Quitting smoking

Making stopping smoking easier

There is evidence to show that using a stop smoking service, which provides either one-to-one or group support, can greatly increase your chance of succeeding. Using NRT or the medicines varenicline (Champix) or bupropion hydrochloride (Zyban) has also been shown to be successful in helping people to quit smoking.

Whatever method you use to quit smoking, there are plenty of things you can do to try to make it easier.

  • Find a temporary substitute for smoking, such as chewing gum or drinking a glass of water each time you want a cigarette.
  • Change your routine to stay away from situations where you would usually have a cigarette. If you usually associate smoking with socialising, you might find it easier to stop if you don’t go to the pub for the first couple of weeks. If you smoke at work, it might be helpful if you tell your work colleagues that you’re stopping so they don’t invite you out for cigarette breaks during the day.
  • Know your triggers and stay away from them if possible. So if you usually have a cigarette with a glass of wine in the evening, try having a different drink or going out for a short walk instead.
  • Make a list of the reasons why you want to stop and carry it with you. Read through it when you have a craving and remind yourself why you’re stopping.
  • Set targets and reward yourself when you reach them. Why not save up the money you would have spent on cigarettes and use it to go out for dinner or even to pay for a holiday?
  • Remember that the only reason you feel better when you have a cigarette is because you're feeding your withdrawal symptoms.

Your body gets rid of nicotine in as little as 24 hours after your last cigarette. This means that your withdrawal symptoms can be intense for the first few days, but you will feel better after the third or fourth day. Trying to cut down gradually will increase how long this withdrawal process lasts.

Medicines to help you stop smoking

Your GP may be able to prescribe you a medicine to help you stop smoking. Always ask him or her for advice and read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine. These medicines are most likely to be helpful if you’re also taking part in a support programme to help you stop smoking. Although you may get some temporary side-effects, it’s worth reminding yourself that the possible long-term health risks of continuing to smoke are far worse and the long-term benefits of quitting are huge.

Champix (varenicline)

Champix helps to reduce your withdrawal symptoms and interrupts the way nicotine affects your body. This means that if you do succumb to temptation and have a cigarette, the nicotine won’t affect you as much as it used to.

You will need to start taking Champix one to two weeks before stopping smoking and continue for at least 12 weeks. Although it’s rare, Champix can cause some mild side-effects, in particular you may feel sick or vomit. In addition, you may get headaches, insomnia, vivid dreams, increased appetite, diarrhoea and dizziness.

Zyban (bupropion hydrochloride)

Zyban is sometimes prescribed to help reduce cigarette cravings. The way it works isn’t fully understood at the moment, but it’s thought to affect the parts of your brain connected to addiction and withdrawal.

As with Champix, you need to start taking Zyban one to two weeks before you stop smoking and you will usually carry on taking it for seven to nine weeks. Zyban can have side-effects including insomnia, headaches, dizziness, a dry mouth, feeling sick and vomiting. You may also notice that you find it harder to concentrate and that it makes you feel drowsy.

Going 'cold turkey'

Giving up smoking by going ‘cold turkey’ means that you stop using your willpower alone and without using medicines or other aids to help you. To do this, you will need to ignore any withdrawal symptoms and refuse to give into temptation. Stopping smoking using willpower alone may be the most difficult way to stop but it’s not impossible. However, it’s important not to be disheartened if you don’t succeed with this method – there are other ways of quitting and you may be more likely to be successful if you try using professional support and treatment.

Alternative therapies

Google ‘how to quit smoking’ and you will find numerous sites offering any number of different therapies that promise to help you stop smoking for good. These range from acupuncture and hypnotherapy to self-help books and relaxation techniques. Although some people may find these methods work for them, there isn’t enough evidence to say for sure how effective they are.

Helplines, counselling and other support

Your GP or practice nurse can refer you to your local NHS Stop Smoking Service, or you can refer yourself. These services provide a course of either one-to-one or group counselling and support for smokers who want to stop. Courses last for several weeks and involve planning how best to go about stopping smoking and setting a definite date to quit. Research has found that you’re four times more likely to be successful in your attempt to stop smoking if you use one of these services.

There are a number of charities that offer advice and support on how to stop smoking via helplines, booklets and leaflets, email support and online top tips. Some also have helplines that are available in other languages (for example Arabic or Urdu).

Coping with difficult situations

Because smoking may have been part of your usual routine for a long time, it’s likely that there will be occasions when you find it really difficult to resist cigarettes. Reminding yourself why you have quit and how well you’re doing will help you to stay positive. Ask your friends not to offer you a cigarette and if someone does, say: “No thanks, I don’t smoke” rather than “I’ve quit”.

If at first you don't succeed…

Don’t worry if you have a lapse – you won’t be the first. But make sure you don’t use it as an excuse to start smoking regularly again. Many ex-smokers admit to the odd mistake, but have moved on and stayed smoke-free. One cigarette doesn’t make you a smoker again. Stopping smoking involves changing your lifestyle, habits and getting rid of an addiction you may have had for years. It’s a challenge, but it’s worth it.

Action points

  • Get support and treatment from your GP or local NHS Stop Smoking Service.
  • Make a plan of action for stopping smoking, and stick to it.
  • Tell your friends and family that you’re trying to stop smoking, and get their help and support.
  • Stay positive and remind yourself of what you have already achieved when the going gets tough.
  • Don't give up on giving up!