Stop smoking and breathe in the New Year!

According to NHS figures, around 7 million of us will decide to make a New Year’s resolution to improve one aspect of our health this year. Stopping smoking is one of the most popular choices, and if you have decided that it is now time for you to stop, you’ve made the best decision you possibly could for your overall health.

Giving up smoking can reduce your risk of a wide range of serious, life-threatening health conditions, which include several cancers, heart attack, stroke, emphysema and dementia. However, it can also be one of the most difficult challenges you’ll ever face, so it is a good idea to be aware of all the help that is available to you before you start.

Experts agree that using a combination of professional support and stop-smoking medication to help with cravings can ensure you’re up to four times more likely to succeed in your attempt to quit.

Where to start

The key to quitting smoking is being able to manage your cravings, so you’ll need to plan how you can overcome them. Cravings can be extremely intense and last for around five minutes, but each one you manage successfully is one step closer to you quitting for good.

The best place to start is by making an appointment with one of the many smoking cessation advisors who work for the NHS across the UK. They can work with you to come up with a tailored plan which finds your smoking triggers and helps to manage them successfully. You are far more likely to quit successfully long term with the help of a smoking cessation advisor than by just going ‘cold turkeyˈ.

One of the best ways of managing cravings is through one or more of the nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) available to you. This can come in many forms, from gums to patches, lozenges and inhalators, as well as mouth and nasal sprays as of course, the increasingly popular - and effective - e-cigarettes.

Products like the patches release nicotine into your system slowly and steadily, so they’re ideal for relieving background cravings. Nasal and mouth sprays will release nicotine much more quickly in short bursts, so they’ll help with those really intense desires to smoke. An e-cigarette will provide an immediate dose of nicotine and also replicate the feeling of holding a cigarette.

An effective tactic can be to use the patches throughout the day but keep a fast-working product with you to deal with any cravings if they arise. Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to help you decide which source of NRT is best for you.

Your doctor may also prescribe you a stop-smoking medication, such as Zyban® (which helps alter brain chemicals linked to addictive behaviours) or Champix® (which stimulates nicotine receptors in the brain.) Research suggests that using these medicines can double your chances of quitting in comparison to those who try to give up without help. If your doctor feels either of these medications are suitable for you, you’ll be advised to start taking it a week or so before you stop smoking, as they can take a little time to start working.

Self-help ideas

While there’s no doubt that medical assistance can help you stop smoking, it won’t be enough to eliminate your cravings for nicotine completely. Remaining focused and self-disciplined is important, while it may also help you to make a few changes to your routine to avoid triggering a craving. This may be going for a shower straightaway in the morning rather than having your cigarette, or swapping your normal cigarette-accompanied coffee for juice. It helps if you can set a date to stop and stick to it, as well as drawing a list up of all the reasons why you want to stop.

Cravings are normally at their worst for the first couple of weeks after stopping, and so many people stumble early on. If this happens to you, don’t panic, you can always set another stop date and try again. However, once you have got through the first week or so, your cravings will become easier to manage.

Exercise is also a useful way of fighting cravings as it stimulates the brain to produce anti-craving chemicals. Going for a walk instead of a having a cigarette can be a good substitution, too.

You may also find that cravings are particularly bad when you’re at special events such as parties or weddings, or when you’re on holiday. It’s a good idea to keep some fast-acting NRT on you for these, just in case you become tempted to light up again.

Get some support from family and friends

Leaning on family and friends can really help, especially if you know other people wanting to quit too. Tell people close to you that you’re stopping, including smokers, and let them know that you’re going to need their support. It might also help if you spend your time with friends who don’t smoke while you are out socialising.

A few reasons to quit

As well as the healthy reasons for quitting, there are numerous other positives too giving up, too. They include improving your sense of smell and taste, improving the appearance of your skin and teeth, eliminating the smell of tobacco, and saving you money (which could be several hundred pounds a month if you’re a heavy smoker.)

One thing you’ll never hear from an ex-smoker is that they have regretted their decision to stop smoking. Why not join millions of others and make 2016 the year you stopped smoking for good? Your body – and your bank balance – will certainly thank you for it!