Quitting Smoking

The Physicians Committee

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Download this fact sheetQuitting Smoking

The risks of smoking are well established: cancer, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory problems. Thankfully, many health risks are dramatically reduced by quitting:

  • Two to three years after quitting, female ex-smokers have no higher risk of a heart disease death, compared to non-smokers.
  • Five years after quitting, an ex-smoker’s risk of a lung cancer death drops 60 percent lower than for a current smoker.
  • Ten years after quitting, male ex-smokers have no high risk of a heart disease death, compared to non-smokers.

Smoking also contributes to wrinkled skin, impotence, and infertility; decreased sensitivity in the senses of taste, touch, and smell; and a depressed immune system. These are the first symptoms to clear up once the addiction to tobacco is broken:

  • Food will smell and taste better.
  • You will smell and taste better.
  • For males, sexual function may improve. One study found that about six weeks after they quit smoking, some impotent men regained sexual function.
  • You will improve in fitness, endurance, and athletic performance.
  • You will have fewer colds and infections.
  • Your chronic cough may ease or begin to disappear.
  • You will save money. Smokers can easily spend $500 to $1,000 per year on tobacco.
  • Non-smokers—both among your friends, family, and co-workers, as well as perfect strangers—will stop hassling you.

Quitting smoking, like ending any addiction, is not always a simple process. It takes determination and a willingness to change longstanding habits. It can be done; millions of people have given up smoking and remained non-smokers, and more are becoming non-smokers everyday. Some are able to stop cold, others must wean themselves off of cigarettes gradually, and still others rely upon hypnosis, nicotine substitutes, or other treatments such as acupuncture. Since nicotine is an addictive drug, there are both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms to deal with, but the physical symptoms abate after the first two or three days. It is the psychological addition to smoking that most people find hardest to break.

The best advice for those who have stopped smoking temporarily and slipped back into the habit is to keep trying. Sooner or later, the non-smoking habit will stick. Below is a list of activities that you can do to help yourself stop smoking. See which ones make sense for you.

  • Picture yourself as a non-smoker.
  • Ask former smokers you know how they quit.
  • On 3” x 5” index cards, write reasons to quit smoking. Carry the cards with you, and, when you feel the urge to smoke, review the reasons to quit.
  • Before you quit, each time you smoke, write down the day, time, and whatever you are feeling right before you have a cigarette.
  • Set a date to quit when you are not likely to be under a lot of stress. Vacations or long weekends are a good time to stop.
  • Quit smoking with a friend and support one another.
  • Throw away your ashtrays, lighters, and other smoking paraphernalia.
  • Have plenty of raw, crunchy fruits and vegetables on hand to munch.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol if they increase your craving for nicotine.
  • On the day you quit smoking, have your teeth cleaned by a dentist and brush your teeth a few times each day.
  • Ask your friends not to be judgmental and to support your quitting. Ask them to not smoke around you or undermine your efforts.
  • Take relaxing warm baths and showers.
  • Read everything you can on the effects of smoking and how other people have quit.
  • Sit in the non-smoking section of restaurants and public areas.
  • Take a long walk.
  • Have your car cleaned. Wash out the ashtray and fill it with toothpicks or potpourri.
  • Have your house cleaned, including the carpets, drapes, and furniture.
  • Have your clothes laundered or dry-cleaned.
  • If you slip, do not berate yourself for being “weak” or a “failure.” A slip or two as you approach success is not failure. Giving up is the only failure.
  • Make a note of the ways non-smokers respond to those situations to which you responded by smoking.
  • Keep a log of how much better you feel and how your health is improving after the first week or so of withdrawal symptoms.
  • If possible, take frequent vacations or weekend trips to help reduce stress.
  • Listen to music.
  • During the first few weeks after you stop smoking, avoid social situations where there will be drinking of alcoholic beverages and smoking.
  • Think of all the money you will be saving by not buying cigarettes. Plan to spend it in six months on something special for yourself.

If you decide to try nicotine substitutes, it is important to play it safe. If you are wearing a nicotine patch or chewing nicotine gum and continue to smoke, you can overload your body with nicotine and can increase your risk of a heart attack.

You can quit smoking. There are withdrawal symptoms, but you can handle them. Think positively—you are going to be a non-smoker. And your body, your friends, and your loved ones will thank you.