Your Roadmap to Quitting: 3 Tips to Beat Urges and Quit Smoking

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Been wanting to quit smoking? Have you already thrown out your last pack, or are you planning to do that tomorrow? Whether you’re a few days into being smoke-free or are preparing mentally to quit, you are already on the right track. But the road ahead will be paved with urges.

Once you quit, nicotine withdrawal (irritability, sleep disturbance, hunger and urges to smoke) typically lasts one or two weeks — assuming you don’t smoke. But the “habit” of smoking can take longer to break — sometimes several months before nonsmoking seems completely normal. Medications such as nicotine replacement patches, gum and lozenges can help reduce nicotine cravings and make quitting easier.
Headshot of Dr. Thomas Brandon, Director, Tobacco Research & Intervention Program
Dr. Thomas Brandon, Director, Tobacco Research & Intervention Program

Researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center have also developed two smoking cessation interventions that were recently adopted by the National Cancer Institute. These evidence-based programs, available in English and Spanish, provide practical tips to help you get through the toughest months and stay smoke-free. The programs consist of a series of booklets and pamphlets that provide information and inspiration to aid smoking cessation.

“We used to have great success with in-person smoking cessation groups that would meet in the evenings, but those are not convenient for many people,” explained Dr. Thomas Brandon, director of Moffitt’s Tobacco Research & Intervention Program (TRIP). “So we transformed the content of our group counseling into written format contained in these ‘Stop Smoking for Good’ booklets to make them easily accessible to anyone.”

A few of the main messages contained in the booklets include:

1. Identify your withdrawal and habit triggers.

Think about the everyday situations where you used to smoke. These situations will be triggers for you. Stress and negative moods will also make you want to reach for a cigarette. Drinking coffee in the morning, sitting in traffic or talking on the phone are all common triggers. As you avoid smoking during these triggers, your urges will decrease.

2. Think ahead and plan for the urge.

Recognize when you will be in situations that will make you want to smoke. This could be a party, a time when you will be drinking alcohol or a meetup with a friend who smokes. Can you have candy or gum on hand to pop in your mouth instead of a cigarette? Will you be able to just take a step out of the situation if the urge gets overwhelming? Have a plan of action ready.

3. Cope with the urge.

There are many ways to beat the urge to smoke. Find the coping skills that work for you. Try to use both behavioral and mental coping skills when you have an urge to smoke.

For example, behavioral coping skills include:

  • Leave the situation.
  • Eat or chew something.
  • Use nicotine gum or another replacement product.
  • Keep your hands busy.
  • Talk to a supportive friend.
  • Take deep breaths.
  • Have a drink of water.
  • Take a shower.

Mental coping skills include:

  • Remind yourself why you are quitting.
  • Think of how far you’ve come.
  • Identify what is making you want to smoke now.
  • Think of how you beat urges in the past.
  • Remember that smoking won’t fix the problem.

The longer you go without a cigarette, the more the urge to smoke will fade. In the meantime, think about what your nonsmoking lifestyle looks like. Do you need better ways to cope with stress? Do you have enough fun in your life? Start making the big-picture changes you need to be successful.

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