Preparing to Quit Smoking

Overview of the Basic Steps 

Just thinking about quitting may make you anxious. But your chances will be better if you get ready first. Quitting works best when you're prepared. Before you quit, START by taking these five important steps:

S = Set a quit date.
T = Tell family, friends and co-workers that you plan to quit.
A = Anticipate and plan for the challenges you'll face while quitting.
R = Remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home, car and work.
T = Talk to your doctor about getting help to quit.

Set a Quit Date 

Pick a date within the next two weeks to quit. That gives you enough time to get ready. But it's not so long that you will lose your drive to quit.

Think about choosing a special day:

  • Your birthday or wedding anniversary
  • New Year's Day
  • Independence Day (July 4)
  • World No Tobacco Day (May 31)
  • The Great American Smokeout (the third Thursday of each November)
If you smoke at work, quit on the weekend or during a day off. That way you'll already be cigarette-free when you return.

Tell Others About Your Plan to Quit

Quitting smoking is easier with the support of others. Tell your family, friends and co-workers that you plan to quit. Tell them how they can help you.

Some people like to have friends ask how things are going. Others find it nosy. Tell the people you care about exactly how they can help. Here are some ideas:
  • Ask everyone to understand your change in mood. Remind them that this won't last long. (The worst will be over within two weeks.) Tell them this: "The longer I go without cigarettes, the sooner I'll be my old self."
  • Does someone close to you smoke? Ask them to quit with you, or at least not to smoke around you.
  • Do you take any medicines? Tell your doctor and pharmacist you are quitting. Nicotine changes how some drugs work. You may need to change your prescriptions after you quit.
  • Get support from other people. You can try talking with others one-on-one or in a group.
  • You can also get support on the phone. You can even try an Internet chat room. This kind of support helps smokers quit. The more support you get, the better. But even a little can help.
Anticipate and Plan for the Challenges You'll Face While Quitting

Expecting challenges is an important part of getting ready to quit.

Most people who go back to smoking do it within three months. Your first three months may be hard. You may be more tempted when you are stressed or feeling down. It's hard to be ready for these times before they happen. But it helps to know when you need a cigarette most.

Look over your Craving Journal. See when you may be tempted to smoke. Plan for how to deal with the urge before it hits.

You should also expect feelings of withdrawal. Withdrawal is the discomfort of giving up nicotine. It is your body's way of telling you it's learning to be smoke-free. These feelings will go away in time.

Remove Cigarettes and Other Tobacco From Your Home, Car and Work

Getting rid of things that remind you of smoking will also help you get ready to quit. Try these ideas:
  • Make things clean and fresh at work, in your car and at home. Clean your drapes and clothes. Shampoo your car. Buy yourself flowers. You will enjoy their scent as your sense of smell returns.
  • Throw away all your cigarettes and matches. Give or throw away your lighters and ashtrays. Remember the ashtray and lighter in your car!
  • Have your dentist clean your teeth to get rid of smoking stains. See how great they look. Try to keep them that way.
  • Some smokers save one pack of cigarettes. They do it "just in case." Or they want to prove they have the willpower not to smoke. Don't! Saving one pack just makes it easier to start smoking again.
Don't Use Other Forms of Tobacco Instead of Cigarettes
Light or low-tar cigarettes are just as harmful as regular cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco, cigars, pipes and herbal cigarettes also harm your health. For example, bidi cigarettes are just as bad as regular cigarettes. Clove cigarettes are even worse. They have more tar, nicotine and deadly gases. All tobacco products have harmful chemicals and poisons.

Talk to Your Doctor About Getting Help to Quit

Quitting "cold turkey" isn't your only choice. Talk to your doctor about other ways to quit. Most doctors can answer your questions and give advice. They can suggest medicine to help with withdrawal. You can buy some of these medicines on your own. For others, you need a prescription.

Your doctor, dentist, or pharmacist can also point you to places to find support or toll-free quit lines. The National Cancer Institute's Smoking Quitline (1-800-784-8669, TTY 1-800-332-8615) can help, too. It can help you find support in your area.

If you cannot see your doctor, you can get some medicines without a prescription that can help you quit smoking. Go to your local pharmacy or grocery store for over the counter medicines like the nicotine patch, nicotine gum or nicotine lozenge. Read the instructions to see if the medicine is right for you. If you're not sure, ask a pharmacist.

Medicines That Help With Withdrawal*

When you quit smoking, you may feel strange at first. You may feel dull, tense and not yourself. These are signs that your body is getting used to life without nicotine (—) t usually only lasts a few weeks.

Many people just can't handle how they feel after they quit. They start smoking again to feel better. Maybe this has happened to you. Most people slip up in the first week after quitting. This is when feelings of withdrawal are strongest.

There are medicines that can help with feelings of withdrawal:
  • Bupropion SR pills
  • Nicotine gum
  • Nicotine inhaler
  • Nicotine lozenge
  • Nicotine nasal spray
  • Nicotine patch
Using these medicines can double your chances of quitting for good. Ask your doctor for advice. But remember: Medicine alone can't do all the work. It can help with cravings and withdrawal, but quitting will still be hard at times.

Here is more information about the different medicines:

Nicotine Gum, Patch, Inhaler, Spray, and Lozenge (NRT)
Nicotine gum, patches, inhalers, sprays and lozenges are called nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). That's because they take the place of nicotine from cigarettes. NRT can help with withdrawal and lessen your urge to smoke.

You need a prescription to buy the inhaler and nasal spray. But you can buy nicotine gum, nicotine patches, and nicotine lozenges on your own.

Other Medicines
Bupropion SR is a medicine that has no nicotine. You need a prescription to get these pills. They seem to help with withdrawal and lessen the urge to smoke.

Some people have side effects when using bupropion SR pills. The side effects include dry mouth and not being able to sleep.

This medicine isn't right for:
  • Pregnant women
  • People who have seizures
  • People with eating disorders
  • Heavy drinkers
Ask your doctor, dentist or pharmacist if this medicine is right for you. Make sure to use it the right way if your doctor prescribes it.

Thinking About Using NRT?
  • Ask your doctor, dentist, or pharmacist if nicotine gum, the patch, or some other kind of NRT is right for you. These medicines can cause side effects in some people. Some people should not use NRT without a doctor's help. Pregnant women are a good example.
  • Be patient. Using NRT correctly can take some getting used to. Follow the instructions and give it some time.
  • Don't mix tobacco and NRT. Having one or two cigarettes while you use the gum, patch, nasal spray, inhaler, or lozenge is not dangerous, but your goal is to quit smoking for good. Use NRT only when you are ready to stop smoking. If you do slip up and smoke a cigarette or two, don't give up on NRT. Keep trying.
  • Start out using enough medicine. Use the full amount of NRT in the instructions. Don't skip or forget to use your NRT after you first stop smoking.
  • Slowly use less and less medicine. But don't stop completely until you're ready. You can set up a schedule with your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Keep some of the medicine with you after you stop using it. This way you'll be ready for an emergency.
  • Wait a half hour after using the gum, lozenge or inhaler before you eat or drink anything acidic. Acidic foods and drinks can keep nicotine gums and inhalers from working. Acidic foods and drinks include tomato sauce, tomatoes, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, coffee, soda, orange juice and grapefruit juice.
Bottom line: Read the instructions that come with the medicine. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions.

*Source: NRT Product User's Guides. GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, Pittsburgh, PA, 2002.

Other Support
  1. Your state may have a toll-free telephone quitline. Call the quitline to get one-on-one help.
  2. Call the National Cancer Institute's Smoking Quitline at (800) QUITNOW (1-800-784-8669) or TTY (800) 332-8615. This number works anywhere in the United States. You can get one-on-one help quitting. Or you can ask where to get help in your state.
  3. Visit the National Cancer Institute's smokefree.gov Web site at http://www.smokefree.gov. This Web site offers science-driven tools, information, and support that has helped smokers quit. You will find state and national resources, free materials and quitting advice from the National Cancer Institute and its partners.
  4. More and more workplaces have help for workers who want to quit. Some offer quit-smoking clinics and support on the job. Others will pay for outside programs for their workers. Ask at work about the choices open to you.
  5. Your doctor may know about a quit-smoking program or support group near you.
Benefits of a Quit-smoking Program

You may want to try a quit-smoking program or support group to help you quit. These programs can work great if you're willing to commit to them.

How do quit-smoking programs and support groups work? They help smokers spot and cope with problems they have when trying to quit. The programs teach problem-solving and other coping skills. A quit-smoking program can help you quit for good by:
  • Helping you better understand why you smoke
  • Teaching you how to handle withdrawal and stress
  • Teaching you tips to help resist the urge to smoke
Revision Date: April 2003

Source: National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health

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