Stop smoking. Breathe easy.

It takes practice and time to quit smoking, but it can be done, and the benefits of stopping smoking are worth the effort. There are many ways to quit smoking, such as the "cold turkey" method or a system to gradually taper off smoking. Each person is unique, and different strategies work better for different people.

Smoking cessation medications

Smoking cessation medications include nicotine chewing pieces (gum), the nicotine patch, nicotine inhaler,oral sprays, nicotine lozenges, bupropion, and varenicline. Research shows that when used as directed and combined with support groups or counselling, these medications can increase your chance of success. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about which medications may be appropriate for you.

Support groups and counselling

Group programs usually involve meeting small groups of people who are all trying to quit smoking. Group support programs have proven one of the most successful methods for quitting smoking. Qualified health professionals lead some group programs, and these tend to be more effective. Contact your local public health department to locate any smoking cessation groups active in your community.

Individual counselling programs range from brief advice and counselling offered by a health care professional to intensive counselling available through specialty clinics. These clinics are not available everywhere, but are especially helpful for certain smokers. Talk to your doctor about whether individual counselling is an appropriate option for you.

Tips for quitting

The process of quitting smoking may be hard, but it can be done!

Here are some tips to help you quit:

  • Develop an action plan to improve your chances of quitting. Writing the plan down will help you think more carefully about what you need to do and how you will approach it. Try the following:
    • Pick a day as your "quit date," which is the day you intend to stop smoking. Write this date down.
    • Make a list of the important benefits of quitting and read it over before and after you quit. Use this list while you are trying to quit to remind yourself of your reasons for quitting.
    • List the situations in which you smoke and the reasons why you smoke – this will help you identify what "triggers" you to light up.
    • List fun and healthy activities to replace smoking, and be ready to do these when you feel the urge to smoke.
  • Avoid smoking triggers. Starting with your quit date, try to remove or avoid your smoking triggers. For example, if you associate coffee with smoking, try drinking tea or water instead. If you usually smoke at parties, find other ways to socialize with friends until you feel comfortable and confident about facing these situations.
  • Don't carry matches, a lighter, or cigarettes.
  • Each day, delay lighting your first cigarette by one hour. After the first cigarette, when you have your next craving to smoke, delay for another 15 minutes or half an hour. By delaying each cigarette, you take control.
  • Familiarize yourself with possible withdrawal symptoms and how you plan to handle them.
  • Get moving! Exercise is a great way to relax and feel good; use exercise rather than smoking to deal with stress. As you exercise, with each deep breath you take, you can start to repair some of the damage done to your body from smoking.
  • Build your own support network. Enlist the help of a close friend or family member, your doctor, someone you know and respect who has recently quit, or someone who wants to quit smoking with you.

Picking the right program

Now that you've decided when to quit, you have to decide how you're going to do it.

Fortunately, there are many ways for potential non-smokers to break the habit.

  • Cold turkey. Some people can stop smoking without any help at all – cold turkey. This means picking a time to quit and just stop lighting up, period. While this works for some, fighting an addiction is hard, and this smoking cessation technique isn't for everyone.
  • Weaning. It's sometimes easier to quit smoking if you stop gradually. So if you usually smoke two cigarettes after meals, try to smoke only one; if you smoke every hour, try to stretch the time to every two or three hours. People who have successfully weaned themselves often advise using little tricks. For instance, instead of having a lighter, they switch to matches, which might be less convenient. Or, rather than keeping cigarettes handy in a pocket or purse, they may leave them in a cupboard, which means making a special trip to get the cigarettes. They also might smoke half a cigarette instead of a whole one. Whatever trick you use, if it helps cut down on cigarettes, then you're already on your way to being an ex-smoker.
  • Therapy and support groups. For that added boost, you might try seeing a therapist who specializes in smoking cessation. Some people find that support groups or even hypnotists have helped them break the habit. If you think one of these tactics might give you an edge on nicotine, go for it!
  • Medical treatment. Several products are on the market now, most of which involve nicotine replacement to cope with the withdrawal symptoms that can accompany stopping smoking. Most also have support materials and programs in place to help you stick to the treatment. Ask your doctor or pharmacist which options are best for you.

Managing with medications

A variety of medications can help you quit smoking. These medications can help reduce withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting smoking.

Nicotine replacement therapy is the most common type of medication and can be bought without a doctor's prescription. This is designed to cut down on cravings by gradually reducing the dose of nicotine during the quitting period. Gums, patches, inhalers, oral sprays, or lozenges ease withdrawal symptoms by providing your body with nicotine without delivering all the other substances that come with cigarettes – such as tars and toxins known to cause cancer.

To use nicotine replacement therapy effectively and safely, you must not smoke while you are using the patch, gum, lozenge, oral spray, or inhaler. In general, most people can use nicotine replacement therapy, but consult your health care provider if you have any medical conditions, such as heart problems.

  • Nicotine patches are a type of delivery system that allows the nicotine to enter the bloodstream slowly through the skin. The patches are usually available in different strengths. You start off with a strong dose of nicotine, gradually going down to lower concentrations as your body gets used to it.
  • Nicotine gum is another form of nicotine replacement, but it works in a different way from patches. While patches deliver nicotine slowly and steadily, the gum allows you to choose when you want or need the nicotine. When you get the urge to smoke, instead of lighting up, you chew a piece of nicotine gum. Many people find it convenient because it also gives them something to do (chew gum) that takes their minds off smoking. As you go along, you chew fewer pieces of the gum or choose a lower strength of the gum as the need for nicotine begins to disappear.
  • Nicotine lozenges are similar to the gum pieces and can be used by people who cannot or prefer not to chew. However, instead of chewing a piece of gum, you have to let the lozenge dissolve in your mouth. Like the gum, you choose when to use the lozenges and you gradually use fewer lozenges and choose a lower strength as your craving for nicotine lessens.
  • Nicotine oral sprays are also an option. People may find it convenient to use when they get the urge to smoke. As you go along, you gradually use a fewer number sprays per day as your craving for nicotine lessens.

Nicotine inhalers are yet another option. These devices also allow you to continue the hand-to-mouth smoking motion for as long as you need. As you breathe through the inhaler, your body absorbs the nicotine from the inhaler through the linings in your mouth and throat. This isn't the same thing as smoking, however, because you're getting only nicotine and not the other harmful chemicals that come with cigarette smoke.There are other medications available in Canada that do not use nicotine to help reduce withdrawal symptoms. These require a prescription from your doctor and may not be appropriate for everyone.

  • Varenicline reduces the sense of pleasure derived from smoking by blocking nicotine's effect in the brain. It also helps with cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It should be used in combination with counselling. Unlike nicotine replacement therapy, varenicline is started while you are still smoking, with your quit date occurring 1 to 2 weeks after you start the medication.
  • Bupropion is an antidepressant that is also used in quitting smoking. It works by helping to control cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It should be started while you are still smoking. It should be used in combination with counselling, and may also be used in combination with nicotine replacement therapy to increase chances of success.

Relapse regret

There's no doubt about it, quitting smoking isn't easy. Relapses often happen. If you can't stay away from cigarettes, don't panic! Many smokers try several times before they actually manage to stay ex-smokers. There are a variety of reasons why you might not have succeeded this time around.

  • Not the right time. If you picked a time that's more stressful than usual or something unexpected has happened, smoking can become very tempting. Don't worry. Just pick another quit date.
  • Not the right method. You may have chosen a method that doesn't work for you. There are many ways to quit smoking, and you may have to try a few before you find the one that does the trick.
  • Lack of support. Unfortunately, not all smokers who want to quit are supported by friends and family. If you have smokers in your life who aren't going to quit, the smell of their cigarettes may be tempting for you. If that's the case, you'll need to speak to them about their smoking and how it's affecting you.

Relapsing doesn't mean you lost the fight. Stay positive. Take what you learned from your smoking attempt, regroup, and approach quitting smoking from a different angle. Even if it takes a few tries, keep going. The health benefits make stopping well worth the battle.