Quit now, rather than later
Smokers who try to gradually taper down the amount they smoke are less likely to quit than those who do so abruptly. “The problem with quitting smoking is it’s something you can always do tomorrow,” says Paul Aveyard, a professor of behavioural medicine at the University of Oxford. “Committing to a day, and making that the day, is the key to success.” This is because of the way the brain learns and unlearns patterns of addiction. “The urges to smoke can be unlearned, providing you never have a cigarette at those moments of temptation,” he says. “So having a sneaky one now and again is just going to prolong the agony.”
Don’t be afraid of nicotine
The NHS recommends that a combination of nicotine replacement therapies – such as a nicotine patch along with faster acting forms, such as gum or nasal spray – is far more effective than relying on a single therapy. Many smokers don’t use as much nicotine as they should when trying to quit, says Leonie Brose, of King’s College London’s National Addiction Centre. “The general thing is not to be afraid of nicotine replacements. A patch is a good baseline, but you also need something that acts quickly when you get a craving.”
If nicotine patches don’t work, e-cigarettes are definitely worth a try. A recent study found them to be almost twice as effective at helping smokers quit. “There’s that behavioural component, which some other medications for stopping smoking don’t have,” says Nicola Lindson, a behavioural medicine researcher at the University of Oxford. “Vaping gives people something to do with their hands and can help with the social element of smoking, too. We do still need more data on the safety of e-cigarettes, but we are pretty certain that they’re a lot less bad for your health than smoking.”
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines emphasise that behavioural support, not just pharmacotherapies, is crucial to successfully quitting smoking. Whether this comes in the form of family or friends, or counselling from your local Stop Smoking service, this can help give smokers a motivation to quit.
Every smoker has triggers that make them crave a cigarette. Aveyard says changing your daily routine to avoid those temptations is important in the early stages of quitting. “People usually smoke in a very stereotyped manner, at particular times. If you can break those routines, then you will reduce the chances of giving in to temptation and allow your brain to recover.”