With the new year just days away, many smokers are resolving to kick the habit. New Year’s Day is the single most popular quit date of the year, says Thomas Glynn, director of cancer science and trends at the American Cancer Society. Many others pick days with special significance to them, such as an anniversary or a child’s birthday.
While giving up smoking is a notoriously difficult challenge, doctors say they know more than ever about what works and what doesn’t. And people have more choices today than ever about how to develop a “quit plan” that works, Glynn says. Developing a plan is essential, he says, given the strength of nicotine addiction.
Some choices are easy. Strategies to skip include acupuncture and hypnosis, which have never been shown to help people quit smoking, Glynn says. Another bad idea? Trying to quit on your own, without a plan, support, counseling or medication, says Bill Blatt, director of tobacco programs at the American Lung Association. Only about 5% of people who take this approach manage to quit long-term, staying smoke-free at least six months, Blatt says.
People can boost their odds of success by writing down their reasons for quitting, telling their friends and families about their plans, talking to their doctors and by thinking of ways to change daily routines that revolve around smoking, he says. People who normally smoke first thing in the morning, for example, may want to break the habit by jumping in the shower as soon as they wake up instead. Those accustomed to smoking after dinner may want to talk a walk outside.
Telling friends and families about a quit date helps people to enlist support – and patience. That can be key, given that a common side effect of nicotine withdrawal is irritability, Glynn says. “A lot of psychological research shows that when you make a public commitment, you are more likely to do it,” Glynn says. The lung association’s “Quitter in You” program offers guidance both for smokers and those who want to help a loved one quit.
Taking a Food and Drug Administration-approved medication can boost the odds of quitting to 20%, Blatt said. FDA-approved smoking cessation drugs include several available without a prescription. Among them: nicotine-replacement gum, lozenges and patches. Other products, such as faster-acting nasal sprays and inhalers, require a prescription. So do two drugs that help to reduce nicotine’s effects on the brain – varenicline, sold as Chantix, and bupropion, sold as Zyban – which can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.