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Quitting cigarettes on your terms: Ideas for tailoring a personal cessation plan

Ask people who’ve quit smoking and they’ll tell you it’s one of the most difficult things to do. But you can do it, just like 44 million others. And best of all, revolutionary programs, drugs and devices can help you stay committed to stopping should your willpower wane.

Even if you’ve repeatedly tried, and failed, to stop smoking, that doesn’t mean you can’t. Whether it’s your first time or your tenth, having a strategy that you can work with gives you your best shot at quitting and lowering your risks of catastrophic illnesses, especially heart disease and cancer.

The old one-two

To quit, you must defeat both a tenacious nicotine craving and a well-worn habit of puffing on cigarettes for years on end—a one-two combination that makes stopping so difficult. No wonder quitting has a first-time failure rate of 95 percent within one year.

To stack the odds in your favor, set solid ground rules for your attempt, such as:

  • Take your time. Be sure the clock and calendar are favorable. If you’ve got a big project at work or the holidays are just ahead, you’re probably going to be stressed—not the best time for quitting.
  • Make it personal. View stopping as an all-or-nothing obligation to yourself and your family that outweighs the physical and emotional struggle ahead.
  • Ask why. Anticipate traps and how to deal with them. Examples: Brush your teeth if you start “tasting” a cigarette or envision a dream vacation with the money saved by quitting—more than $1,000 annually on average.
  • Make changes. Breaking the habit means avoiding places and situations that trigger cravings. Continuing to eat, drink and party with the gang while you’re trying to quit is bound to derail you. Make other plans temporarily.
  • Take action.°Toss out lighters, matches and ashtrays. Deodorize the cars. Ask loved ones, friends and co-workers for support—and to not smoke around you anymore.

Using new tools

Some quitters go cold turkey by using their experience, determination and coping skills. But other smokers are finding different, effective ways to stop smoking. Either way, help is plentiful. You’ll find group support at your hospital or through the American Lung Association’s seven-session “Freedom from Smoking” program. If you prefer, you can receive individual counseling or even telephone support through a toll-free network. It also pays to see what help is covered through your health insurer.

You can also tap into some of these quit-smoking products:

  • The patch, which delivers controlled amounts of nicotine through your skin each day.
  • Nicotine gum, which contains a dose of nicotine. After chewing it briefly, it’s placed against the cheek so the nicotine is absorbed through the mouth tissues.
  • Nasal spray, which delivers nicotine into your nose, where it’s absorbed.
  • Inhaler, a plastic tube containing nicotine that you inhale like a cigarette.
  • Bupropion (Zyban, Wellbutrin), a prescription-only nicotine-free pill that mimics the effects of smoking on the brain.

*Varenicline (Chantix), a prescription-only pill that blocks nicotine receptors in the brain.

Studies say patches, gum, drugs, inhalers or nasal mists, combined with clinical counseling, increase success rates by as much as 50 percent.

Before you embark on your campaign to quit, review your strategy with your doctor. Have him or her give you feedback on methods you might try that won’t interfere with any medications you might be taking or possibly cause adverse reactions.

Staying smoke-free

Finally, don’t be fooled: Cigarettes may tempt you for weeks after you quit. How do you stay away from tobacco? Follow these tips from the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association:

  • Protect yourself. Spend time in places that forbid smoking: libraries, art galleries, houses of worship or at a nonsmoking friend’s home.
  • Change course. If drinking coffee triggers a cigarette craving, avoid it until you can enjoy a cup of Joe without needing to smoke. Meantime, substitute water, fruit juice or iced tea.
  • Start better habits. Take up positive habits—doing crossword puzzles, exercising, hiking, biking, meditating or just gnawing carrots instead of cigarettes—to keep from relapsing.
  • Don’t listen. Ignore the little voice that says “just smoke one.” You can’t.