If you’re trying to quit smoking or know someone who is here are eight strategies that will maximize your odds of success
1. Forget about switching to “light” cigarettes
Some smokers switch to low-tar, low nicotine brands, thinking that doing so will cut the levels of these toxins in their bodies. Or they switch to a light brand as a prelude to quitting altogether.
Switching does not help. Studies show that people who switch unwittingly compensate by inhaling smoke more deeply or frequently. Tar and nicotine consumption remain at the same levels as before.
2. Develop a concrete plan
Only about 2% of smokers who try to stop are successful on any given try. Most people fail several times before succeeding.
You must approach smoking cessation as you’d approach running a marathon or tackling any other major project. Set a firm date for quitting. Plan what you will do every day when the inevitable cravings hit. If you backslide, try again.
3. Try nicotine-replacement therapy
Nicotine patches (Habitrol, Nicoderm, etc.) and nicotine gums (Nicorette) can double your odds of quitting successfully.
Both patches and gum are effective. Some people enjoy the oral sensation of chewing gum. Others find chewing a chore, and prefer to use the patch. It administers nicotine continuously throughout the day.
Do not smoke while wearing a patch or chewing nicotine gum. Pregnant women should probably not use the patch or gum, though continued smoking is likely to be more harmful than nicotine replacement therapy.
Some people find that the patch irritates their skin. If you’re among them, alert your doctor
4. Enlist friends and family
Many smokers try to stop in secret because they want to avoid embarrassment if they fail. That’s the opposite of what should be done.
Tell friends and family even your doctor exactly what you intend to do. Ask them to check up on you periodically to see how you’re doing. Apologize in advance for how irritable you’ll be as you go through nicotine withdrawal.
5. Join a support group
Meeting with fellow quitters for as little as 20 minutes a week can improve your chances of success.
6. Find ways to motivate yourself
Think how much healthier you’ll be after quitting, how you’ll live longer or how much money you’ll save. Over a 10-year period, a two-pack a-day habit costs roughly $51,000.
7. Consider alternative techniques
There’s scant scientific evidence that acupuncture, acupressure, hypnosis and other alternative therapies help people stop smoking. Yet many former smokers swear by them. If you do decide to give an alternative therapy a try, be sure to find a practitioner with legitimate training.
8. Ask your doctor about antidepressant therapy.
There’s some evidence that fluoxetine (Prozac) and other antidepressants make it easier to quit for certain patients. Yet doctors are often reluctant to prescribe these drugs for smoking cessation. They fear that smokers will shake their addiction to tobacco only to become dependent on the antidepressants.
If you’ve tried quitting several times without success, however, the risk of becoming dependent on an antidepressant may be outweighed by the dangers posed by continuing to smoke.
Another potentially useful medication is bupropion (Zyban). It’s been used to treat depression for several years under the name Wellbutrin. Exactly how it works isn’t known, but the drug is thought to affect the neurotransmitter dopamine that may play a role in nicotine addiction. Studies have found that the combination of nicotine replacement and Zyban is more likely to result in smoking cessation than either drug alone. Side effects include dry mouth and insomnia. People who have epilepsy shouldn’t use Zyban as it can cause seizures.