How to quit
Tobacco users often say, “Don’t tell me why to quit, tell me how.” There’s no one right way to quit, but there are some things that can help you quit for good. The 4 key factors are:
- Make the decision to quit
- Pick a Quit Day and making a quit plan
- Deal with withdrawal
- Stay quit (maintenance)
Deciding to quit
Only you can decide you want to quit using tobacco. Others may want you to quit, but the real commitment must come from you.
Think about why you want to quit.
- Are you worried that you could get a tobacco-related disease?
- Do you really believe that the benefits of quitting outweigh the benefits of continuing to use tobacco?
- Do you know someone who has had health problems because of tobacco use?
- Are you ready to make a serious try at quitting?
List your reasons for quitting
Tobacco users have many reasons for wanting to quit. But what motivates you to quit may not be the same as what motivates others. Think about making a list of the reasons you want to quit — one you can review later if you’re feeling tempted. The list might include some or all of the following, but be sure to add your own reasons:
- I want to be healthier.
- I already have problems with my gums/teeth, and I don’t want them to get worse.
- I don’t want to spend my money on this.
- I can’t chew/dip at work/school.
- I want to be able to go to a movie/mall/ballgame without worrying about it.
- I want to prove I can do it.
- I don’t want it to control me.
- The people I care about don’t like it, and want me to quit.
- I want to set a good example for the kids.
If you are thinking about quitting, setting a date and deciding on a plan will move you to the next step.
Setting a quit date and making a plan
Once you’ve decided to quit, you’re ready to pick a quit date. This is a very important step. Pick a day in the next month as your Quit Day. Picking a date too far away gives you time to rationalize and change your mind. But you want to give yourself enough time to prepare and come up with a plan. You might choose a date that has a special meaning, like a birthday or anniversary, or the date of the American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout (the third Thursday in November each year). Or you might want to just pick a random date. Circle the date on your calendar. Make a strong, personal commitment to quit on that day.
Planning for your prescriptions
If you are thinking of using a prescription drug, you will need to talk with your doctor about getting it in time for your Quit Day. If you plan to use varenicline (Chantix) or bupropion (Zyban), you must start taking the drug a full week, or maybe even 2 weeks, before your Quit Day. Talk with your doctor about exactly when to start, and how to use the medicine. If you are using a prescription drug, put a note on your calendar to remind you to start taking it before your Quit Day.
Cutting down on how much you use
One way to do this is to cut down on the number of times or the amount you dip or chew each day. By doing this, you slowly reduce the amount of nicotine in your body. Try cutting back to half of your usual amount before you quit. If you usually carry your tin or pouch with you, try leaving it behind. Carry something else to put in your mouth instead.
Cutting back on when and where you use
You can also try cutting back on when and where you dip or chew. This gives you a chance to notice when your cravings are the worst. It helps you decide on a game plan if you know what triggers your cravings. Again, once you’ve decided not to use tobacco at a certain place, leave your pouch or tin at home when you go there. Try your substitutes instead. (See the section called “Some steps to help you prepare for your Quit Day.”)
Putting off using tobacco when you have a craving
Go as long as you can without giving into a craving. Start by trying for at least 10 minutes, then longer and longer as you near your Quit Day. Pick your 3 worst triggers and stop dipping or chewing at those times. This will be hard at first, but practice will make it easier.
Quitting tobacco is a lot like losing weight. It takes a strong commitment over a long time. Users may wish there were a magic bullet — a pill or method that would make quitting painless and easy. But there’s nothing like that. Nicotine substitutes can help reduce withdrawal symptoms, but they work best when used as part of a quitting plan that addresses the physical, mental, and emotional parts of quitting.
Some steps to help you prepare for your Quit Day
- Pick your Quit Day and mark it on your calendar.
- Tell friends, family, and co-workers about your Quit Day, and let them know how they can help.
- Get rid of all the tobacco in your home, car, and workplace the night before your Quit Day.
- Stock up on other things to put in your mouth — sugarless gum, carrot sticks, beef jerky, cinnamon sticks, and/or sugarless hard candy.
- Decide on a plan. Will you use nicotine replacement therapy or other medicines? Will you go to a class or program? If so, sign up now.
- Consider seeing your doctor or dentist. Have them check your mouth, and discuss your plan for quitting with them.
- Set up a support system. This could be a group program, Nicotine Anonymous, or friends or family members who have quit and are willing to help you.
- Ask family and friends who use tobacco not to use it around you or leave it out where you can see it.
- If you are using varenicline or bupropion, take your dose each day leading up to your Quit Day.
- Make a list of your “triggers” — situations, places, or feelings — that make you more likely to use tobacco. Being aware of these can help you avoid them or at least be ready for them.
- Think back to your other attempts to quit. Try to figure out what worked and what didn’t.
Successful quitting is a matter of planning and commitment, not luck. Decide now on your own plan. Some options include joining a tobacco cessation class, calling a cessation support line, going to support meetings, using nicotine replacement or other medicines, online support, and using self-help materials such as books and pamphlets. For the best chance of success, your plan should include 2 or more of these options.
On your Quit Day
- Don’t use tobacco of any kind. This means none, not even a pinch!
- Keep active — try walking, exercising, or doing other activities or hobbies.
- Keep substitutes handy to put in your mouth.
- Drink lots of water and juices.
- Begin using nicotine replacement if that’s your choice.
- Call a quit support line, go to a quit class, or follow your self-help plan.
- Avoid situations where the urge to dip or chew is strong.
- Avoid people who are using tobacco.
- Avoid alcohol. It can weaken your resolve to quit
- Think about how you can change your routine. Sit in a different chair at home, drive a new route to work, or choose foods and drinks that make tobacco taste bad.
Read on to find out more about the kinds of thoughts and temptations that come up when you try to quit, and ideas for ways to deal with or avoid them.
Dealing with withdrawal
Withdrawal from nicotine has 2 parts:
- Physical withdrawal
- Psychological or mental withdrawal
The physical withdrawal symptoms are annoying, but not life threatening. Still, if you’re not prepared for them, they can tempt you to go back to tobacco. Nicotine replacement and other medicines can help reduce many of these symptoms. Most users find that the bigger challenge is the mental and emotional part of quitting.
If you have been using tobacco for any length of time, it probably has become linked with many of your activities — watching TV; going to sporting events; fishing, camping, or hunting; or driving your car. It will take time to “un-link” tobacco use from these activities. This is one reason why, even if you are using the patch or gum, you may still have strong urges to use tobacco.
Rationalizations are sneaky
One way to deal with these urges or cravings is to recognize rationalizations as they come up. A rationalization is a mistaken thought that seems to make sense to you at the time, but isn’t based on reality. If you choose to believe such a thought, even for a short time, it can serve as a way to justify using tobacco. If you have tried to quit before, you’ll probably recognize some of these common rationalizations:
- “I’ll just use it to get through this rough spot.”
- “Today is not a good day; I’ll quit tomorrow.”
- “It’s my only vice.”
- “How bad is tobacco, really? Uncle Harry chewed all his life and he lived to be over 90.”
- “You’ve got to die of something.”
- “Life is no fun without chewing (or dipping).”
You probably can add more to the list. As you go through the first few days without tobacco, write down any rationalizations as they come up and recognize them for what they are: messages that can trick you into going back to using tobacco. Look out for them, because they always show up when you’re trying to quit. After you write down the thought, let it go from your mind. Be ready with a distraction, a plan of action, and other ways to re-direct your thoughts to something else.
Use these ideas to help you stay committed to quitting.
Avoid temptation: Stay away from people and places that tempt you to use tobacco. Later on you’ll be able to handle these with more confidence.
Change your habits: Switch to juices or water instead of alcohol or coffee. Take a different route to work. Take a brisk walk instead of a chew. Here are some more ideas:
- Choose other things for your mouth. Use substitutes like sunflower seeds, beef jerky, sugarless gum or hard candy, or raw vegetables such as carrot sticks. Take a sip or a bite of something that makes tobacco taste bad. You might want to try mint (non-tobacco) snuff or another herbal version if you need help with cravings.
- Get active. Exercise or do hobbies that keep you busy and require enough focus to distract you from the urge to use (such as woodworking, puzzles, and gardening).
- Deep breathing. If you feel the urge to use tobacco, relax, breathe deeply, and fill your mouth, nose, and lungs with fresh, clean air. Remind yourself of why you are quitting and the benefits you’ll gain.
- Delay. If you feel as if you’re on the verge of giving in, hold off. Tell yourself you must wait at least 10 minutes. Often this simple trick will get you past the strong urge to use tobacco.
Reward yourself: What you’re doing is not easy and you deserve a reward. Put the money you would have spent on tobacco in a jar every day and then buy yourself a weekly treat. Buy a magazine or some new music, go out to eat, start a new hobby, or join a gym. Or save the money for a major purchase.
You can also reward yourself in ways that don’t cost money: visit a park, go to the library, check local news listings for museums, community centers, and colleges that have free classes, exhibits, films, and other things to do.
Enjoy the new you: Make an appointment with your dentist to get your teeth cleaned and whitened. Take your spouse or partner out on a date. If you’re not in a relationship, start talking to someone you’d like to know better. You won’t have to worry about your tobacco-breath or brown teeth!
Staying quit is the final, longest, and most important stage of the process. You can use the same methods to stay quit as you did to help you through withdrawal. Plan ahead for those times when you may be tempted to use tobacco. Think about other ways to cope with these situations.
More dangerous, perhaps, are the unexpected strong desires to use tobacco that crop up months or even years after you’ve quit. Rationalizations can show up then, too. To get through these without relapse, try these:
- Review your reasons for quitting — look at your list and think of all the benefits to your health, your finances, and your family.
- Remind yourself that there’s no such thing as just one chew or dip.
- Ride out the desire. It will go away, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you can have just one dip or chew.
- Avoid alcohol. Drinking lowers your chance of success.
- If you’re worried about gaining weight, put some energy into planning a healthy diet and finding ways to exercise and stay active.
What if you slip and use tobacco after your Quit Day?
What if you do use tobacco? Here’s the difference between a slip and a relapse: a slip is a one-time mistake that’s quickly corrected. A relapse is going back to your former habit. You can use the slip as an excuse to go back to using tobacco, or you can look at what went wrong and renew your commitment to staying away from tobacco for good.
Even if you do relapse, try not to get too discouraged. Very few people are able to quit for good on the first try. In fact, it takes most people several tries before they quit for good. What’s important is figuring out what helped you in your attempt to quit and what worked against you. You can then use this information to make a stronger attempt at quitting the next time. Learn from your mistakes, and don’t give up!
Last Medical Review: 10/18/2012
Last Revised: 10/29/2012