How I Quit Smoking and You Can Too
More than 10 years ago I quit smoking (the date was February 21 2005). It was not so much that I didn’t like smoking but I just wanted to see if I could do it. On the weekend I was skiing with my friend who had stopped smoking a week earlier. After a lot of skiing and party, I concluded that I’m ready. And by the way, you can do it, too!
Why I think most people can quit is that when I filled in the addiction test my result was:
Your addiction to nicotine is high
You have a high addiction to nicotine, remember cravings can hamper your quit attempts so you should use stop smoking medication to increase your chances of success. You should also think about using techniques to help you manage them when they appear.
I had smoked for 15 years 15-20 cigarettes per day. That makes about 82,000 cigarettes in total! If I could do it, anybody can. So, here’s how I did it.
I had had the idea to quit smoking for a year and even switched to medium cigarettes. On the January 1st, I switched to very light cigarettes. Actually, these smokes were so weak that sometimes I had to check if they were really lit. I had seven weeks of lower nicotine levels in me than usual.
I am a big fan of using all the fruits of human progress to help me achieve my goals. In quit smoking, it means nicotine patches. After I quit, I started using Nicorette patches to ease the cravings. However, when you read the booklet in the box, they would like you to think that you have to gradually go from strong to medium to light patches and the whole process would take about 6 months hundreds of dollars.
I bought the strong ones and found out that I can do it in a lot less time. I used strongest 15mg patches for two weeks and then, as I had a lot of the strong ones left I just started to cut them in half. Again after two weeks, I was quartering the patches. And then, after a week or so, I started to forget to use the patches. Well, that’s it.
7 weeks of very light smokes followed by 5 weeks of Nicorette patches and I didn’t need cigarettes anymore. It’s more than 13 years now.
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Habit of smoking
That took care of the nicotine addiction. But… there was another habit, the actual physical habit of smoking. Going to the place where you smoked, the ritual of lighting up and inhaling the first puff. What do you do when your computer restarts, you have a smoke. What do you do when you wait for someone, you have a smoke. What do you do when you have had a fulfilling meal, you light up. How do you end 30 miles on a bicycle? Have a relaxing cigarette, of course!
It is amazing how strong that habit was. Once I caught myself opening the kitchen window where I usually smoked. I had restarted my computer then automatically got up, walked to the kitchen and started opening the window. It was like sleepwalking.
Smoking makes you take regular breaks from your work to stretch and exercise (walking to the place of smoking) followed by 5 minutes of deep breathing exercises.
How to beat it when you feel you need to fill the void?
- chew gum, eat a carrot;
- drink water, coffee or tea;
- walk around, breath deeply, stretch and exercise;
- call someone for a quick chat.
Quit smoking and weight gain
Need to replace the activity of smoking is probably one of the main reasons for the weight gain. You get up go to the kitchen and make a sandwich. This almost automatic behaviour made me to eat more. I recommend carrots, but you will quickly realize that you can only stand so much of carrots. Your brain will steer you towards high calorie items that help to fill the void left by the nicotine and physical habit.
Smoking cessation is associated with a mean increase of 4-5kg in weight after 12 months of abstinence. Most weight gain occurs within three months of quitting. Variation in weight change is large, with about 16% of quitters losing weight and 13% gaining more than 10 kg. [Weight gain in smokers after quitting cigarettes: meta-analysis]
By the end of the year (approximately 10 months) I had gained 18 pounds. I didn’t do anything during that time to control my weight or diet. I continued to eat whatever and whenever I wanted. I think that is a good thing as trying to quit smoking and lose weight at the same time will overwhelm you and you will most likely fail at both.
I suggest that you should concentrate on staying off the cigarettes, and deal with the possible weight issues in 6 months or even a year after quitting. The most efficient countermeasure I could find to overcome the physical habit of smoking was chewing gum. Always carry a pack with you.
Social aspects of quitting smoking
The downside is that you are no longer included in the circle of people who go smoking together. This may lead to less communication with colleagues and less office gossip. I suggest that you substitute that with calling friends and loved ones during your breaks.
Give people money and tell them that they don’t have to pay you back if you start smoking again. Make bets that you stay off the smokes with people who will make you pay.
Quit with a friend. I had a friend who quit a week before me, and it was really helpful. We discussed what we felt and support each other during the tougher times like parties with a lot of alcohol consumption.
Alcohol and smoking went hand in hand for me. Whenever I was at a party that involved drinking I was also smoking… a lot. On an average day, I smoked 15-20 cigarettes but when I was drinking it scaled to chain-smoking two packs or even more.
Alcohol kills your willpower. It messes with your mind in more ways than one, lowering blood sugar levels, impaired judgment, loss of self-control, lessening of inhibitions and you care less about the errors you make. All this means that getting drunk can make you relapse. From my own experience, I can say that you don’t have to stop drinking or avoid parties but be very careful in those situations.
And here’s one very important recommendation to people who have more than a few drinks at parties. Bring nicotine chewing gum with you and when the urge or smoke of others gets very overwhelming just chew the gum.
Benefits of quitting smoking
Now, what are the benefits of quitting smoking? For starters just the powerful sense of accomplishment. It is a big deal if you can quit. Be proud! It was one of my main motivators just to find out if I can quit smoking. Statistics show that less than 8% of people who attempt to quit will stay off the cigarettes.
It feels good. In a few weeks or a month, you will notice that you feel better and have more energy.
More taste. As your tongue starts to is cleaned from tar and recovers its sensitivity you will have more taste in your food. Everything becomes more nuanced, and you may start using less spice.
No hangovers. In a few months, you will notice that you don’t have any more hangovers after the party where you had “one” to many.
Lung capacity. I have asthma, and I visit pulmonologist (this is a fancy word for a lung doctor) every few years. As luck would have it, I had a visit just 6 months before I quit smoking. My lung capacity was measured at 6.1 liters. This is pretty average for an adult male. Then 18 months after I quit I had another visit to the pulmonologist and my lung capacity was measured again. The result? More than 6.7 liters, this means a 10% increase.
Non-smoking or non-smoking. These are your options if you ever need to fly somewhere. Sure, you can endure a few hours without a smoke, but what if you go long distance?
You can stay in buildings. In many places, it is forbidden to smoke in public places, government buildings, restaurants, nightclubs, hospitals, schools, etc. As a non-smoker it’s OK!
Clean clothes. You don’t smell like a butt of a cigarette. It’s really nice if you think about it.
Save money. Depending on where you live you will save about 1500 dollars per year. You can get a lot of nice stuff for that amount of money. Every year after quitting!
White teeth. Not smoking means no tar and other chemicals on your teeth.
Better sex. Better blood supply in important parts of your body, more lung capacity, and more energy, in general, will lead to better performance in bed.
Be proud of yourself. It’s not an easy thing to conquer tobacco addiction. Less than 1 in 10 can do that. Feel proud; you have earned it.
It’s a GREAT willpower exercise!
Some final points
You may think smoking relaxes you and helps you deal with everyday stress. Some may even think smoking is cool. I could trace my smoking back to social pressure and the coolness factor (I was 17). Well, it’s not.
Here are the steps I took to quit smoking. I’ll add a range of time to each step:
- Take a few months to move to lighter cigarettes step-by-step. If you can, decrease smoking frequency during that time. But make sure you do not increase frequency (2-6 months).
- In the last few weeks before quitting smoking switch to ultralights (5-10 weeks).
- Quit smoking and use strong patches for a few weeks (2-4 weeks).
- Switch to medium patches or cut the strong ones in half (2-4 weeks).
- Switch to the lightest patches or quarter the strong patch. By this time you should start to forget to wear a patch (2-4 weeks).
- Well, you are done.
Remember that the highest rate of relapse occurs during the first three months after quitting. Be extra vigilant during that time. Carry strong nicotine gum for emergency use. When you reach six months, you may congratulate yourself. Most of those who have managed to stay off that long will stay off for good.
Do not lie to yourself that you can quit anytime you want. Just admit that you are addicted and start planning on how to kick the habit.
I have collected some of the resources that add to my personal experience. Use all the help you can.
- Steps to Take on Your Quit Day
- FDA 101: Smoking Cessation Products
- The EX Plan a free quit smoking program
- Benefits of quitting smoking
Please, share your thoughts about quitting smoking in the comments. Why did you quit and what have been the greatest benefits of quitting.