I’ve never read anywhere else that
just might get you through the difficult
ordeal of quitting. Success is possible!
Sick Of Smoking
I never tried to quit smoking for the first couple of years. I actually
enjoyed it for a few years but then I saw it for what it was – a disgusting
My lungs hurt and I had a constant headache. I was sick of smoking.
I made a few feeble attempts to quit smoking but my first attempts were
miserable failures. But after 4 years, I actually got a lucky break –
I came down with pneumonia!
Now, you may not call getting that sick a good thing and it was rough (and
painful). But, for several weeks, I could not smoke. Even if I wanted to -
and I did want to. I saw my opportunity to quit smoking and I was going
to take it.
I actually tried to smoke a cigarette after I has been sick for about a week.
I knew it was a bad idea but addicts don’t always make good choices.
I took about 2 puffs on that cigarette and I began coughing.
I coughed so hard I thought I was going to die. And, it was not just the
cough and the pain in my chest. With every cough, it felt like I was being
stabbed in the back with a knife between the shoulder blades. If you’ve
ever had pneumonia, you know what I’m talking about.
After 5 minutes of coughing, there was not a chance in the world that
I was going to try that again. It was much too painful!
That one very bad experience helped me through the rest of the healing
process without yielding to the temptation to light up. After several weeks
of not being able to smoke, I knew that this was my chance to quit and I
seized the opportunity. Through sheer willpower (and a little help from
pneumonia) I was successful in quitting cigarettes.
I’m actually proud of my success in quitting but I’m sure that you are not
yet feeling encouraged about how you might kick the habit. The good
news is that the story is not over and I do have some great
recommendations that will help you to get that monkey off your back
once and for ever.
What I Learned About Habits
The first thing I learned was about the habit (versus the addiction).
At first, I did not know what to do with my hands. They were always busy
with a cigarette before. What do I do to keep my hands busy? It was
agitating to not be able to always have something in my hands. This was
part of the habit of smoking and had nothing to do with nicotine addiction.
I honestly don’t remember everything I did to help with the “empty hand
syndrome” but try squeezing a tennis ball or carrying a pen. I know a pen
helped me. All I remember is that it was a problem and it takes a few
weeks to get past it. And, that’s the first thing I learned when I quit
smoking – it takes a few weeks to get through the initial stages of the
behavior modification phase. But only a few weeks. It does not last
forever. Once you get past the “kicking the habit” phase, it gets a lot
easier because then you are only dealing with the addiction.
When you quit smoking, you will want something in your mouth all the
time. This is another habit that you will have to break. Again, a pen is
a great distraction. You might develop a bad habit of chewing your pen.
But, ballpoint pens are a much easier habit to break than cigarettes and
it’s a good trade off.
The good news is that habits can be modified in relatively short order.
Remind yourself of this frequently when you first quit smoking. The first
few weeks are the hardest because you are fighting both the habit and the
addiction. Know that the habit will pass before long.
What I Learned About Addictions
Any smoker who has tried to quit smoking knows the feeling of really
wanting a smoke. But, to my tremendous surprise, I learned that those
cravings take a long, long time to go away. And, it may never go away
My experience was that I had to fight those cravings dozens of times every
day for about a month or two. Then I noticed a substantial reduction.
But, I still had daily cravings for more than a year. That’s an addiction!
I know that you don’t want to hear the bad news about how long it takes
to kick an addiction, but I want you to be armed with the truth.
The good news is that after about a year it just becomes an occasional
craving that is much easier to ignore. That’s a long uphill battle. But now
you can be mentally prepared for what’s ahead.
If you thought it would just take 6 to 8 weeks to quit smoking, you would
be very discouraged in week 15 or week 30 when you were still struggling.
That could trigger your failure. Mentally prepare for a long battle and you
can be successful.
There are many products on the market today that were not available when
I quit smoking. There are medications that help with the cravings, nicotine
patches, lozenges, nasal sprays, and even some new pharmaceuticals that
prevent the brain from experiencing the nicotine rush. I’m sure that they
are helpful and you would be well advised to use any tool available to help
you through the struggle.
However, the point is that if you use a nicotine patch for 4 weeks and
think you will be free from the nicotine demon, you are going to be
disappointed. 30 days of taking a prescription will not get you free.
This addiction lasts much longer than that and you need to be aware of
the long term battle. My opinion of patches is that they just delay the
beginning of the long term struggle. But, if you need the help getting
started and getting through the “kick the habit” stage, that’s OK.
Do whatever you need to do to get to the next step of dealing with the
long-term addiction. Quit smoking at all cost and use the tools that are
Get A Checkup From The Neck Up
I know that I’ve painted a grim picture but do not be discouraged.
Knowing what to expect equips you for success. Many people have
kicked this habit and you can too.
There are several things that I’ve used to help get me through when the
cravings are hard to resist. Try these for yourself and I think you will find
If you’ve never heard of Zig Zigler, he is a great motivational speaker and
writer. He talks about getting a “check-up from the neck up.” That’s great
I think the very best thing you can do is to recognize that a large part of
the battle is in your head. How do you see yourself? Are you a smoker
who is attempting to quit smoking or are you a non-smoker who battles
with occasional cravings? It’s an important distinction.
Make up your mind that you are a non-smoker and that you are not going
to become a smoker again. Without going into the psychological mumbo-
jumbo, you are what you think you are. Decide that you are a non-smoker
and convince yourself that this is true and the battle will get easier. Get
that check-up from the neck up. Get your head right!
Also, you need to be convinced of
what a nasty habit it is to suck on
those cancer sticks. Have you ever
smelled an ashtray? Remember that
smell. Is there anything more
nauseating? This really is one of the
most disgusting activities in the whole
world. Remember that fact and use
it to your advantage. This is more of
getting your head right.
Another mental tip is to remember that the cravings will only last a few
moments. When the urge strikes, it can feel overwhelming and almost
impossible to resist. But, tell yourself that it will be gone in a few moments
and that reinforces your resolve.
Purposely find something to occupy your thoughts and get your attention
off the urge. The craving will be gone in no time. Now, it might come back
again in 5 minutes – but you just do it all over again and eventually it will
be 10 minutes – then 30 minutes – then 60 minutes, etc. When you quit
smoking, you are dealing with an addiction. But, it's a mental struggle
Let’s get on with some more practical advise. Not that getting your head
right is not important – it is critical. But, here are some things you can
actually do to get you through the ordeal.
First of all, you can make a Bic pen your
best friend. Not only does it keep your
hands busy during the fretful first few
weeks, it can keep your mouth busy too.
Try smoking a Bic pen - just don’t light up.
It helps with more than the hands, mouth, and the physical motions.
Inhaling is a big part of the habit. Drawing on a pen gives a similar
sensation. Plus, everyone chews on a pen, right? It’s socially
inconspicuous and you can do it almost anywhere. Even if someone thinks
you have an oral fixation, don’t worry about it. You’re doing something
good for yourself and who cares what someone else thinks about it.
Remember, quit smoking at all cost. Use every tool available.
One of the best techniques that I’ve learned is a combination of a mental
exercise combined with a physical trick. When I get an urge for a cigarette,
I first get a strong mental recollection of how disgusting an ashtray smells
and how nasty the habit is. I then remind myself how hard it is to quit and
I don’t want to go through that again. Then, I pucker my lips to create
some resistance as I draw in a nice deep breath while reminding myself how
nice it is to have clear lungs and being able to take a nice deep breath
without coughing. The deep breath is similar to the Bic pen trick and
actually satisfies the urge to inhale. It takes longer to describe this
technique than to actually do it. But just one or two deep inhalations
usually satisfies the urge.
The next area to address is the social aspect when you quit smoking. Get
some support. There are support groups that meet in person and also on-
line groups that are available 24/7. These are great and can only help
when you quit smoking. But, even better is to find some other friends or
family to support you by also kicking their own habit at the same time.
In all of our social networks, people fall into different categories. You have
work friends, old school friends, neighbors, etc. Then, there are the
subsets of these groups - the people that you smoke with. You need their
It would be a great idea to enlist the help of a friend (or two or three) that
will commit to quit smoking at the same time. You will not be able to hang
around the smoking area any more (too much temptation) but you might
be able to have the support of some friend(s) who are facing the same
thing together with you. A good way to kick off your new resolution might
be to have them read this article and then join you in the battle.
Another thing that really helped me when I quit smoking was exercise.
When I quit smoking I had a good friend who was always willing to help me
when a craving would strike. We would grab a Frisbee and head outside.
It was a great distraction but I feel that the exercise also helped. Using
those lungs for something else was helpful. Find something that works for
you. Maybe some isometric exercise or some breathing exercises.
Slip-up’s Are Forgivable
When you quit smoking, it's not a short term endeavor. You are
attempting a life-long change that will reward you with years of benefits.
So, what happens if you fall off the wagon?
To put it very simply – you start over again!
Now, I’m not saying that it will be as hard as starting from scratch.
If you quit smoking for several months and then, in a moment of
weakness, you have one cigarette – it’s not like you are starting from
What it will likely do is knock you back in your progress. For example, if
you have gotten to the point where you are only having a craving about
once per day – you will have hourly cravings for a day or two. But, if you
are diligent to stop after that one mistake, then you will quickly return to
your once a day cravings and get better from there.
Don’t forget – it’s an addiction. You can’t play around with it. But you can
quickly recover from a one time mistake. Don’t punish yourself too much.
Slip-up’s are forgivable. But don’t forget that you are playing with deadly
fire. Literally – on the end of a stick!
Resolve yourself to start from square one and renew your commitment to
quit smoking. Talk to your support group but don’t drag them into
temptation. If you are 3 packs down the road to smoking again –
you’ve already got the habit back. Don’t get your friends off track.
Let them help you get going again. Throw away that pack & don’t wait
until it’s gone to quit. Telling yourself that you will quit smoking again
when this pack is gone - that’s a never ending lie that we addicts like to tell
ourselves. Make up your mind and get rid of it now.
How do I know so much about slip-up’s? Because, even though I did quit
completely for a 10 year stretch, I’ve relapsed several times. Sometime for
only a day and sometimes for a month or two. What I’ve learned is that
the longer the relapse, the harder it is to quit smoking again.
It’s not hard to quit again after one or two cigarettes. But, it’s very hard
after a few weeks. Please do not tell yourself that you can have just one
and then quit. Don’t ever forget that it’s an addiction. And once addicted,
it’s easy to fall back into it again.
Be smart. Be diligent. Be smoke free. And, enjoy a deep breath.
Now, doesn’t that feel good!
Best wishes for a long and healthy life.
PS – I did not include anything in this article about hypnosis to stop
smoking. I don’t know if it works or not. Can directly accessing the
subconscious mind stop an addiction? Maybe...maybe not.
I suspect that it can help with the habit better than with the more difficult
physical addiction. Personally, I’m not letting anyone mess with my
Also, electronic cigarettes and Nicoderm had not been invented when I quit
smoking. So, I’ve never tried them but they sound like great products. If
an electronic cigarette was available back then, I would have definitely given
it a try.
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