Quit smoking in 2011: 5 steps you need to know

by Paul M. Cinciripini, PhD

If you smoke, quitting the habit is the best New Year’s resolution you could make — and keep — in 2011. That’s true even if you’re just a social smoker.

A new report from the Surgeon General shows that even occasional smoking and secondhand smoke cause immediate damage to the body.

The good news is that people who stop smoking before age 50 cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years by 50%, according to the American Cancer Society. And all smokers reap benefits — including improved circulation and lung function — within weeks of quitting.

Try these tips to kick the tobacco habit for the New Year. Beware, though: No quit-smoking strategy is one-size-fits-all, so you’ll need to adapt these strategies to your smoking personality.

1. Set a date.

Whether you quit on January 1 or another date, it’s smart to plan ahead.

Picking a quit date, particularly at a time when you know your motivation is high and there will be less stress or distraction, is generally a good idea.

Success at quitting smoking may require some change or adjustment to your daily routine and more broadly to your lifestyle. Think about how you can arrange your life to give you the best possible chance at success, before you make a quit attempt, and then follow through.

2. Get help.

Few people quit for good on their first try. So get all of the support you can.

By using medication and getting help from a behavioral counselor or psychologist, you’ll boost your chances of success.

Even if you don’t have the time or money to get professional help, you can get free counseling by calling one of these free quit lines:

  • Centers for Disease Control Office of Smoking and Health: 1-800-QUIT NOW
  • National Cancer Institute: 1-877-44U-QUIT

A counselor can help you identify what triggers you to smoke and determine what’s most likely to work for you. That may include using a nicotine replacement product like the patch, gum or nasal spray, and cleaning out your car and home so you’re not constantly reminded of cigarettes.

3. Swap habits.

Before quitting, identify the moods or situations that lead you to smoke. Then, remove those smoking triggers from your environment and replace them with habits or activities that help you avoid nicotine.
Smoke because you like to chew on something? You may be able to get your “fix” by drinking water or chewing lozenges. Light up when you’re anxious? You’ll need to find new ways to cope with stress.

This is one of the areas where a behavioral counselor can really help. He or she can help you figure out how you’re going to deal with situations when you’d normally smoke.

4. Take it one day at a time.

“Never again” can seem daunting during your first days without a cigarette. So, focus initially on short-term goals.

If it helps, tell yourself every day that you could smoke tomorrow if you wanted to, but today you won’t smoke. The idea that you just have to last through the day can be really helpful.

5. Reward yourself.

Rewarding yourself for even small successes can reinforce that you’ll benefit from quitting very soon.

Set milestones for rewards. After the first week, give yourself a small gift that you wouldn’t normally buy. After a month, give yourself a more elaborate reward.

By following these tips, you’re likely to continue receiving rewards months and years later — in the form of better health, of course.

Paul M. Cinciripini is a professor in the Department of Behavioral Science and director of the Tobacco Treatment Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

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