Smoking: How to Kick the Habit in the New Year

Quitting smoking tobacco may not be easy, but it can be done

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

Ready to quit smoking for the new year? It may not be easy, but it’s doable.

So you’ve stepped into the ring, and it’s you versus smoking. But you don't have to take on smoking alone — you can arm yourself with knowledge, options and help from health organizations.

Know What You’re Up Against

A key first step in quitting smoking is understanding why you feel like you need that puff so badly. It’s the nicotine.

Nicotine is the primary addictive chemical naturally found in tobacco products like cigarettes. Once your body gets used to nicotine, it needs more and more to feel satisfied. This is known nicotine dependence. When your body doesn’t get enough, you may feel intense and uncomfortable cravings. This is known as withdrawal.

The physical symptoms of withdrawal fade away after a few days, but the emotional dependence on a cigarette may last longer. The addiction has to be broken — and it will be, if you keep fighting and don’t give up.

Social cues, known as triggers, can affect your success. Certain feelings, people, and activities — like drinking coffee or driving — may become linked to smoking in your mind. Whenever you feel or see them, you may be triggered or have the urge to smoke. Knowing your triggers can help you create an action plan to avoid them.

For instance, you can spend more time with nonsmokers or go to places that do not allow public smoking. Many places are now becoming smoke-free.

Know Your Options

Medications can lower your feelings of withdrawal and cravings, says the National Cancer Institute. The most common medication is known as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).

NRT reduces symptoms of withdrawal by giving you small levels of nicotine but none of the other dangerous chemicals in cigarettes. NRT lowers the nicotine level little by little to lessen your urge to smoke while still satisfying your body’s craving for nicotine. Slowly, your body will get used to not having nicotine.

NRT comes in different types, such as patches, gum and lozenges, which do not need to be prescribed, but you should still ask your doctor before taking any medication. NRT inhalers and nasal sprays need to be prescribed by a doctor.

Other medications that help patients quit smoking include bupropion (brand names Zyban and Wellbutrin) and varenicline (Chantix). While both prescriptions may reduce nicotine withdrawal and smoking urges, Chantix also blocks the effects of nicotine if you start smoking again.

Electronic cigarettes may also be an option to help smokers quit. A recent study published in Nicotine and Tobacco found that e-cig users were less dependent on nicotine than those who smoked conventional cigarettes. In fact, 92.7 percent of cigarette smokers said they had a strong desire to smoke — compared to 35.4 percent of e-cig users.

E-cigs are battery-powered devices that heat a nicotine solution into a vapor that the user inhales. More research is needed to determine whether e-cigs are safer than conventional cigarettes and whether they truly help patients quit smoking.

Know Where to Go for Help

The American Heart Association said it well: “Knowing that someone out there understands and shares your struggle can help you stay committed to being smoke-free.”

Your friends and family, as well as a huge pool of other resources, can help you quit smoking.

Several organizations host free quit support lines. These include the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association, among others.

The help you need to quit may also be just a click — or app — away. Some apps to try include QuitSTART, NCI QuitPal, QuitGuide, and many others — whichever fits your preferences. These apps often work by sending you reminders and words of encouragement.

Whatever method you choose, the important part is that you choose one.

“It doesn’t matter where you start. Just start,” writes the National Cancer Institute on its website.


Review Date: 
December 31, 2014
Last Updated:
January 8, 2015