We know, we know. There are plenty of reasons why you can’t quit smoking. Won’t quit. But we’re not buying. The reason: Experts have heard every excuse in the book. (And so have we.) Here we debunk the top 10 excuses people give for not snuffing out their cigarettes, with the help of Bill Blatt, director of Tobacco Programs at the American Lung Association.
Excuse #1: It doesn’t matter if I quit. The damage has already been done.
Reality check: “It actually does matter,” Blatt says. “No matter when you quit, it will improve health.” Your risk for lung cancer starts to diminish, for one. Fifteen years after quitting, your lung cancer risk is the same as it is for someone who has never smoked. You’ll reduce your risk for heart attack, too. If you’ve developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), though, you can’t reverse the damage—but you can slow its progression. “That makes a big difference as you get older,” says Blatt.
Excuse #2: If I stop smoking, I’ll get fat.
Reality check: Many people do gain an average of seven to 10 pounds after they quit. “Nicotine is a stimulant, so smoking speeds up your body’s metabolism,” Blatt explains. “You burn calories a little faster than you would if you were a non smoker.” Also, since smoking dulls the taste buds, after you quit “your taste buds sharpen and suddenly food tastes a lot better,” Blatt says. While carrying 10 extra pounds isn’t ideal, it’s a heck of a lot healthier than continuing to smoke. Concentrate on kicking the habit first. When you’ve succeeded, focus on losing the weight by exercising more and eating healthfully.
Excuse #3: I’ve switched to “light” cigarettes—they’re not as bad for me as regular ones.
Reality check: “There’s no difference between light and regular cigarettes in the harm they cause your body,” Blatt says. Case closed.
Excuse #4: I eat well and exercise, so it doesn’t matter if I smoke.
Reality check: Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Smoking harms virtually every system in your body regardless of your other good habits. “It’s great if you eat well and exercise but if you quit smoking you’ll be in much better shape,” Blatt says.
Excuse #5: I’ve tried to quit before and failed—so it’s hopeless.
Reality check: Most people try several times before they succeed. “That’s absolutely normal,” says Blatt. “We firmly believe every smoker can quit.” Instead of giving up, look at what worked and what didn’t the last time you tried to quit and contact a quit smoking program or helpline to find out what you can do differently this time.
Excuse #6: Smoking calms me down. Without a cigarette, I’m a nervous wreck.
Reality check: You’re not the first person to reach for a cigarette when you’re stressed. Because of this the first few weeks after quitting can be “really rough,” notes Blatt. Your game plan: “Find ways to take the tension out of the moment and calm down,” he says. Walk around the block, for instance, or practice deep breathing.
Excuse #7: I can stop whenever I want.
Reality check: “I’ve heard that from every smoker,” says Blatt. “If you can stop whenever you want, why haven’t you?” The reason? “Nicotine is the most addictive substance there is,” he adds. The other side of the coin: If you’re not ready to quit, you won’t.
Excuse #8: I only smoke a few times a week, so it doesn’t matter.
Reality check: It does matter. Whether you only smoke when you’re out with friends or after dinner, you are harming your body. A study published last year in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine reported that even inhaling small amounts of cigarette smoke may cause lung cancer or COPD.
Excuse #9: I’ve cut back to three cigarettes a week so I am fine.
Reality check: “If you only smoke three cigarettes a week, you have probably lowered your risk but you haven’t lowered it to zero,” Blatt says. “Why not go all the way and quit for good?”
Excuse #10: My uncle smoked and he lived to be 90.
Reality check: “Your uncle was a lucky man,” says Blatt. “We remember these people because they are exceptions to the rule.” We tend not to remember the ones who smoked and died at age 45.