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5 Ways to Plan Ahead to Help You Quit Smoking Once and For All

Quitting cigarettes is hard – which is why it may take people several attempts to quit before becoming smoke-free.

“It’s difficult for two reasons,” said Dr. Neil Skolnik, the associate director of the Family Medicine Residency Program of Abington-Jefferson Health. One, it’s a psychological habit, but more importantly it has to do with the addictive property of nicotine – nicotine is highly addictive and makes smoking a very difficult habit to quit. It’s more strongly addictive than heroin or cocaine.”

But, having a plan to quit is one of the best ways to overcome the powerful addictive properties of nicotine. Here’s what Dr. Skolnik said are the keys to successfully quitting your tobacco habit.

1. Find motivation

“I don’t think the health consequences of smoking are a surprise to people,” Dr. Skolnik said. Smoking is a major cause of heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke and a range of other serious health conditions.

“It isn’t just the knowledge of those health consequences, but rather finding something internally to make the effort that’s needed to overcome the addiction to cigarettes,” he said. “The most important thing is to find within yourself the motivation to quit.”

2. Pick a quit date

“It’s important to have a specific quit date so you know when that day comes, no more cigarettes,” Dr. Skolnik said.

When you pick a quit date, plan ahead for when the day comes that you won’t be smoking anymore and get rid of any cigarettes you have stashed away for an “emergency.”

3. Plan ahead for stress

Stress tends to be a huge trigger for people trying to quit.

“Think ahead of time about when it will be the most challenging – anticipate when those challenges will be,” Dr. Skolnik said. “Make sure you think of something else to do [when challenges arise] – if you’re in the middle of struggling with whether to smoke, it’s hard to come up with creative solutions.”

Some people find talking with a friend or spouse, going out for a walk, or doing something like playing basketball instead of smoking help them stay steadfast in their attempt to quit – it’s all about figuring out what’s going to work best for you; it differs from person to person.

Similar to stress, if you have certain behaviors or activities that may trigger a craving, plan ahead for them.

“If you enjoy smoking after dinner, find something to take its place, like going for a walk outside with a family member. If you go every day to Wawa to buy a coffee and a pack of cigarettes, go to Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks for your coffee instead,” he suggested.

Whether you’re breaking a paired behavior or planning ahead for stress, Dr. Skolnik recommended finding activities and prompts you have for smoking and a new find a solution that works best for you.

4. Consider behavioral methods and medicine

“Everybody needs support. Some people find support through their physician, some through friends and family members, some people find it helpful to join a formal support group,” Dr. Skolnik said.

People trying to quit also find behavioral therapy helpful – it involves you working with a counselor or support group to find ways to not smoke, identify your triggers and make a plan to get through your cravings.

You can also work with your primary care physician to determine if a medication can help you quit.

“There are three FDA-approved medications to help you quit smoking,” he said. These medications can serve as nicotine replacement and reduce the frequency and intensity of cravings. Some smoking cessation-medicines can also reduce the stress or depression associated with the process of quitting.

“All of the medications roughly double the quit rates compared to not using medicines and only using behavioral methods alone,” Dr. Skolnik said. “The best way to stop is to do a combination of behavioral methods and medications – they complement each other.”

5. Don’t let failure discourage you

“Most people aren’t successful the first time they try to quit,” Dr. Skolnik said. “For most people, quitting smoking is a skill you have to develop over time.”

In fact, one of the best predictors of being able to successfully quit smoking is a previous unsuccessful attempt, he said.

“It’s just like shooting foul shots in basketball – you’re usually not able to make them the first time you try, but the more you try to do it, the better your chances.” he explained.

The same is true for quitting smoking.

“You should never be discouraged by failed attempts,” Dr. Skolnik said.

You may be eligible for Abington-Jefferson Health’s Lung Screening Program if you’re a long-term smoker between the ages of 55 to 74 with a 30-pack history, which is two packs a day for 15 years or one pack a day for 30 years. For information, call 215-481-LUNG.

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