Tips for how to quit smoking

Quitting smoking or vaping can be one of the hardest things you will ever do and for most people, it will not take only one try. It’s likely you will feel physical symptoms of withdrawal, cravings, and changes to your mood. But, with the right strategies, preparation and a strong support system of people who understand your new challenges, it is possible to quit for good and live a longer and healthier life.

Efram Turchick knows first-hand the great challenge people are taking on when they start their journey to quit. He has seen his own family and friends experience the long-term effects of smoking and has been a quit coach for the Smokers' Helpline for over 12 years. We asked Efram some questions about how someone can improve their chances of successfully quitting smoking or vaping. 

Efram Turchick
Efram Turchick

1. What do you consider when you help someone create a quit plan through the Smokers' Helpline?

We hit on five basic points when we make a quit plan with clients. Research shows that covering these points greatly increases the chances of someone quitting for good.

One is making sure they have support. Join Smokers' Helpline and sign up for texts that let you chat with a live quit coach. Or participate in the community chat forums. Our booklet Help someone quit can help friends, family or co-workers know more about how they can support you.

It’s also important to have a plan and a timeline in place. If someone has a quit date, then their chances of successfully quitting tend to be higher. So, we encourage them to think about what they want their quit date to be.

If someone smokes 10 or more cigarettes a day, using a quit aid has been found to double someone’s chances of success versus quitting cold turkey. There are many quit aids that are approved by Health Canada. Whether it is nicotine replacement therapies or medications, we can help explore those options.

Also, if possible, don’t have cigarettes around while quitting. Make sure you're not sitting there and staring at your pack of cigarettes still once you’ve started your quit journey.

The last thing is having ways of handling the cravings. For example, if you know you smoke during your work breaks, think about what else you might do during those breaks instead.

2. How can you change your home environment to help you resist the urge to smoke?

Set some boundaries and change where you smoke. Before you quit, say to yourself, “Maybe I'll only smoke outside now.” If you smoke in your car, maybe make your car off-limits to smoking.

Find ways to make smoking less comfortable. For example, if you have a nice comfortable chair that you smoke in on your patio, maybe take that chair away. Put something less comfortable in its place. This sends a message to the brain that you are making changes to your smoking and that it’s not business as usual anymore.

3. What are the most common challenges people face when quitting?

Nicotine cravings and withdrawals, especially if someone typically smokes more than 10 cigarettes a day and are quitting cold turkey. Cravings and withdrawals usually peak in the first three to five days. A lot of people don't know that it will get easier if they just get over that hump. They might get to day three, say it's too much and go back to smoking without thinking that maybe the next day is going to get better.

It's important for people to remind themselves that they're healing, and that withdrawals mean they are getting free from smoking or vaping. Though it’s not easy, it’s temporary and again, the worst of it is usually within the first week.

4. What can people do to stay motivated on their journey to quit smoking or vaping?

We definitely encourage people to give themselves rewards and not to say “I'm going to wait until I've quit for a year, then I'll celebrate.” We encourage people to do that sooner, especially in that first week. Maybe do something nice for yourself every day that you're smoke-free like buy some fresh flowers, download some music or watch your favourite movie.

If you register on the Smokers’ Helpline website, your profile updates to show how much money you’ve saved since you started your journey to quit. That can be a great motivator as well! We also like to encourage people to think about the benefits that they're experiencing.  As time goes by, you might realize you can breathe better, you smell better, cough less and have a healthier glow.

Putting out cigarette in an ashtray.

5. How can someone’s family or friends help them quit smoking or vaping?

One thing is to be patient. It's very normal for someone to quit for a few days and then go back to smoking or vaping again. And that doesn't mean that they have failed. It just means that they're learning how to do this. It's normal to have two steps forward, one step back when someone is working on quitting.

If you want to support someone, we encourage you to ask them how they like to be supported and to listen to what they say.

If you smoke or vape yourself, generally it helps not to smoke or vape around that person who's trying to quit, or to offer them a cigarette or vape (even if you think it might help). 

6. What strategies can people use to help them recognize their triggers to want to smoke or vape?

Keeping a log of times when and why you smoked or vaped can help. Because for many people, smoking or vaping can become almost automatic. They might not even realize that they are doing it, like when starting their car. Other people may smoke when they're stressed or feeling other emotions. It is unique to every person and situation. Try doing this for a couple of days or a week - however long you find it helpful. Sometimes, people also add how strong the craving was on a scale of 1 to 5.

It can also help to do a practice quit. You could try quitting for a day, just to see what makes you want to smoke and how you can handle your cravings. Some feel like setting a quit date makes them feel anxious. Doing a practice quit can make the whole thing feel less intimidating.

7. What strategies would you recommend to someone to help them resist the urge to smoke or vape?

There is something that we recommend. It's a framework, called the 4 D's. The 4 D’s are “delay,” “distract,” “deep breathing” and “drinking water.”

Delaying is based on research that shows that for most people who smoke, a craving comes and goes within about 5 minutes.So just giving yourself that information, you can say “Hey, I'm just going to wait for 5 minutes and let this pass.”

Distracting works well when you’re delaying, so rather than just sitting there, find something else to do. Hobbies for example can keep your hands and brain busy.

And then drinking water gives you something else to reach for and bring to your lips.

Deep breathing is also great for if you're feeling like you want to smoke because of stress.

Person writing in a journal.

8. How can your doctor or medical team help you quit smoking or vaping?

It’s important for doctors to have conversations with their patients about smoking or vaping. The doctor can tell them of their concerns and encourage them to take steps towards quitting. They can also inform them about quit aid options and if they would be good candidates for medications or nicotine replacement therapy.

A lot of people find it's motivational to quit or cut down if they have an appointment coming up with their doctor. People I have worked with would say “I want to quit before that appointment” - so just having that motivation of follow-up appointments helps them to progress.

9. What advice would you give to someone who relapses and ends up smoking or vaping again?

The best advice is just to keep trying. Every time you make a quit attempt, it brings you one step closer to being able to quit for good. If you quit for a couple days, don't think of it as a failure. You’re simply learning how to do this.

So, recognizing that slips are normal and relapses are normal. Recognize this is a learning process. Give yourself some positive self-talk. Instead of “I'm a failure,” say, “Hey, you know, I made it 24 hours without smoking, or I made it an afternoon without vaping.”

Calculate how many times you said no to smoking. Recognize the inner strength you have. It takes a lot of courage to ask for help. Just making that first step already shows great strength to want to change your actions toward a healthier life.

We're here to support you

If you are at the beginning of your quit journey, please remember that it gets easier over time and there may never be a "perfect" time to quit. Quitting smoking is a learning experience and healing process. And even though we can give you advice on how to quit, everyone is unique. Reach out to a quit coach to start your own personalized quit plan.