10 tips for breaking your smoking habit and staying on track

Image of Sarah Deedat, Bupa UK Head of Behavioural Insights
Head of Behavioural Insights at Bupa UK
28 August 2019
Next review due August 2022

Want to follow through on your resolution to quit smoking? We all know the many reasons for living smoke-free — most of them are related to our health and quality of life. Yet, smoking remains the leading cause of preventable illness in England today. And, despite knowing the harmful effects of smoking and wanting to quit, many people find it an incredibly hard habit to kick.

Common psychological barriers to quitting

As well as being physically addictive, the dependence is also psychological. Habits such as smoking can be so hard to break because they’re triggered in response to certain cues that people do in their daily lives. For example, the temptation to smoke might come with having a morning coffee, meeting friends in the pub or feeling stressed.

But the good news is that lots of people do successfully quit by addressing the habits and routines that go along with their addiction. There’s also clear evidence to show that combining behavioural support with stop smoking aids (such as e-cigarettes and prescription medication) can greatly increase your chances of success.

Here are 10 science-backed tips to help you kick the habit once and for all.

1. Choose your quit method

You’re much less likely to be able to quit through willpower and motivation alone. Stopping smoking can be more effective if you choose your quit method and then establish a social support network to help you. There are several different options to choose from. For example, joining a local NHS stop smoking service, and using nicotine replacement therapy, such as e-cigarettes, are just a few of the many treatments available.

2. Set a quit date

Decide exactly when you want to stop. Why not pick a date to stop smoking altogether and commit to it? Experts recommend having a goal in place because it gives you something to both work towards and aim for, meaning you can put a plan in place.

3. Establish your social support

Tell friends, family and colleagues that you’re planning to quit and ask for their support. Get social support from healthcare professionals too — like your local stop smoking service. You’re up to four times more likely to stop with their help.

4. Identify your triggers

Cravings are often set off by factors like stress, drinking with friends or seeing other people smoking. Your brain will have made associations with cues in your environment. So working out what your triggers are will help you to know what to avoid. Is it a time of day, a place or an emotion?

5. Manage your environment

One of the best ways to kick a habit is to structure your environment and routine away from this habit. Could you remove all ashtrays, cigarettes and lighters from your house, making it a smoke-free zone?

Stopping smoking

Kirstin talks to us about how she managed to stop smoking

6. Expect urges to smoke

Don’t expect it to be easy. There’ll be times when you have strong cravings, especially in the first few days. Anticipate how you’ll deal with these urges when they arise by thinking through some five-minute activities you can do. Whether it’s a brisk walk, seeking some motivational words from a friend or playing a distracting game — it’s much better to focus on something else. This helps you to avoid sitting and waiting for the craving to pass.

7. Replace smoking with different healthier behaviours

One study suggests that people often relapsed because they felt that giving up resulted in a loss of identity, especially if it involved giving up their social groups. When people quit smoking what they’re doing is trying to establish a new identity. So try taking up a new social behaviour to fill the gap. Perhaps you could go from being a smoker to going for a walk, baking, reading or having a swim?

8. Focus on the financial and health benefits

We all know that smoking can be expensive — think about all the things that you could put that money towards instead? Regularly rewarding yourself for key milestones may also help you to stay on track. Or try using ‘better health’ as a key incentive. Experiencing an improvement in your sense of taste and smell and your appearance could be a key incentive in helping to keep you motivated.

9. Practise self-compassion

It’s normal to slip-up when you’re trying to change a habit. Thinking positively will make it easier to get back on track. Spend a bit of time reflecting on what the experience taught you and how you could manage that better next time.

10. Track habits with an app

Why not try using an app to help you give up smoking and stay on track? There are several free apps online that use evidence-based techniques to help people become and stay smoke free. An example is the Smoke Free app, which tracks how much you’re smoking, and gives you tips for managing nicotine cravings and tracking your overall progress.

Other ways to stop smoking

Giving up smoking is hard, and the important thing is finding a method that suits you. There are lots of other recommended treatments, with evidence to show that they’ve successfully helped people to quit smoking. These include:

  • Stop smoking services. This type of service provides either one-to-one or group support, and can really increase your chances of success.
  • Medicines such as nicotine replacement therapy (NCT), varenicline (Champix®) or bupropion hydrochloride (Zyban®) which have helped people to quit smoking.
  • Switching to vaping (using e-cigarettes) to help you quit. It’s much less harmful than continuing to smoke tobacco cigarettes and can help you to quit.

So, if you’re not successful with the first method that you try, don’t give up. You may just need to try a combination of treatments to find the ones that work best for you.

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Image of Sarah Deedat, Bupa UK Head of Behavioural Insights
Sarah Deedat
Head of Behavioural Insights at Bupa UK

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