Healthy living

Getting ready to quit smoking

Two women in a cafe laughing and reading a travel brochure
“I really wanted to travel but smoking cost too much. A friend quit too and saved up with me.” Vicky, 24

Most people are not 100 per cent sure about quitting smoking and many are worried about how they might cope without cigarettes. This is normal. Don’t put off quitting because you feel this way – there is lots of help to get you through.

Planning can help you understand why you smoke and set up some quitting strategies.

If you’ve tried to quit before, remember the things that worked for you and the things that didn’t. You can use what you learned to make your plan stronger.

There are 4 things you need to do:

  1. Understand your nicotine addiction.
  2. Know why you smoke.
  3. Plan ways to deal with quitting.
  4. Set a date to quit.

Important – before you quit

As the chemicals in cigarettes change the way some medications work, it is important to speak to you doctor before you quit if you are taking medications.

Also, as stopping smoking can be stressful, you should also speak to your doctor before you quit if you have previously experienced depression, anxiety or another mental illness.

1. Understand your nicotine addiction

Nicotine is the addictive drug in tobacco. After you’ve been smoking for a while, your body gets used to nicotine and relies on it to feel normal.

Do you have any of these signs of nicotine addiction?

  • You smoke your first cigarette within 30 minutes of waking up.
  • You smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day.
  • You have cravings and withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit.

Nicotine affects the chemicals in your brain, and after a puff, you may feel good for a moment or two. It produces different effects on the body at the same time. It may make you feel relaxed or more alert but this doesn’t last long.

When smokers stop, most get cravings. It’s normal to feel anxious, hungry and irritable, and find it hard to focus on what you are doing. Even after successfully giving up smoking, most smokers who try to just have an occasional cigarette quickly return to regular smoking.

Smoking record

You can learn about your habit while you prepare to quit. Sometimes it can help to make a smoking record sheet and carry it with you everywhere.

Each time you have a cigarette, or feel a craving, write down the:

  • time and date
  • occasion or activity
  • what you are feeling
  • how much you feel the need for a cigarette, using the point system below.

Points system

1 = I could do without it

2 = I feel like it

3 = I need it

4 = I really need it

5 = I’m desperate for it

Even after a couple of days, you’ll have a good idea about what makes you want to smoke, the times you smoke and the importance of each cigarette. These are your smoking ‘triggers’.

You can also use the record after you have quit to learn more about your cravings. The more you know, the better you can plan for staying stopped.

2. Know why you smoke

All smokers have their own smoking habits. These habits are usually tied to certain moods, activities, events, places or people. They may be quite strong bonds.

Some of the most common reasons why people smoke are:

  • addiction – to satisfy the craving for nicotine or a cigarette
  • emotions – feeling stressed, upset, angry, frustrated, bored or happy
  • pleasure – to enjoy something even more or to reward yourself
  • social pressure – feeling part of the crowd, bonding with other smokers
  • habit – feeling like smoking while doing things or taking a break.

Being in these situations after you have quit will usually trigger cravings. Knowing what makes you want to smoke can help you plan how to cope in trigger situations.

3. Plan ways to deal with quitting

Some people see quitting as a private battle between themselves and cigarettes. But getting help is not a sign of weakness or lack of will power – it’s a smart way to quit.

There are 2 types of help to include in your plan:

  • coaching
  • quitting medications.

Get some coaching

A coach gives you structure, motivation, support, new skills and confidence. It is much harder to get these things when you try to quit on your own.

Getting a coach will give you a much greater chance of long-term success.

The more times you have tried to quit and the less confident you are, the more coaching you are likely to need.

Below is information on some good coaches.

Quitline

The Quitline is a confidential telephone quitting information and advice service. Professional telephone advisors, who understand the challenges of quitting, provide strategies and support to help you quit.

QuitCoach

At QuitCoach (external site) you answer questions and the QuitCoach gives you the ideas and suggestions that will be most useful to you. The QuitCoach can help you before and after you quit.

Your doctor, pharmacist or other health professional

Doctors and pharmacists are good sources of advice about quitting, especially for advice on quit smoking medications. You need to see a doctor if you want to use prescription medications for quitting.

If you have suffered from a mental illness or are taking medication for one, it is important to see your doctor before quitting. If you have asthma, diabetes or other health problems, it can be useful to discuss quitting with a health professional.

Use quitting medications

These products are suitable for nicotine addicted smokers. Quitting medications reduce withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • cravings
  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • anxiety.

They usually do not stop withdrawal symptoms altogether.

Most people’s smoking is linked to habits and emotions. So you are likely to still get some cravings in situations where you used to smoke. Remember that coaching can help you handle these times and adjust to life without cigarettes.

There are 2 kinds of medications:

  • nicotine replacement products
  • prescription medications.

Nicotine replacement products

Nicotine replacement products work by replacing some of the nicotine you usually get from cigarettes. They come in a variety of forms such as:

  • patches
  • gum
  • lozenges
  • tablets
  • inhalers.

Nicotine by itself has not been shown to cause cancer. Because nicotine products remove all the other dangerous chemicals, they are much safer than smoking.

Your doctor or pharmacist can explain to you how to use these products.

Prescription medications

Prescription medications, such as bupropion and varenicline (Champix), must be discussed with your doctor as they are not suitable for everyone.

Gather information

Talk to other people who have quit about how they did it. Remember, different things work for different people.

Get help from friends and family

The support and encouragement of friends and family is important, but sometimes others can hinder your efforts.

If you do talk to your friends and family about quitting, explain how they can help – for example, by not offering you cigarettes if they smoke, or by being patient if you are a bit irritable at first.

Quitting with a friend can be useful as you can help each other through the hard times.

4. Set a date to quit

Unless there is a very good reason, make the date within 2 weeks from now.

Choose an easy day to stop, one when you will not be under much pressure, but will have plenty to occupy yourself.

Practise quitting

Once you have picked a date to quit, stick to it.

Before you quit, you might set yourself some smaller goals to see how you would go.

Try quitting for only 1 day. Or you could experiment by not smoking at times when you normally would, such as when you’re out with friends or having a break with other smokers at work.

This will help you work out how much you need to prepare for similar situations when you quit completely.

Try this

Throw away all cigarettes, lighters and ashtrays in your home and car. If your partner smokes, suggest that he or she stops too, or only smokes outside the house.

Draw up a quitting plan

Sometimes it’s helpful to create your own quitting plan. You could consider referring to your smoking record to help you.

Consider including the following in your plan:

  • the main reasons you want to quit smoking
  • the 3 triggers that make you want to smoke
  • your main strategies to avoid smoking
  • the coaching you intend to get, such as Quitline counsellor
  • the quitting medication you will use.
  • your intended quit date.

Keep a copy of your plan with you as a reminder. You can always add to it if you find new strategies to deal with difficult times.

Where to get help

Quitline

Quitline is a confidential telephone support service staffed by professional advisors who are trained to provide encouragement and support to help you quit.

Phone: 13 7848 (13 QUIT) (local call rates from land line only). Advisors are available from:

  • Monday to Friday 7am – 8pm
  • Saturday 12.30pm – 3.30pm
  • Sunday closed.

Remember

  • Understanding why you smoke can help you in your attempt to quit.
  • Get some help – organise some coaching and consider using nicotine replacement therapy or prescription medication to help you quit.
  • Speak to your doctor before you quit if you are taking prescription medications or have experienced mental illness in the past.

Acknowledgements

Chronic Disease Prevention Directorate


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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