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How these 4 people finally quit smoking for good

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We spoke with former smokers about how they finally kicked the habit. Here’s what you can learn from their experience.

Elizabeth Millard

By Elizabeth Millard

For some people, quitting smoking is as simple as flicking a switch. They go cold turkey and never look back. For others, though, it can seem like an uphill battle. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of cigarette smokers try to quit each year. That’s around 20 million people. Yet fewer than 1 in 10 succeed.

Still, the journey is anything but hopeless. It’s normal to need several tries before cutting ties with tobacco. (After all, nicotine changes how your brain works. Each hit leads to a release of the chemical dopamine, which plays a role in how we feel pleasure. That’s one reason it’s so addictive.) And remember, even small successes are wins. Maybe you learn that you do best when using nicotine replacement products such as patches, gums and sprays. Or each time you quit, you can go a little longer without a cigarette.

Having a breadth of options is crucial. Quitting smoking is personal, and what works for one person may not work for another. No matter what your strategy is, know that it’s worth the effort.

After just 20 minutes of not smoking, your heart rate and blood pressure drop, according to the American Cancer Society. Within a matter of weeks, your blood flow improves, and you’ll notice less coughing and shortness of breath. By the end of the first year, your risk of a heart attack plummets. And each year on, your risk also falls for smoking-related cancers, including lung cancer.

Need some more inspiration to kick the habit? Here are 3 strategies that helped real people overcome their addiction — and live happily smoke-free.

(If you’re taking a smoking cessation medication such as Chantix®, we want to help you save. Use this card for discounts of up to 80% on most prescription medications.)

Replace your bad habit with one that’s healthy

For Sarah Snyder, giving up a pack-a-day habit involved finding an activity that felt like the opposite: running. As she began to lace up and head out on a run, it became more difficult to keep smoking.

“One day I realized I couldn’t run as fast or as far as I wanted to because I couldn’t breathe efficiently,” says Snyder, who’s the CEO of the public relations firm Elite Connection Marketing. “I decided I was done with smoking, and that was it. I did have cravings, and I wanted to go back to smoking when I was stressed. But when they were difficult, I would go for a short run or walk. It was not always easy, but quitting was worth it.”

If running isn’t your groove, try another form of exercise for the same effect. For example, Colton Woodard decided to crumple up his cigarettes after taking a college biology course that highlighted the damage smoking does to his lungs. But the cravings were so intense that he started practicing martial arts to (literally) kick the habit.

“I made it a habit that every time I needed a smoke break, I’d practice sparring against the heavy bags,” says Woodard, who lives in Tallahassee, Florida. “I had to constantly remind myself that I was focusing on my health. After a while, I could tell my stamina had improved greatly.” The strategy worked so well that Woodard is now vice president of the National Karate Kobudo Federation.

Recommended reading: What ex-smokers need to know about preventing lung cancer.

Rebrand yourself as a nonsmoker

Home improvement expert Gian Moore of Seattle tried to quit numerous times with several methods, including acupuncture, hypnosis, books and gum. (She once quit for a whole year before going back.) But what worked best was going cold turkey. Moore believes that the mindset behind the method is what’s most important.

“You must change from being a smoker who is trying to quit to being a nonsmoker,” she says. “This is fundamental. As long as you regard yourself as a smoker, you will spend your time fighting the urge to return. If you think of yourself as a nonsmoker who smoked for a while, then it seems less daunting.”

Another shift that finally worked for her: not marking down the date she quit nor celebrating her quit anniversary. This runs contrary to common advice from experts, who suggest sticking to a date. But Moore found that having a “quit date” made the effort into an endurance test that felt like holding her breath underwater. Instead, she felt more like a nonsmoker by not focusing on how many days and weeks she was past her last cigarette.

Talk to a professional

Physical therapist Mitch Torres finally quit a 15-year smoking addiction by realizing that he needed to find ways to cope with situations that triggered his anxiety. Cigarettes had become his way to soothe those difficult feelings.

The resident of Alicante, Spain, found a therapist specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). According to the American Psychological Association, CBT has been shown to be effective for a range of problems, including addiction and anxiety disorders. (Here are our tips to find the right therapist for you.)

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“Through CBT, I learned how to identify the psychological situations that triggered a craving, from stressful interactions to plain boredom, and act on them differently,” says Torres, who’s with the knee health website Knee Force. “The main challenge was rewiring my brain to act differently in the presence of a trigger. That took patience, practicing and forgiving myself if and when I slipped.”

Before starting therapy, Torres had “tried every method under the sun without results.” After a year of CBT and 2 attempts to quit, he finally found lasting results. 

Bottom line: The road may be windy, but you are tougher than cigarettes. When in doubt, reach out to your doctor, therapist, loved ones and fellow nonsmokers for support. And if you need help affording your prescription medications, download our free coupon app. Here’s how it works.


Additional sources
Statistics on quit attempts:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Health benefits of quitting smoking over time: American Cancer Society
The benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy: American Psychological Association