How to quit smoking

| August 17, 2020

It is well established that smoking is detrimental to your health.

Fortunately, there is also evidence that once someone does quit, the benefits are plentiful. Heart rate and blood pressure drop, risk of diabetes goes down, cancer and stroke risk decrease, and lung functioning improves. Better lung functioning is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the virus attacks the respiratory system.

Quitting smoking can be really challenging. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances, and most people try at least a few times before quitting for good.

If you are ready to cut cigarettes out of your life, here are some tips to support your efforts:

  1. Keep a smoking diary. Before you quit, keep track of your smoking. Take note of when you feel the biggest pull to smoke. Is it part of your daily routine? Where are you when you smoke? Who are you with? What is your mood? Being aware of your triggers will help you prepare to manage moments that might make you want to smoke. This could look like avoiding the trigger (even temporarily), replacing it with something new, or creating a plan for what to do in that setting when you might feel a desire to smoke.
  2. Pick a quit day. Give yourself enough time to prepare by building confidence and skills to avoid smoking. Keep your date within one to two weeks. It should be close enough that you don’t lose motivation.
  3. Cut down. There are two main ways to try to quit smoking. The first is to quit “cold turkey” or go from regular use to none. While this technique does work for some people, it can result in greater withdrawal symptoms. The second way is to gradually reduce the number of cigarettes smoked each day, and even how many puffs are being inhaled from each cigarette. This approach helps to remove nicotine more slowly from the body. Keep track of how much you are smoking in your smoking diary described above.
  4. Pick a new behavior for when cravings pop up. Replace smoking with other actions that take a similarly short amount of time, like:
    • Chew a stick of gum.
    • Brush your teeth.
    • Take a walk.
    • Text a supportive friend.
  5. Use other stress reduction strategies. Many people smoke when they feel anxious or stressed. It will be helpful to have a plan for coping with potential triggers. The O’Connor Rec Center (Homewood and Peabody) and Cooley Center (East Baltimore) are offering free streaming fitness classes that are available to all Hopkins affiliates. The Calm app is available for free to all Hopkins affiliates and helps with stress and sleep. The SilverCloud platform, available to all full-time students, also helps build skills for managing stressors.
  6. Remind yourself of the benefits of not smoking. What is motivating you to quit in the first place? Write down all the reasons you want to quit and refer to them when you are experiencing moments of doubt, like:
    • Long-term health benefits (reducing chronic disease risk).
    • Short-term health benefits (easier breathing and less coughing).
    • Saving money.
    • Better sense of taste.
    • Brighter skin and teeth.
  7. Celebrate small wins. The first two weeks after quitting are the hardest. Congratulate yourself for every small milestone to stay motivated. Did you go one day without smoking? Amazing! Can you feel yourself breathing easier after climbing stairs? Give yourself a pat on the back!
  8. Ask for help. Find friends who will cheer you on. Students can also schedule an appointment with a health educator for a one-on-one consultation to build a quit plan. You can also reach out for professional mental health support from the Office of Mental Health Services or TimelyMD.
  9. Try, try again. A slip is having one or two cigarettes after quitting. Remind yourself of all the reasons you do not want to smoke and double down on your strategies to stay smoke free. This is just a temporary setback. Relapsing is when someone returns to regular smoking. Even if you have relapsed, you can try to quit again. The benefits are worth all of your efforts.
  10. Use all available resources. Your doctor may be able to support your decision to quit by offering temporary nicotine replacement options. The Maryland Quitline (1-800-QUITNOW) is a free resource that can help people in Maryland quit any type of tobacco use. There are coaches available to consult with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers are also eligible to receive 12 weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy. If you are currently residing outside of Maryland, check with your doctor or local health department for similar services.

Hopkins Resources

  • Calm app. Guided meditations and sleep tools.
  • SilverCloud platform. Online, confidential mental health resource.
  • Office of Mental Health Services.
  • TimelyMD. Scheduled virtual counseling sessions and a 24/7 on-demand mental telehealth line staffed by mental health professionals.

Community Resources

  • CDC Quit Line. Call for support. 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
  • Maryland Quitline. Counseling in English, Spanish, and other languages.
  • Tools and tips to help quit.