How to Quit Smoking and How to Not Start Again

By Arielle Horowitz

From PHN Issue 38, Fall 2018

Most smokers know that smoking is bad for their health, but they also know that quitting smoking is not easy. According to the American Lung Association, quitting smoking can be easier if you know your reasons for quitting, talk to a doctor, understand what to expect, and get help. Federal prisons and almost half of state prison systems prohibit smoking cigarettes indoors and outdoors, but more than half of states still allow smoking in prison yards. For those who quit smoking while in prison and are soon to be released, it is important to think about how to not start smoking again outside prison.

Knowing why you want to quit smoking can help motivate you when the process feels difficult. Every smoker has their own reasons for wanting to quit, but some of the most common are to improve their health, to improve the length and quality of their life, to save money, to not have to deal with the hassle of going outside in the cold and rain to smoke, and to protect friends and family who can get sick from secondhand smoke.

Quitting smoking is easier if you know what to expect. Only 4% to 7% of smokers who try to quit “cold turkey” are successful. Most smokers need a plan to quit smoking. A successful plan usually includes the following steps:

  1. Setting a quit date
  2. Building social support
  3. Learning how to relax and control weight
  4. Developing a plan for dealing with urges to smoke
  5. Using medications such as nicotine gum and patches to help relieve the physical symptoms of quitting smoking

Quitting smoking takes time. The first week is usually the hardest. Most people who start smoking again do so during the first 3 months of quitting. “Slipping” by having a puff or smoking one or two cigarettes does not mean you are a smoker again, as long as you don’t give up on your attempt to quit. It is normal to get urges to smoke for months or years after you quit, but these urges will probably happen less and less over time and will almost always eventually stop. It is also normal to face other challenges, such as gaining weight or experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

If you attempt to quit then start smoking again, you don’t need to feel guilty. Think of those tries as “practice quits.” Think about why you relapsed, and create a plan to make your next attempt different.

You may have an easier time quitting smoking if you have help. A doctor or other healthcare provider may be able to give you medication to help you quit. Gum, lozenges, patches, nasal sprays or inhalers may be available. Gum or lozenges can be something for smokers to put in their mouths instead of a cigarette. Some smokers prefer inhalers, which can feel like smoking a cigarette.. For those being released, Medicaid programs in every state cover at least some types of smoking cessation treatments.

You can also talk to other smokers who are trying to quit and form a support system to help each other. If you are able to call a toll-free number, or if you are released, you can call the American Lung Association’s Lung Helpline at 1-800-LUNG-USA. Experts on the line can help you start on a quit plan, answer any questions you have, and help you become tobacco-free.

When you quit smoking, there is a lot you can do to prevent yourself from starting again. First, you can reduce triggers by getting rid of any cigarettes, ashtrays, or other reminders of smoking that you are able to remove from your cell or living space. You can also try to eliminate triggers by asking others not to smoke in front of you or walking away if a smoker chooses to light up. You can also wait out cravings to smoke. Cravings to smoke usually only last a few minutes, so when you get an urge to smoke you can try making a phone call, talking to a friend, getting a drink of water, doing some deep breathing, or playing a game. Distracting yourself can help you move past the urge.

If you slip up and smoke, remind yourself of all the good reasons you decided to quit, and figure out what you will do differently in the future. Be patient with yourself. You are still learning to quit. Quitting smoking can take time and many practice quits, but you can end the addiction. The most important thing is that you do not give up.

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