Each year about one-third of American adults resolve to make their lives better in some way. For smokers, that often means a pledge to kick the habit. The benefits of quitting smoking are obvious: It's the best thing you can do for your health and for your budget. And with less tolerance for smoking all around, saying "no" could improve your social life, as well.
Many would-be ex-smokers fail to quit smoking because it's hard to do. Quitnet reports that it takes seven tries, on average, for someone to successfully quit smoking. So make 2013 the year you pledge to give it up forever. And if you need an extra nudge, note that some of the best techniques for reaching this goal are absolutely free.
For starters, have you ever figured out just what this habit costs? A quick calculation at Quitnet, which entails entering your zip code and the number of cigarettes you smoke daily, tells you exactly how much of your hard-earned cash goes up in smoke. The cost of cigarettes varies by state, largely due to taxes, but even at the low end of $5 a pack, a pack-a-day smoker shells out more than $1,800 a year for rolled tobacco. And in New York City, where cigarette prices are the highest in the country, you'd be the poorer by more than $4,000 at year's end unless you quit smoking.
There is no single strategy that works for every person who wants to quit smoking. Many of the approaches that pop up in online searches -- smoking cessation programs, lasers, hypnotism, acupuncture, and shock therapy, to name a few -- cost a pretty penny and aren't necessarily effective. Of course the cheapest way to quit smoking is to just stop. While that might work for you, Cancer.org cautions that the chances of success are minimal. Going cold turkey without any outside help fails to address critical issues, such as dealing with daily triggers.
Experts say a critical first step is to declare a specific quit-smoking day. Cut back little by little as that date moves closer, clear out all smoking supplies from your home and workplace, and enlist the support of family and friends. And take some cues from the free and low-cost tips below.
Get medical help.
If you have health insurance, talk to your doctor about becoming a reformed smoker. There are medications that can control nicotine cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms, with the treatment generally starting about a week or two before you actually quit smoking. As with all drugs, though, there may be some side effects. And the cost will depend on your insurance plan, but usually is relatively low.
Find a Smoking Substitute.
One way to quit smoking is by substituting something else for cigarettes. The most popular alternatives are nicotine replacement treatments, such as gum, patches, and lozenges, that lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms; some of these aides also satisfy the tactile need for something in your mouth. Although nicotine replacement helps break the smoking addiction, it does nothing to break the addiction to nicotine and is far from cheap.
But once you get the tobacco cravings under control, move on to cheaper substitutes, such as exercise, regular chewing gum, cinnamon sticks, and lots of water, that help you stay on track. Keeping your hands busy is also crucial, as is acknowledging the feelings and urges that surround your smoking habit. HelpGuide.org offers a variety of coping mechanisms and other practical tips.
Seek Positive Support.
Whether you suddenly quit smoking or opt for the slow and steady route, toughing it out alone is suboptimal. Experts note that counseling doubles your chances of success. Coaching and/or support groups are also helpful. Check in with your doctor, the local public health office, or online to find such resources. Here are a few to get you started.
Become An Ex suggests ways to beat nicotine addiction and manage the habits that trigger smoking. It also provides a vibrant online support community where you can find an online partner for a mutual boost throughout your personal campaign to quit smoking.
In addition to individual counseling, Quitnet maintains forums, clubs, chat rooms, and a buddy system that are all designed to get you over the hump.
When you finally reach that delicate post-quit stage, you can text QUIT to 22723 for a motivational message from the American Cancer Society's QuitBuddy.
Nicotine Anonymous is a 12- step program similar to that used for other addictions and provides ongoing in-person support an online meetings if there are no groups in your area.
Quitting along with someone you know and forming your own support system Smay be the best of all possible paths. Studies have shown that people quit in clusters and benefit from joint morale boosting and celebrations of success.
Look to Government.
Don't underestimate the services of your government. Every state and many municipalities run programs designed to help people quit smoking. For instance, free support through the month of January is available to Minnesota residents. New York State maintains a web site that offers a helpline, free patches or gum, and an online community. Many counties, such as Florida's Hernando County, offer multi-week smoking cessation programs. To find the "quit smoking" program nearest you, call 1-800-QUITNOW.