How to give up smoking in 6 weeks

Reader's Digest Editors 11 June 2022

Giving up smoking can feel like an impossible task, but don't give up hope! This handy guide will talk you through quitting cigarettes in six weeks

Smoking is the single worst thing you can do for your health. Fortunately, it's never too late to reap the benefits of quitting.

Most smokers who successfully quit do it cold turkey. The problem with quitting gradually is that it makes it harder to stop by lengthening the period of withdrawal. However, it isn't always realistic to stop all of a sudden. The following guide provides a six week plan for successfully giving up cigarettes.

The six week plan

The following plan is based on a quit date three weeks away. If the date you choose is sooner or later, you can adapt the program to suit your own time frame.

Week one: Take a look at your smoking habits

Start a smoking diary. Each day, every time you smoke, briefly record:

  • The time
  • What you're doing
  • Why you're using tobacco this time
  • How you feel afterwards

At the end of each day, review your smoking patterns. What triggers your tobacco use? Is it boredom, anger, fatigue, nervousness, or certain social situations? Look for other ways to cope with these feelings or circumstances.

Week two: Change some habits

Woman walking through nature

When you feel like smoking, go for a walk instead

Tell your friends, family and workmates your quit date. Ask them to help. Review your reasons for quitting at least once a day. Change your routines so it's less convenient to smoke:

  • Buy cigarettes by the packet, not the carton
  • Skip the afternoon coffee break (when you would normally smoke) and go for a walk or drink a glass of juice instead
  • If you normally smoke in the car, carry chewing gum or boiled sweets and reach for them instead
  • Stay away from smoky environments
  • Delay your first smoke of the day by an hour every three or four days

Aim to get your smoking down to less than a packet a day before your quit date. Your doctor might prescribe the antidepressant bupropion to help you accomplish this more easily. 

Week three: Start the countdown

When your quit date is approaching, remind everyone around you that the big day is nearly here. Continue to put off your first smoke of the day. Also:

  • Try going smoke-free for one day
  • Remove the lighter from your car
  • Confine your smoking to one room
  • Hold your cigarette in the other hand

The night before your quit date, soak your remaining cigarettes in water and throw them in the bin. Get rid of all ashtrays, lights and matches. Have your nicotine-replacement products or other aids ready. Before bedtime, review your reasons for quitting. Visualise yourself victorious over tobacco, smoke-free and healthy.

Week four: Your quit date

Take this week one day at a time. When you wake up, reread your reasons for quitting. Repeat to yourself: "I can do anything for one day". Record your feelings in your diary. Use your nicotine replacement or other aid as planned. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks, which can increase your desire for nicotine. Stay away from social situations that may cue your smoking habit.

Woman writing in journal

Review your reasons for quitting smoking

Remember, craving is a normal part of withdrawal. Each craving usually lasts just a few minutes. When you have the urge to smoke, take some deep breaths and then drink a glass of water or do some star jumps. Keep handy a pack of chewing gum, some carrot sticks or lollies to suck on. Your goal today: no tobacco.

"Visualise yourself victorious over tobacco, smoke-free and healthy"

You may feel restless and have trouble concentrating. Hate nicotine for that. If you have trouble sleeping, eat a few spoonfuls of yoghurt or drink a glass of warm milk before bed—they are soothing and satisfying, and may help you nod off.

Did you make it through the day? If so, great! And tomorrow will be easier. If you didn’t, don’t feel guilty; it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Quitting is a process, not a single event.

Week five: Hang in there

Enjoy the sharper sense of smell and taste you’ve acquired. If nicotine withdrawal still causes you problems sleeping, try deep-breathing exercises. When temptation rears its ugly head, go to places (like the cinema) where you’re not allowed to smoke. Get lots of exercise. Use the nicotine-replacement products or prescription drugs. Continue your diary.

"Remember, the only way to fail is to stop trying"

Before you go to bed each night, celebrate being free of the nicotine demon that day. When you wake up in the morning, take a deep breath and smell the air. You are already healthier than you were last week!

Week six: You're getting there

Continue with your plan—it’s working! Consider joining a gym. (Use the money you would have spent on tobacco.) Take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Notice the cleaner teeth, healthier skin, brighter hair.

Woman on treadmill

Join a gym with the money you're saving by not buying cigarettes

Beware of the subtle opportunities for relapse: an argument with your partner, a traffic jam, meeting that friend you haven’t seen in a while. Take it one day at a time. At the end of the week, celebrate your success, but keep your guard up. For some people it takes years to lose the craving for nicotine.

Common concerns

Worried about relapses?

Be prepared for possible relapses before you quit for good. Relapse usually occurs the first week after you quit, when withdrawal symptoms are at their peak. If it happens:

  • Stop what you're doing and throw out the cigarette or the cigar
  • Take a break; go for a walk or do something to boost your spirits, such as buying yourself a treat
  • You can do this—you've already proven it! Consider the tar and nicotine you spared your body and the expense you spared your wallet while you stopped
  • Review your reasons for quitting
  • Talk over your setback with a friend or professional, and devise a new strategy for coping with whatever triggered you to have a cigarette
  • Decide to return to your program—remember, the only way to fail is to stop trying

Worried about weight gain?

You're not necessarily going to gain weight when you give up tobacco; not everyone does. But the average smoker who quits gains 2-3.5kg, at least over the short term. Here's why:

First, nicotine suppresses your appetite. You simply don't feel like eating as much when you smoke. Second, like a pep pill, nicotine speeds up your metabolism, so you burn more kilojoules. Given the same amount of activity and the same diet, you burn 840 more kilojoules a day when you're using tobacco than when you're not.

"Remind yourself often that a few extra kilos are much less damaging to your health than smoking"

But you can burn those 840 extra kilojoules a day by increasing your activity level (even vacuuming for a half hour and doing some light gardening would do it). Or you could begin cutting back on high-kilojoule snacks (just 40g of potato chips equals about 840 kilojoules). 

Remind yourself often that a few extra kilos are much less damaging to your health than smoking. And 2-3.5kg are a lot less noticeable to other people than yellow teeth, bad breath, wrinkled skin and smelly clothes.

Woman smiling in the sun

You will feel so much healthier when you quit smoking

There is no magic trick to help you stop smoking. Quitting is a process, but the important thing is to keep at it, and you'll get there!

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