The majority of smokers regret ever starting. With the festive season approaching, those who want to quit may think of putting it off until the new year. Right now is the time to focus on kicking the habit – you’ll feel much better by Christmas and be ready to kick off 2021 as a non-smoker,” says Dr. Sharon Nyatsanza of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), a #protectournext partner. She gives smokers some tips on quitting smoking and staying quit, during the holiday period.

The benefits of stopping smoking are immediate. Within a few days, your immune system gets stronger and the risk of heart attacks and strokes starts to reduce. But, like most important things, it is not always a walk in the park.

The draw of nicotine

Nicotine is a highly addictive drug, like cocaine and alcohol, and it is the main reason many smokers keep smoking. Cigarettes, cigars, snuff, hookah pipes, and e-cigarettes are harmful, but because they all contain nicotine, it can be hard to give them up. When you stop smoking you may feel uncomfortable, crave cigarettes, and experience nicotine withdrawal.

Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal differ from person to person and can include: anxiety, headaches, hunger, fatigue, trouble sleeping, and in some cases irritability, cravings, mood changes, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and influenza-like symptoms. The good news is that these symptoms do not last for long!

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms reach their worst in the first 3 days and last for about 14 days. In 3 – 4 weeks, you will start to feel better, and you should be completely comfortable after three months. Take it one day at a time because it gets better every day. Your body will adjust and learn to live without nicotine.

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You stand a better chance of successfully stopping smoking if you draw up a plan to prepare for nicotine withdrawal, especially during the holiday season. You may have an opportunity to spend more time with your loved ones, and also be out of your normal routine with all its smoking triggers.

Tips to make stopping smoking easier

1.     Know why you want to quit

Write down a list of the reasons why you want to stop smoking – be it for health, to save money, or to protect your loved ones. Put the list on your phone, stick it on your fridge, or anywhere you see it often. This will serve as a reminder and help you resist the urge to smoke and go on for another day.

2.     Commit to your quit date

Choose a quit date and commit to 21 smoke-free days, making solid plans on how to deal with cravings. Make it a day when you are not under too much stress, but do not delay it any longer. These 21 days give you a chance to develop healthy habits and stop smoking.

3.     Identify your smoking patterns

To stay away from smoking, it is also important to know when you smoke, which is also called the smoking pattern. Plan on how to avoid these situations and plan alternatives to smoking, like eating an apple or anything that distracts you.

4.     Have tools to deal with cravings

When the craving hits, delay the urge to light up until the craving goes away. Cravings usually last for about 15 – 20 minutes. Take walks around your home, talk to your supportive family or friends, or to ex-smokers. Try carrots and sugar-free gums, drink water, and keep yourself busy until the cravings go away. Read your quit motivations out loud. The trick is to delay and distract yourself until the craving to smoke passes.

5.     Skip the booze

Avoid smoking triggers. Many associate smoking with alcohol, so if this is you, try and keep to those virgin cocktails.

6.     Reward yourself!

To keep going also reward yourself – you deserve it. Every single day without a cigarette deserves a reward, and even bigger rewards if you go past the 2-week mark.

7.     Use the best cessation aids

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You can also consider using medication to help in stopping smoking. Pharmacists can guide you in choosing which smoking cessation medication to use. Smoking cessation medications that are approved as effective and safe include nicotine replacement therapies such as nicotine gums, patches, sprays and lozenges, which are available over-the-counter at most South African pharmacies. Other prescription drugs like varenicline are also available, all these work by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

It is important to note that e-cigarettes, also known as vaping products, are not approved as a smoking cessation aid. More research is needed on the effectiveness of the products for quitting smoking and to also better understand the health harms associated with use. Another concern is where tobacco users who switch to e-cigarettes end up using them for long periods or end up using both e-cigarettes and cigarettes (dual-use).To protect one’s health the ultimate goal should be to stop the use of e-cigarettes too. Growing evidence shows that these new diverse products are associated with health harms including increased risk of stroke, bronchitis, and cardiovascular diseases.

The bottom line

Remember that stopping smoking is hard, but not impossible, and worth it for the health benefits. Call the National Council against Smoking Quitline on 011 7203145 for support and more tips on how to stop smoking. Other #protectournext partners The Heart and Stroke Foundation and CANSA also have professional staff that can provide educational support during the challenging time you may face when trying to quit tobacco smoking. Call 084 2507374 for assistance.

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Guest Writer

This post has been curated by a Longevity Live editor for the website.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.