Giving up smoking is hard. Just ask President Obama, whose on-again, off-again attempts at quitting make national headlines. "Only 1 in 20 who want to quit actually do," says Dr. Richard Hurt, director of the Nicotine Dependence Center at the Mayo Clinic. "Smokers try to stop five to seven times before finally succeeding."
Despite these grim statistics, there are more tools and strategies available today than ever before to help smokers kick the butts. Below are the most effective ways of increasing your chances of quitting, forever.
Set a quit date. "Everyone knows an Uncle Charlie. He gets up one day and decides to quit smoking after 40 years," Hurt says. "The vast majority of us aren't Uncle Charlies. We need to get ready to quit." Setting a specific quit date, circling it on the calendar and telling family and friends bolsters your odds of quitting. "Before your quit date, line up with your doctor the type of nicotine replacement therapy you'll use and the type of counseling that'll fit into your schedule," says Iyaad Hasan, director of the Cleveland Clinic Tobacco Treatment Center. "Smoking affects receptors in the brain. It takes more than willpower to stop."
Use a combo approach. Studies show that combining nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and non-nicotine stop-smoking medications works better than using either alone. Says Jed E. Rose, director of the Duke Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research: "The best strategy is to use a long-acting therapy like the nicotine patch or Zyban or Chantix with a short-acting NRT-gum, lozenge or a prescription inhaler or spray to manage sudden cravings." A new study by Rose suggests those who use the nicotine patch two weeks before their quit date may double their success rate.
Sign up for counseling. Counseling doubles your chances of quitting. "Research clearly establishes that the more counseling and support you have, the more likely your chances of stopping smoking," Hurt says. One-on-one sessions with a trained tobacco specialist or healthcare provider work best, but telephone counseling is almost as effective. "Every state has a toll-free quit line—some even provide free NRT products," Hurt says. The U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services' 1-800-QuitNow line (1-800-784-8669) will connect you with a "quit coach" in your state. For the digitally inclined, new studies indicate that web-based support works as well. Sites like BecomeAnEx.org, created by the Mayo Clinic, offer videos, chat rooms, blogs and information from experts about quitting. Internet groups like Quitnet.com provide round-the-clock encouragement from fellow quitters and counselors.
Develop coping skills. "Smokers need to understand the triggers that cause them to light up," the Cleveland Clinic's Hasan says. If you smoke in the car, take out the ashtrays and lighter and lock the cigarettes in the trunk. If you always light up at holiday parties or when having a drink, decline invitations and stop drinking for the first three or four months after quitting. Studies show that cutting out caffeine and meat is important because they make cigarettes taste better. Fruits, veggies and dairy products don't mask the bad taste of cigarettes. Exercise-walking, running or any type of sustained movement-is key. It has been shown to quell nicotine cravings. "Start a smoking log that lists your triggers, along with strategies for dealing with each one," Hasan says.
The Ex Files: Stories from successful quitters.
Debbi Keyser, New Smyrna Beach, Fla.
Years smoked: 40
How I did it: I planned ahead. I decided on a quit date, and stuck with it. I also changed my daily routines so it would be tough to smoke. I set my alarm clock for a later time so I would have to rush to get ready for work and wouldn't have time for that first morning smoke.
My advice: Plan ahead and take control. Plan for those times when you will be most tempted to smoke.
Laura Blaser, Orange County, Fla.
Years smoked: 30
How I did it: I made a New Year's resolution to stop on January 1—and threw out all my cigarettes on January 2. I also found something to replace smoking: exercise. I ran, hiked, hit the gym, stayed active all the time.
My advice: Find something you're passionate about to replace the cigarettes.