Quit smoking. Image Credit: Getty Images

You’ve probably seen the graphic pictures of tar-filled blackened lungs and may be aware of the frightening statistics – that smoking claims nearly six million lives per year and is predicted to be responsible for eight million deaths annually by 2030.

You’ve no doubt heard that smokers are also at high risk of coronary heart disease, lung cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and strokes, effectively stubbing out on average eight years off their life.

But knowing all this you’re probably still about to light up – especially as you’ll want to quash any anxiety such bad health news will have triggered, and smokers associate that first puff with stress reduction.

With world No Smoking Day just around the corner on May 31, it’s shocking to learn that more than 600,000 non-smokers’ lives are lost after being exposed to second-hand smoke, according to a 2014 World Health Organization report.

There are more frightening statistics: tobacco smoke is said to contain more than 7,000 chemicals of which at least 250 – including hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide and ammonia – are known to be harmful to our health. Of those 250 at least 
69 are potential cancer-causing substances. Breathing in even a little smoke can be harmful, according to the US National Cancer Institute website. In the US alone, passive smoking is the cause of 34,000 deaths from heart disease and 7,300 deaths from lung cancer every year, a Centre for Diseases Control (CDC) report says.

Children in particular are at risk of second-hand smoke because their bodies are still growing and they breathe at a faster rate than adults. Bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma and a chronic cough are just some of the results of inhaling this smoke. Among women, smoking during pregnancy could lead to premature delivery, low birth weight, poor mental ability, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as cot death, and learning difficulties.

It should be enough to scare anyone into quitting but according to a recent survey conducted by the American Cancer Society, while more than 70 per cent of smokers asked said they would like to quit, just 7 per cent succeed the first time.

The good news is that those who quit smoking before the age of 30 have 90 per cent less chance of dying due to tobacco-related illnesses, while those who quit before the age of 50 have 50 per cent less chance. Once you’ve been smoke-free for 20 years, your risk of head and neck cancer is reduced to that of a non-smoker.

There are millions of people worldwide who are trying to give up smoking or using tobacco products every day. About 90 per cent of people who try to quit smoking go cold turkey – meaning they do not rely on any aid, medicine or therapy. But experts say the success rate for this is around just 7 per cent.

Other ways of quitting include seeking professional therapists’ help, nicotine replacement therapy, or a combination of 
the two, such as nicotine patches and counselling. The success rate for nicotine patches is around 26 per cent.

The market for anti-smoking products is a booming one – reports say it is worth $1 billion and is projected to touch $1.2 billion in two years. Although the failure rate for quitting smoking is also high, the health benefits are clearly too major to ignore.

Apart from an immediate reduction in the risk of lung and other cancers, quitting smoking can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and reduce the risk of infertility. Little wonder people want to stub out the habit. According to the CDC, since 2002 the number of former smokers has been greater than the number of current smokers. But how do they manage to stop?

‘One of the most common problems clients come to me with is learning how to stop smoking,’ says Russell Hemmings, a Friday expert. ‘Clearly, more people are wanting to kick this habit, realising the health benefits of being nicotine-free.’

The life coach and hypnotherapist says that very often smokers first lit up because of peer pressure. ‘You “learned” how to smoke, but now with the right kind of support you can “unlearn” it,’ he says.

‘Many smokers go through the motions of saying they want to give up, without really having a strong, focused belief that they can do it. Most smokers smoke because they enjoy it. The associations of pleasure they get from the experience temporarily negate all of those worrying realities. The fear of losing this is often at the heart of their habit.

‘Giving up smoking is about coming to terms with that loss, which is both physical and psychological. It’s also about confronting that deeply, but wrongly, ingrained fear that you won’t be able to cope day-to-day without cigarettes. They fear that it will be too difficult and that they will fail and be condemned to being a smoker for the rest of their life.’

Russell says quitting is all about being armed with the right equipment to get smokers through those all-important first 
few weeks when cravings hit hard.

Five steps to success

Pinning down your reasons for quitting in detail is the best way to kick-start the process, Russell says. Here are his top five tips for kicking the habit for good:

Make a positive affirmation

Rather than focusing on the negative aspects of continuing to smoke – ‘I just can’t give up because it’s a habit’ – think about the positive gains of quitting. For example, if you want to start a family, stopping smoking can both increase your chances of it happening and also ensure your child will be healthy and have a good life in a smoke-free home.

If you are already a parent, perhaps focus on how quitting will boost your ability to keep up with your children – you will not end up breathless in minutes while playing with him in a park. Also think of their future – children of parents who smoke are more likely to start themselves. So by giving up you might prevent them from starting.

Think about the aspects of smoking that you don’t like and then change them into a positive goal for you to aspire to. Once you have this, you have taken the first step on the road to doing something about it.

Accept it will be hard at first

Breaking any habit involves a short period of time when you are going to crave the thing you’re addicted to. No matter how you dress it up, that’s the truth, and so coming to terms with this before you start is also an important part of giving up. It helps to reframe the feeling of the craving into something positive. When it strikes in those first few days you must learn to embrace it and understand that the craving proves you are doing the right thing. That feeling of need will only last a short time and you’ll reap the rewards for the rest of your life.

In those first few days try to count the cravings and to make a record of how you feel when they hit. Not only is this a great way to distract yourself from reaching for a cigarette, it also provides you with a record of craving reduction.

On the first day you might have a craving every 10 minutes, but by day four it might be every hour and by day seven you might be down to a few times a day. This is motivating in itself. Focusing on the fact you have made a big decision to change builds confidence and will propel you forward.

Discard all reminders

Getting rid of any evidence that you were a smoker is also a good move. From throwing out spare packets of cigarettes and ashtrays, to getting rid of the smell of smoke from your home and your clothes reinforces that you’re starting a new phase in your life. Reminders are routes back to old habits so the more you can eliminate them from your life, the better.

Choose the right support

Having the right support around you is vital. Whether you choose to work with a life coach or medical professional, opt for nicotine patches or simply enlist your nearest and dearest as your cheerleaders, you must recruit the right people on your ‘no-smoking team’. Anyone who is not willing to help you is probably worth avoiding.

Beware of contextual situations you associate with smoking. If you always take a cigarette break at work at the same time with the same people, plan to do something else or choose to go with another friend who is a non-smoker. Spend time identifying exactly what these situations are and when and where they occur so you have a range of diversionary strategies that help you bypass potential obstacles to success that inevitably litter the path to being a non-smoker.

Visualise yourself and describe yourself to others – when the opportunity arises – as someone who doesn’t smoke as opposed 
to someone who’s trying to stop.

Cementing the future into the here and now helps to build stronger foundations upon which to make an aspiration a reality.

Reward yourself

Plan rewards for set milestones. 
This is a great encouragement. Treat yourself and your family to a staycation, for example, if you haven’t smoked for a month. Give this some thought as whatever you choose should be something that will give you a thrill and a sense of pleasure and enjoyment. Try to avoid linking rewards to food as this in itself can set up new unwelcome habits.

So if you’re thinking of making this year’s World No Tobacco Day your line in the sand, go for it. With a positive attitude, plus the right support and strategies at your fingertips, you’ll have a great chance of success.

<#comment> World No Tobacco Day, May 31, 2015