(Note to readers: This column was published before, some years ago. Recently, a reader wrote to say she’d had that column taped to her fridge and that it helped her quit smoking. She asked if it could be republished to help other smokers who want to quit.)
I quit smoking. Twice.
The first time in 1987. For six months. All it took was “just one” cigarette. Hooked again.
The second time was in 2009, and I haven’t had even a puff since. My doctor suggested I write a list of cessation tips to share with others. Here goes:
- First, it’s never too late to quit. As smokers get older, the chance of adverse health effects increases.
- Before you quit, make a list of all the bad things about smoking: wheezy breathing, hacking cough, bad breath, stained teeth, smelly clothing, filthy ash trays, stinky house, danger of fire, exposing people and pets to your smoke, the cost of buying cigarettes. Tape the list to the fridge and refer to it every time you get an urge to smoke.
- Quit smoking on a weekend. You will become very crabby for a few days so it’s best to stay home alone. During the first couple of days you will feel as if you are turning into a werewolf that snarls, curses, kicks furniture and scares any human in sight. Trust me, after a few days, the beast in you mellows.
- I chose to go cold turkey because I purposely wanted to suffer withdrawal, which would be an ongoing reminder never to smoke again. If I’d chosen nicotine patches, I would have rationalized: “Oh, well, I’ll just have one or two cigarettes, then I can always get some more patches, like next week, maybe. That’s an example of what addiction experts call “stinking thinking.” I recommend cold turkey but any method is better than none.
- Before your last cigarette, make a list of things to get you active. Such “alternatives” are essential for success. When craving strikes, move immediately to a different room or another place, away from the place that set off the craving. Take a brisk walk or do house or yard chores. The alternatives should involve some kind of physical activity.
- Be always on guard against “stinking thinking.” During the first few days, you will become light-headed and ornery, and your mind will play all kinds of sneaky tricks. In my case, for example, I kept having a recurring obsession many times a day to hurry down to the communal mailbox, having to remind myself I’d just been down there. On the fifth day, it finally dawned on me that mailbox is near the store where I always bought smokes. The nicotine imp knew if it could get me to the mailbox, it could then unleash temptations to push me right over to that store, and I’d cave in, rationalizing, “Oh, what the heck, why not just buy a pack? I can always quit later. Some time.” Sneaky temptations will plague you. Be persistent; outwit the demons.
- Ask smoking friends to stay away for a week or two. Be sure to avoid things that trigger your urge to smoke, like that morning coffee, that evening glass of beer.
- Indulge often in positive projections. Visualize how your gunky lungs are turning from tar-black to healthy. Picture what you’ll be able to buy with money no longer spent on cigarettes. A memorable trip, for example.
I wish you the best of luck. I’ve often said that if I could quit smoking, anybody can. That is because I enjoyed smoking and virtually chain-smoked for too many years. Remind yourself in your first days of struggle how happy you’ll be that you finally achieved the “impossible.” You quit; be proud; congratulate yourself.