24-Hour Crisis Hotline: (877)SAFEGBC or (877)723-3422 Mental Health & Substance Abuse Issues

Navigation Link

Getting Ready to Quit Smoking

Harry Mills, Ph.D.

It's important to start by preparing a plan for yourself that will improve your chance of success. You should plan not only the method or methods you will use to assist you in quitting, but also how you are going to change your environment and your habits to help ward off cravings. The preparation stage is important because solid strategies will ensure success; if you don’t have a solid plan in place, you may stumble over something you could have been prepared for.

Formulate a Plan

hand making a listYour commitment and your likelihood of quitting successfully will be greater if you formulate a plan and prepare yourself for the difficulties you may experience. The first step is to choose the date on which you plan to quit. This is the day that you will change your habits and begin the method you have chosen to help you quit. Choose the date at least a month in advance, and give yourself time to prepare. You are more likely to be successful if you take the time to prepare yourself and those around you.

Prior to your quit date you should purchase a blank notebook small enough to carry around with you wherever you go and use it to start a smoking diary. Write down in this diary when, where, and why you use tobacco each time you use it. You should also record how you were feeling each time you used tobacco. Knowing the factors that play a part in why you smoke will help you to prepare to deal with those things in the future. Also, try skipping a few tobacco uses, observe your reaction, and record exactly how you feel. Make careful notes. Knowing in advance how you react when you don’t smoke can help you devise a plan to anticipate and work through withdrawal symptoms. Based on your smoking diary, you can also decide whether or not you want to try nicotine replacement. Keeping records of your experience while smoking will help you to formulate your plan.

If you do decide that nicotine replacement therapy is your best bet, be sure to discuss you options with your physician. Review your medical history and any health conditions you may have, such as heart disease or circulation problems, with your doctor to make sure the method you choose is appropriate. Your doctor should also be able to answer any questions you have about different NRT products, and will be available to help you throughout the process of quitting.

House Cleaning

Eliminating smoking from your life also means eliminating the signs and reminders associated with smoking. Just before your quit date, plan to thoroughly clean your environment both at work and at home to eliminate smoky residue. Open the windows and air out your house and car, or purchase air fresheners to eliminate odors. Launder or dry clean your clothes to get rid of the cigarette smell. You may also wish to steam clean your carpets to get the smoke smell out of them. Cigarette smoke can literally attach itself to you and to the surfaces of your environment, so beginning smoking cessation in a clean, fresh-smelling environment will start you off on the right track.

Remember that you will also need to eliminate all physical traces of tobacco products from your environment. Several days before your quit day, begin to gather together all of the smoking materials from your home, office, car, etc. Be sure to include any hidden "emergency" tobacco products. Put all of your supplies together in a safe place in preparation for disposal the evening before the big day. The first few days after you quit, spend as much free time as possible in places where smoking isn’t allowed.

Inoculation - Substitutes and your Environment

If you have tried to give up tobacco before, you know the how difficult it is to change your routine. It is likely that you will feel tempted to smoke when you are in places that you used to smoke, when you are with friends and family members who smoke, when you see cigarette ads and displays, when you walk by designated smoking areas, or when you visit your favorite bar or restaurant. You will also find yourself missing the actions associated with smoking, such as holding a cigarette in your hand or holding it between your lips. Being a habitual smoker means incorporating smoking and the actions of smoking into your everyday activities. Once you try to eliminate a familiar behavior from your life, you will soon realize how much of your time was devoted to it. Because of this, many people find that willpower alone is not enough to stay on track. The best defense against temptation is to plan for and practice new coping skills. Prepare yourself by reading through your smoking diary, writing down the strategies you think will help you to stay on track, and keeping the list on hand so you can access it when you need it.

If you have a tendency to smoke while driving, change the environment inside your car to reduce the associations. To eliminate odors caused by smoking, clean the inside of your car thoroughly, spray the upholstery with a scent buster such as Febreze, and, weather permitting, roll down the windows and air the car out. Empty and wipe out the ashtrays, and clean dust and ashes from the dashboard and other surfaces. In keeping with your effort to remove smoking items from your environment, take the cigarette lighter out of the car so you won’t have that tool available (don't forget to plug the resulting empty socket with a cover so as not to create a safety hazard!). Choose your radio and CD listening materials carefully by picking favorites that make you happy. Learn to associate the sweet-smelling car and pleasant sounds with not smoking. Changing the environment in which you typically smoke can help you begin to break the association between driving and smoking.

One way to become more prepared is to take a good look at your smoking diary and plan substitute for as many of your behavioral associations as possible. For instance, if one of the things you like about smoking is simply having a cigarette in your hand, collect a group of objects that you can manipulate instead. Pencils, pens, paper clips, or a stress ball can keep your hands busy and can help you work past the urge to have a cigarette in your hand. When the urge to smoke strikes, you can rub the pencil or pen between your fingers, squish the stress ball, or play with the paper clip. These harmless tactile activities can help ease the transition to becoming a nonsmoker.

If you think that you might miss having something in your mouth, you can chew or bite toothpicks or drinking straws when you have the urge to put a cigarette in your mouth. Keep other substitutes handy in case the toothpicks and straws are not enough. Try carrots sticks, pickles, sunflower seeds, apple slices, celery sticks, raisins, or sugarless gum or mints instead of a cigarette. Try to eat one carrot stick or apple slice, or a few sunflower seeds or raisins at a time. Chew slowly and savor the taste. Nicotine gum can also alleviate the need to have something in your mouth while providing a source of nicotine to decrease physiological withdrawal symptoms. Regardless of the method you choose, make sure it helps you to move toward your goal of quitting in a healthy way.

If you tend to drink a lot of caffeinated beverages, keep in mind that nicotine reduces the effect of caffeine on the body. The same amount of caffeine can have a 50-60% stronger effect in a nonsmoker than in a smoker. Therefore, if you drink a lot of caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and soda, it is a good idea to cut back your consumption either before or as you quit smoking. The effects of caffeine can make withdrawal symptoms worse, which in turn can make the temptation to lapse stronger. You do not, however, have to give up caffeine entirely. You can choose to drink less of the beverages you typically enjoy, or you can choose to switch to options that contain less caffeine or those that are decaffeinated. Switching from sugar-sweetened soda to decaffeinated diet soda is a smart option, since it offers an easy way to cut a few calories and reduces the possibility of weight gain.

One of the most common times for a smoker to relapse is during times of excessive stress. If you know that you often feel the urge to smoke when you feel stressed, the best way to handle stressful moments is through planning and the development of appropriate stress-reducing alternatives. One of the best choices is exercise. Cardiovascular exercise and flexibility training techniques such as Yoga and Tai Chi can be very relaxing. A few other methods you can use to reduce stress are meditation; deep breathing; listening to soothing music; hobbies that involve using the hands; and contact with supportive friends, family members, or smoking cessation hotline personnel–especially those that have quit smoking themselves. The trick is to have a long list of possible choices and to know when to use them.

Choose your Support System

Once you decide to quit smoking, one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to establish a support system–either a person or a group of people you can count on to help you to work through the difficult times and to stay motivated. Before you quit, it is important that you inform your friends and family members who are close to you and ask for their support. You may decide that you are interested in joining a smoke cessation group as part of your quit effort. Groups like The American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society, and Nicotine Anonymous offer group meetings in many communities, as do some government health departments. Additionally, the American Cancer Society states in their “Guide to Quitting Smoking” that more than 30 states have some type of free telephone service which links smokers who are trying to quit with trained counselors. You can find more information about these groups on their websites.