Be a Quitter

Tips to tackle the cravings so you can kick the smoking habit for good

Kicking the cigarette habit is tough, as you or a loved one may know. As your body goes through nicotine withdrawal, your cigarette cravings — which last about five to 10 minutes — are at their strongest when you first quit. Here are a few tips to help you successfully conquer each one.

Change Your Routine

While you're trying to quit, avoid situations that make you want to smoke, and change your routine when a craving hits. If you enjoy smoking a cigarette after a meal, find something new to do immediately after eating. Maybe go for a short walk? See the next tip.

Walk It Off

Simply moving your body might help reduce the urge to smoke. Even short bursts of physical activity can help boost your energy and conquer a craving.

  • Get up and go for a quick walk or go up and down the stairs a few times.
  • If you can't leave the area, try jogging in place or do a few squats.
  • With your doctor's OK, 30 minutes or more of walking or working out at a gym can help fight cravings while giving you the health benefits of exercise.

Keep Your Hands and Mouth Busy

To help fill the void your hands and mouth might be feeling, try:

  • Holding a stress ball, rubber band or pen; keeping a coffee stir stick or straw in your mouth; knitting or working on a jigsaw puzzle
  • Drinking more water; refreshing your mouth with sugarless gum or hard candy; snacking on apple slices, carrots or celery sticks

Do Visual Tasks

Because people's cravings for things like food and cigarettes rely heavily on mental imagery, doing visual tasks of some kind have been shown to help disrupt the image of that cigarette or bag of chips. A study showed that playing the online puzzle game Tetris — a very visual task — reduced people's cravings (including those for cigarettes) by 24 percent.

Breathe … and Find New Ways to Relax

Some people smoke cigarettes to relieve stress. Finding new ways to relax will help you quit.

  • Breathe in deeply through your nose; hold it for five seconds, then exhale slowly through your mouth. Do it a few times until you're feeling relaxed.
  • Read a book. Listen to the soothing voice on an audiobook, or to music that relaxes you.
  • Try stretching and meditative exercises such as tai chi or yoga.

Keep Track With an App

There are several quit-smoking apps available for smartphones and tablets — here are a few free ones:

  • Quit Pro — This tool keeps track of every cigarette you smoke to learn your habits, mood, and the times of day and places you smoke. This can help you plot your quit strategy.
  • Quit Smoking — QuitNow! — This app provides a community where you can give and receive encouragement from other people who are trying to quit smoking.
  • Kwit — Anyone who likes games should give this app a try. As you progress, you advance to the next level, with 60 achievements to unlock.

Massage Your Ears and Hands

A two-minute massage of your ears or hands — microsystems that represent the whole body — can calm your mind and help reduce your nicotine craving. In one study, researchers found that when smokers gave themselves a two-minute massage of their ears or hands every day for a month, they smoked less.

For an ear massage, place your thumbs in the widest part of your ears and massage in circular motions. Massage the small inner crevices and the front of your ear where it attaches to your head. And don't forget your earlobes — massage them with circular motions and gentle pulls.

For your hands, massage your palm with your thumb, followed by a massage of the length of every finger.

Get Support

Support can help. In one group of people who met for six smoking cessation meetings to share their frustrations and triumphs, nearly 50 percent were successful quitters six months later.

Check with your doctor, or local chapters of the American Heart Association, American Lung Association and American Cancer Society for support group information. You can also call the National Cancer Institute's Smoking Quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT to talk with an expert at no cost.

Call Your Doctor

Talk to your doctor for advice if you're having trouble quitting. Nicotine replacement therapy is a potential treatment for some people. Check with your health plan to see if it will cover the treatment your doctor recommends.

If you've tried to quit smoking before with no luck, don't give up. Keep trying different approaches until you find what works for you. You've done hard things before — you can do this!

Read Clear the Air — It's the Great American Smokeout! in Conversation Corner to learn how your body starts to recover after your last cigarette.