Smoking has a heavier impact on one's health than most people realize. Not only does it affect the heart and blood vessels, but it also causes or worsens asthmatic symptoms and bronchitis and may cause lung cancer. In addition, smoking increases the risk of developing other cancers (of the kidneys and pancreas, for instance) and negatively impacts the procreative system. Apart from these health reasons, there are various other grounds to quit smoking: family, friends and colleagues are bothered by the smoke; ugly nicotine stains develop on your fingers, teeth, ceiling and curtains.
There are plenty of reasons to quit smoking. However, you will only be able to quit if you're fully behind your decision to quit. The reason quitting smoking is so difficult for most smokers is due to them being physically addicted to the nicotine and mentally addicted to the act of smoking, of having a cigarette in one's hand. In addition, as is true for many other affairs, picking the right time to quit is crucial. When times are stressful at work or at home, you are likely to really want that one, relaxing cigarette. You're much more likely to succeed in quitting during a less strenuous time.
What makes quitting so difficult
The reason quitting smoking is so difficult for most smokers is due to them being physically addicted to the nicotine and mentally addicted to the act of smoking, of having a cigarette in one's hand.
Nicotine only needs seven seconds to affect your brain after every pull on your cigarette. Once in the brain, nicotine causes you to feel energetic and relaxed. This effect is what makes nicotine so addictive. Nicotine levels in your body drop by half about an hour after you've had your last cigarette. The drop in the nicotine level make you feel ever more anxious and in need of a smoke. If you do not light one up, you will start experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Because the body quickly gets used to not having nicotine, such symptoms quickly fade, and will be completely gone in a few days. By using a nicotine patch or nicotine gum, you can slowly cut back on your need for nicotine.
Smokers get used to smoking in various situations. The act of smoking, then, fulfils various functions: reducing stress, coping with emotions, making things more lively, concealing unease, etc. This means that certain moments just go with a cigarette. When hitting the pub with friends. Or that one cigarette with your first coffee of the day. Mental addiction has turned these situations into ones in which you find it hard not to light one up. Your best bet of avoiding this temptation is to change those situations you associate with having a cigarette.
The first two to three months after quitting are the most difficult in kicking this mental addiction, in particular the first few days. If you're able to get through these first three months, it becomes easier to permanently do without smoking.
Quitting smoking often leads to weight gain. Contrary to common wisdom, this has nothing to do with any effect smoking has on the digestive system. Losing this effect will at most see you gain a few hundred grams. The main reason is that the body desires a replacement of the nicotine (see nicotine addiction) that makes you feel equally good. So, after quitting smoking, you are likely to start eating and snacking more and differently, opting for the calorie-heavy foods. By minding what you eat and exercising more after having quit smoking, you'll be able to stop your body from piling on the weight. As an aside, some 90% of people quitting smoking do not gain more than 2 to 3 kilos.
Doubting you'll succeed in quitting smoking is a primary reason for many to not even try. Which is a shame, for over 100,000 persons a year do succeed. Why not be one of them? Even if you fail the first time, this doesn't mean you won't succeed in the end. Perhaps you were insufficiently motivated, or you quit at the wrong moment.
The right moment
As is true for many other affairs, picking the right time to quit smoking is crucial. When times are stressful at work or at home, you are likely to really want that one, relaxing cigarette. You're much more likely to succeed in quitting during a less strenuous time.
- Analyse your smoking habits. When and why do you feel you need a cigarette?
- Be prepared for those situations you are most likely to miss the smoking. Make sure you have something else to do instead.
- Make a list of all the reasons for quitting smoking, including all expected benefits.
- Determine a date for quitting smoking and put it in your agenda. Be determined to quit entirely on that date, as this is easier than to try and cut down gradually.
- Throw away your ashtrays, cigarettes and lighters on that day.
- Tell your family, friends and colleagues you're quitting.
- Try and find someone else who also wants to quit, so you can support each other.
- Keep yourself busy, so you won't think of lighting one up.
- Change your daily routine. For the first few days after quitting, don't walk past that one store you always buy your cigarettes from. If you're used to having a smoke during your lunch break, or when you're in the pub with friends, go someplace else or do something else.
- Make sure you have something else on hand to replace your cigarette for the first few days. If your hands feel empty, hold a pen or pencil.
- Change your eating and drinking habits for the first week: drink a lot of water, eat a lot of fresh fruits and avoid beverages that have an uplifting effect like coffee and alcohol.
Keeping to it
- To quit smoking you must remain motivated to do so. Be aware of the benefits you experience from not smoking, regularly remind yourself why you want to quit, and be proud of still being able to resist the temptation.
- Exercise more often. Exercise is relaxing, makes you feel more fit and boosts your morale.
- Only think one day ahead. This way, you won't have to start thinking about how you can manage to get through the rest of your life without a cigarette.
- Avoid places with a lot of smokers.
- Treat yourself for every period (e.g. every week or month) you managed not to have a smoke.
- Giving in to temptation and lighting up once does not mean you failed completely. Consider it a minor relapse and continue your attempts to quit smoking.
If you find you have difficulty quitting, various forms of support are available. More information on (quitting) smoking can be found on: https://www.rokeninfo.nl/publiek/info-over-stoppen (Dutch only).
Your GP is able to advise you on quitting smoking and may refer your to other institutions that can help you quit. Many healthcare insurers will reimburse part of the associated costs.