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My Best Advice on Quitting Smoking

You need to recognize the cues and the rewards that you usually associate with smoking. 

If you want to stop smoking here’s the best advice that I could give you.  The first thing I would say is, smoking is actually not physically addictive for very long after you stop smoking.  So we know from studies that about 100 hours after your last cigarette, all of the nicotine is out of your bloodstream.  And once all the nicotine is out of your bloodstream you’re no longer physically addicted to cigarettes.  


Now that being said, you might be behaviorally addicted.  You might have these habits that have grown up around smoking.  So when someone who, two years after they gave up cigarettes, has a cup of coffee in the morning and has this urge to smoke with their cup of coffee, that’s not a physical addiction, that’s a habitual urge that’s reemerging and is making itself know.  So if you want to stop smoking, if we recognize that all you have to do is make it through the first 100 hours and you’ll not be physically addicted to nicotine anymore, what you need to do is you need to recognize the cues and the rewards that you usually associate with smoking.  

So, you probably, if you’re a smoker, have a cigarette every morning with a cup of coffee. And the reward that it delivers is probably this feeling of kind of; I don’t know, you know, stimulation.  Because the truth of the matter is, smoking and nicotine actually work.  Right? The reason why people smoke is because it makes you feel kind of pepped up.  So, in the morning when you’re having your cup of coffee, you need another routine that delivers that same reward.  If you used to drink decaf, you need to start drinking two shots of Espresso. You need something that is going to give you that sense of being pepped up, of energy, of whatever a cigarette used to provide.  And that will help you to change the behavior in this habit.  

Now, some people smoke, and maybe you smoke because it’s social.  Right?  Because when you’re at a bar, you don’t know what to do with your hands or it’s a convenient way to go outside and gossip with your colleagues in the middle of the day or it’s a way to take a break.  If that’s the reward that smoking is serving for you, you need to find a new routine that delivers that same reward.  So that could mean that during the middle of the day, you have a couple of friends that you take a walk with around the block and you’ve planned this in advance.  Or at a bar, you have something else to do with your hands.  But you can’t just say, “I’m gonna quit smoking.”  You have to figure out what the cue is and what the reward its delivering is and find a new routine to sort of shoehorn in.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

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