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How to Quit

The first step toward being tobacco free is deciding to quit. Now that you have decided, how do you do it?

Get more information from the American Cancer Society about making the decision to quit, setting a quit date and choosing a quit plan.

A Quit Plan is Central to Your Success

If you are quitting, it is important that you develop a Quit Plan that is tailored to your needs. Follow these steps to develop a Quit Plan just for you:

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Addiction to nicotine is a chronic, relapsing disorder. It may take you several attempts at quitting before you are able to permanently give up smoking. Rates of relapse are highest in the first few weeks and months and drop considerably after three months. By combining nicotine replacement and working on changing your behavior, you’re more likely to be successful.

Behavioral Treatment

Behavioral treatment includes psychological support and skills training to overcome situations that put you at high risk for using tobacco once you’ve quit. Behavioral treatment addresses your behavior over the long term – not the physical effects of quitting that are the result of nicotine addiction. Behavioral treatment can include social support, developing new behaviors, and using coping strategies. In conjunction with medication, this type of treatment has been proven to lead to the highest success rates for smokers attempting to quit.


Nicotine replacement products can double the chances of successfully quitting. The least withdrawal symptoms and greatest success comes with using some type of medical treatment to gradually reduce the use of nicotine, rather than quitting all at once, or going “cold turkey.”

Nicotine replacement therapy is the primary medication therapy currently used to treat nicotine addiction. It includes Nicotine Gum, Nicotine Patch, Nicotine Lozenge, Nicotine Inhaler and Nicotine Nasal Spray. Nicotine replacement products supply enough nicotine to prevent withdrawal symptoms and therefore prevent relapse while behavioral treatment is underway.

In addition to nicotine replacement, another medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help quit smoking is the antidepressant bupropion (Zyban). This drug helps control nicotine cravings in people trying to quit. The association between nicotine addiction and depression is not yet understood, but nicotine appears to have an antidepressant effect in some smokers. Paradoxically, though, bupropion is more effective for treating nicotine addiction in nondepressed smokers than in smokers who are depressed. Chantix, also called varenicline, is another prescription medication that can be used to help smokers quit.

If you have questions about these tobacco treatments, contact your healthcare provider or a Tobacco Treatment Specialist, or call the Maine Tobacco HelpLine.

Alternative Treatments

There are many different products advertised to aid in quitting smoking. Many have not been proven to be effective, and others may even be dangerous. Consumers are advised to focus their energy and resources on use of products which have been safety-tested and proven to be effective.

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Pack Tracks

Smoking cigarettes often entails a great deal of unconscious smoking. You may find that you often smoke automatically without fully realizing what you are doing or how you are feeling. This version of Pack Tracks was developed by the American Lung Association and is a useful tool to help you better understand – or bring to consciousness – your smoking behavior.

Smokers can slip the Pack Tracks sheet into the space between their pack of cigarettes and the cellophane wrapper, and fill out the form each time they light a cigarette. Pack Tracks can be used for a week or even just for one day.

Start using Pack Tracks.

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Managing Withdrawal

Managing withdrawal is part of the quitting process. If you have been a regular smoker and suddenly stop using tobacco, you’ll have withdrawal symptoms due to the lack of nicotine. These symptoms can put you at risk of starting smoking again in order to boost blood levels of nicotine back to a level where there are no symptoms. Symptoms usually start within a few hours of the last cigarette and peak about two to three days later. They can last for a few days to up to several weeks.

Withdrawal is both physical and mental. Physically, the body reacts to the absence of nicotine. Mentally, the smoker is faced with giving up a habit, which calls for a major change in behavior. Both must be addressed in order for the quitting process to work.

Physical Symptoms of Withdrawal

The physical symptoms of withdrawal, while annoying, are not life-threatening. Nicotine replacement can help reduce many of these physical symptoms:

Mental Symptoms of Withdrawal

Most smokers find that the bigger challenge is the mental part of quitting. If you have been smoking for any length of time, smoking has become linked with nearly everything you do – waking up in the morning, eating, reading, watching TV, and drinking coffee. It will take time to un-link smoking from these activities. That’s why, even if you are using a nicotine replacement, you may still have strong urges to smoke.

Identifying rationalizations. A rationalization is a mistaken belief that seems to make sense at the time but is not based on facts. If you have tried to quit before, you will probably recognize many of these common rationalizations:

As you go through the first few days without smoking, write down any rationalizations as they come up and recognize them for what they are: messages that can trap you into going back to smoking. To overcome urges and cravings, it can help to remember your list of reasons why you quit and remember that cravings don’t last.

You can also use some of these tips to get through these challenging times when urges kick in:

Avoid temptation. Stay away from people and places where you are tempted to smoke. Later on, you’ll be able to handle these with more confidence.

Change your habits. Switch to juices or water instead of alcohol or coffee. Take a different route to work. Take a brisk walk instead of a coffee break.

Alternatives. Use oral substitutes such as sugarless gum or hard candy, raw vegetables such as carrot sticks or sunflower seeds.

Activities. Do something to reduce your stress. Exercise, or do hobbies that keep your hands busy, such as needlework or woodworking, which can help distract you from the urge to smoke. Take a hot bath, exercise, or read a book.

Deep breathing. When you were smoking, you breathed deeply as you inhaled the smoke. When the urge strikes now, breathe deeply and picture your lungs filling with fresh, clean air. Remind yourself of your reasons for quitting and the benefits you’ll gain as an ex-smoker.

Delay. If you feel that you are about to light up, delay. Tell yourself you must wait at least 10 minutes. Often this simple trick will allow you to move beyond the strong urge to smoke.

Reward yourself. What you’re doing is not easy, so you deserve a reward. Put the money you would have spent on tobacco in a jar every day and then buy yourself a weekly treat. Buy a magazine, go out to eat, call a friend long-distance. Or save the money for a major purchase. You can also reward yourself in ways that don’t cost money: visit a park or the library, develop a new hobby, or take a yoga class.

Resources for Coping with Withdrawal

Find Coping Skills like managing cravings, redirecting and creating positive actions, and get information about common Triggers and Solutions.

Download the Withdrawal Symptoms Worksheet. It will tell you why certain symptoms occur and what to do about them.

Read Guide to Quitting Smoking from the American Cancer Society.

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