It’s been seven months since Jessica Thierren had a cigarette. The 29-year-old smoked for a decade of her life up until May 2016.
“In over 10 years, it went from a social thing to a habit. I was addicted to it and did it with certain things – wake up, have a coffee, have a smoke, break time at work, have a smoke, go out with friends for drinks, have a smoke,” she told Global News.
Her whole family smokes and so does her fiancé. But with a May 2017 wedding date looming, Thierren knew she wanted to make changes.
“I wanted to be healthier, start walking and running and eating better. Each week got easier because I didn’t feel like smoking, I didn’t feel like crap. It was nice not having to plan out when I’d be smoking next,” Thierren said.
January is a busy time for smokers’ hotlines across the country. Quitting smoking for good is always one of the top New Year’s resolutions for Canadians.
“We find here, it’s our busy season. A lot of people view as a time for a fresh start to make powerful changes in their lives,” Terri Schneider, a senior co-ordinator for the Smokers’ Helpline, told Global News.
The Smokers’ Helpline, operated by the Canadian Cancer Society, is offered across the country to Canadians, and for free.
Here, Schneider and Thierren offer their tips on how to quit smoking – and to make the switch last for good.
Carve out a realistic plan
What’s feasible for one person who’s been smoking for a year may not be realistic at all for another who’s relied on cigarettes for three decades, Schneider said.
Some people can pull off going cold turkey, but others are simply interested in cutting back.
“It all depends on the individual, how many years they’ve been smoking and how many times they’ve tried to quit in the past,” she explained.
“Someone may be smoking for 40 years and to simply say, ‘I’m going to stop today’ may not be a realistic goal. They need it to be realistic so they feel empowered and motivated,” she said.
People could try to quit smoking for 24 hours, learn from that experience and try it again a week later. They could also try cutting back from 40 cigarettes a day to 20.
WATCH: A look at tips on how you can quit smoking
Call the Smokers’ Helpline
Use the tools that are readily available to you, such as the Smokers’ Helpline. On your cigarette pack, there’s a provincial number that’ll guide you to regional resources. The helpline can be accessed over the phone, online or via text.
Coaches, most of whom are former smokers, offer advice around the clock to those who call in.
It’s a resource Thierren still turns to.
“We’d set a date for them to call me and it kept me accountable even though it was a complete stranger,” she said. The coach took notes from old talks and followed up – if Thierren said she was worried about an upcoming family camping trip because everyone smokes, the counsellor would follow up to see how she did.
Schneider said she fields calls from smokers who are starting to quit, months into the process and even years in. The coaches can relate because they quit at some point, too.
“It’s such a powerful addiction, so it’s helpful to find support in someone who has been through that journey and knows how challenging it is,” she said.
Rely on nicotine replacement therapy
There’s nicotine gum, the patch, sprays, lozenges, inhalers, and even prescription medication doled out by your doctor – these are tools that’ll ease the cravings and withdrawals you’ll initially grapple with.
The patch releases a steady dose of nicotine into the body, while gums, lozenges and inhalers can help with in-the-moment cravings, for example. They give you nicotine without all of the other chemicals that cause the harm.
“We strongly encourage people to explore these options. We know it’s much more effective than quitting cold turkey,” Schneider said.
Find a new habit
If you’re used to a smoke break to relieve stress during the workday or you smoke during a lunch break, you need to find new ways to channel your energy.
When Schneider talks to people calling in, and they’re dealing with a craving, she suggests they chew nicotine gum, take a walk, or start to prepare dinner to keep their hands and mind busy.
In Thierren’s case, she swapped her 15-minute smoke break with reading a book.
“I’d whip out a book and I’d be satisfied I didn’t give into my craving,” she said.
After work, she goes for a walk or jogs. Before, when she’d try to quit, she’d snack on junk food more. Getting into better shape was the other half of her goal before getting married. She’s lost 40 pounds since quitting in May.
Take advantage of rewards
Thierren won a $1,000 cash prize for quitting by a set date and taking part in a five-kilometre run in the Run To Quit program. There are handfuls of prizes up for grabs for quitting – another option is the First Week Challenge Contest.
If you quit smoking for the first seven days of the month, you could win $500.
You save plenty of money, too. Thierren said she saves at least $25 a week from not buying cigarettes.
After Thierren won $1,000, which paid for her wedding photographer, she ran another five-kilometre race.
WATCH: Cash incentives can help you quit smoking.
Create a positive environment
Cleaning up your home and workspace goes a long way, according to Thierren.
“The biggest challenge people often face is the exposure to stimuli,” she said.
Get rid of cigarettes and ashtrays around the house and in the car. Make sure there’s no indication of smoking that may prompt you to light a cigarette.
“Set up your environment to facilitate a clean start,” Thierren said.
Create a support network
While Thierren’s whole family smokes, she told them about her commitment so they’d keep the cigarettes and smoke away from her.
Thierren told Global News she told everyone she knows. That way, it’d be harder for her to go back to her old ways.
She also leaned on her fiancé and friends for support. Eventually her fiancé quit smoking, too. He gave up cigarettes in early November.
Finally, the Smokers’ Helpline coaches helped her identify her triggers and how to address them. The hardest part of quitting for Thierren is driving by the gas station without stopping for cigarettes. With some counselling, she’s able to run errands without second guessing.
If you fail, just try again
Quitting isn’t easy, but each time you do, you further your cause. If you make it a week, you’re nine times more likely to quit for good, according to research.
Thierren tried a handful of times until it finally stuck.
“You make the commitment but Saturday rolls around and you think you’ll just start again on Monday,” she said.
“It’s not super easy. There are lots of challenges, but I’ve never been more proud about doing something before,” she told Global News.
Read more about the Smokers’ Helpline.
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