Becoming a non-smoker is without doubt one of the most powerful choices you can make to improve your health. This decision can reduce your risk of a wide range of serious, life-threatening health conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, emphysema and dementia.
There are many ways to go about giving up. The most effective approach by far for many people appears to be a combination of expert support and medications that reduce your cravings (either nicotine replacement therapy or medicines prescribed by your doctor).
In fact, if you use professional support together with medication to help manage your cravings you are up to four times more likely to be successful.
Effective strategies for going smoke-free
The hardest thing that you'll have to overcome in stopping smoking will probably be the nicotine cravings, so anticipating this and making plans to overcome them is essential.
Managing these cravings effectively is widely recognised as the single most important factor in successfully stopping smoking.
Remember - although your urges might feel very strong at the time, they will be fairly short-lived and should pass quickly - probably within a few minutes. Each time you resist that craving, you're one step closer to stopping smoking for good.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and stop-smoking medicines can definitely help control your cravings but they won't always eradicate them fully. You will need focus, self-discipline and consistency so we also recommend that you follow these proven self-help strategies:
1. Set a date and stick to it
The first step is to decide on a quit date - you'll find it much easier to quit if you have a single point in time to focus on.
2. Remind yourself of why you're doing this
Try making a list detailing all the reasons why you'd like to quit. Make this list very personal to you and keep it somewhere you can get to for inspiration later on.
3. Think about your eating and drinking habits
If you enjoy a smoke after a meal, you may be interested to know that certain foods and drinks have been found to make cigarettes taste better, while foods such as cheese, fruit and vegetables have the opposite effect. Avoiding alcoholic and fizzy drinks can also help.
4. Sidestep the cravings
You should definitely plan for cravings, which generally last for around five minutes. Planning what you are going to do while your craving strikes is a good way of helping you deal with it as it passes.
5. Stay strong: your cravings are likely to be at their worst during the first week or so after quitting. They will pass, so if you slip up and start smoking again, don't panic. It can take a few attempts to quit for good.
6. Avoid the smoking triggers: sit in a different chair to watch the TV at home and take a shower as soon as you get up if these are times you would normally smoke. If your routine was a cigarette with a cup of coffee, drink a glass of orange juice or tea instead. If your favourite cigarette of the day is after dinner then get up and go for a walk.
7. Exercise: physical activity can help reduce your cravings and stimulate the brain to produce anti-craving chemicals. It can also help you reduce stress and keep your weight down.
8. Be prepared: cravings at special events like holidays, funerals or weddings can be particularly tough. Try having a fast-acting NRT product with you just in case the urge to smoke is really strong.
9. Surround yourself with support
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.
10. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
Using NRT will help you satisfy your cravings whilst gradually reducing your nicotine requirement and can double your chances of successfully quitting.
NRT is available in many forms, from gum to patches, lozenges and inhalators, as well as mouth and nasal sprays and e-cigarettes. Patches are slow and steady, releasing nicotine into your bloodstream over the course of a day and helping with background cravings. Nasal and mouth sprays release short bursts of nicotine, while an e-cigarette will provide an immediate dose of nicotine and also replicate the feeling of holding a cigarette.
Your NHS smoking cessation advisor, pharmacist or doctor will be able to help you decide on the best NRT product for you and your lifestyle and your GP will be able to help you if you need an item on prescription.
Zyban works by altering brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which are partly responsible for addictive behaviour. Studies suggest that smokers who try to quit with the aid of Zyban are twice as likely to stop smoking as those who try to quit on their own.
Champix stimulates the nicotine receptors in your brain, while at the same time preventing nicotine molecules from attaching to them. Much like Zyban, studies indicate that smokers using Champix will double their chances of quitting compared to those who try to quit without help.
You should generally start taking either of these medicines a week or two before you plan to stop smoking as they take a few days to start working properly. Your doctor will be able to help you decide if either of these medications is right for you.
Explore alternative approaches
Other approaches to stopping smoking such as hypnotherapy and acupuncture have proven very effective for some people so you may want to consider giving these a try - either on their own or preferably in combination with the strategies already presented above.