Ask Asad: I’m a 16-year-old smoker – how do I quit? – The Express Tribune

At first, it was one cigare­tte per week but as of now, it is four cigare­ttes per day

CREATIVE: AAMIR KHAN

CREATIVE: AAMIR KHAN

Dear Asad,

I’m a 16-year-old boy and I smoke regularly. I started back in October 2015. At first, it was one cigarette per week but as of now, it is four per day.

I find it extremely difficult to quit. What should I do?

Smoker

Dear Smoker,

The first step towards self-betterment is to realise that we are doing something that is wrong or harmful and that we shouldn’t be doing it. Till we do that, it becomes nearly impossible to ditch any bad habits. Thankfully, you realise that smoking is an extremely harmful addiction and are ready to take steps to give it up. Kudos for that.

Next, please understand that giving up smoking won’t be an easy task. Nicotine is incredibly addictive and therefore quitting smoking is a difficult process, which will take time, commitment, determination and strong willpower. There will be days which will seem like hell but if you are serious about quitting smoking, you will prevail.

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Before we go into detail as to how to quit smoking, let me first highlight some of the negative effects of smoking. Smoking can lead to:

  • Blood clotting
  • Brain damage
  • Bronchitis
  • Cancer
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Coughing
  • Colds, wheezing and asthma
  • Diabetes complications
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Infertility
  • Poor vision
  • Smelly hair
  • Stained teeth and fingers
  • Weak and brittle bones
  • Wrinkly skin

There are multiple strategies for breaking your addiction to smoking, such as:

1. Determine why you want to quit

Make a list of all the reasons why you want to quit. For example, your list might say something like: I want to quit smoking so I can play sports, have more energy, be healthy or save money.

This will help you become clear about your decision to quit. This way, when abstaining becomes difficult you can be clear about your very important reasons to quit.

2. Be prepared for nicotine-withdrawal symptoms

Cigarettes are highly effective at delivering nicotine throughout your body. When you stop smoking, you might experience increased cravings, anxiety, depression, headaches, feeling tense or restless, increased appetite and weight gain, and problems concentrating.

Realise that it may take more than one attempt to stop smoking. Only 5% of users are able to quit during their first attempt.

3. Record your thoughts and feelings

Keep a journal where you record your thoughts and feelings throughout the process. Make a plan to write in the journal at least once a day so you feel more in touch with how your mind and body are feeling.

4. Choose a date for when your plan will start

Choose a date to quit and stick with it. Committing to a start date adds structure to your plan. For example, you might choose an important day such as a birthday or holiday, or just pick a date you like.

Pick a time of your week or month that will be the most stress-free, where you will be less likely to break down and want a cigarette.

Make it far enough in the future that you have to prepare but not so far that you lose interest – try giving yourself two weeks. A firm deadline for stopping will help you mentally prepare and give you a concrete timeline. Adhering to a strict regimen is essential to sticking with your plan and overcoming your dependence.

5. Pick a method

Decide which method you would want to use, like quitting cold turkey, or slowing/reducing your use. Quitting cold turkey means that you completely stop smoking without looking back. Reducing your use means smoking less and less until you have stopped. If you pick reducing your means, be specific about when and by how much you will reduce your use. For example, it might be simple like saying, “I will reduce my use by one cigarette every two days”.

6. Prepare for cravings

Have a plan in advance for when cravings strike. Have a replacement to fulfil this need. Try snacking on low-calorie snacks, like raisins, popcorn, or pretzels, when this urge comes up.

You might try exercising to combat cravings. Go for a walk, play sports, or do some yoga. You might also try to control your impulses by squeezing a stress ball or chewing gum when cravings hit.

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7. Prepare your surroundings before quitting

Freshen and clean your home and all smoking areas. Wash your bedding and clothes to get rid of cigarette smells. You should also get rid of any ashtrays, cigarettes and lighters from your house. Make sure to get plenty of sleep, since this will help lower your stress.

8. Ask for support

You will feel much more at ease if you don’t feel so alone in your decision to quit smoking. Your family and friends can be extra support in your cessation journey. Let them know your goal and ask them to help you by not smoking around you or offering you a cigarette. You can also ask for their encouragement and to remind you of your specific goals when temptation is difficult.

9. Know your triggers

Many people find that certain situations trigger the desire to smoke. You might want a cigarette with your cup of coffee, for instance, or you might want to smoke when you are trying to study. Once you know your trigger points, it’s important to avoid any situations that will lead you to a relapse, or which will make it almost impossible for you to do anything but think about smoking.

Identify places where it may be difficult not to smoke and have a plan of what you will do in those specific places. For example, you should have an automatic response for a cigarette offer: “No thank you, but I will have another tea” or “No! I am trying to quit.”

Try to avoid hanging out with other smokers as much as you can. If one of your best friends is a smoker, just have a serious conversation about it, and try to minimise your time around the friend when he is actually smoking.

10. Manage your stress

Stress can be a pitfall when trying to quit smoking. If you manage your stress, you will be much less likely to keep smoking. You may even be using smoking as a coping mechanism to deal with stress, so it’s important to find other ways of dealing with your stress so you are not tempted to relapse.

Here are some great ways to manage your stress so your mind feels sound while you are trying to quit:

Do activities that calm you down. Try meditation, yoga, taking long walks, or listening to soothing music before bed.

Get lots of rest. You will feel much more capable of dealing with stressful situations if you go to bed and wake up around the same time every day, and give your body enough time to sleep.

11. Be physically active

If you want to quit smoking, you have to keep your body active so that you have less time to think about indulging in a craving. Keeping your body active will not only make you healthy but will help you replace your smoking routine with beneficial routines.

Keep your hands busy. Squeeze a stress-relieving ball, doodle, play with your phone, or find another way to keep your hands busy so you don’t end up reaching for a cigarette.

Get some exercise. If you don’t have an exercise routine, pick one up. Working out for just 30 minutes a day can make your body and mind feel more fit and relaxed.

Go for walks. This is a great thing to do, especially when you have a craving.

12. Be socially active

If you are trying to quit smoking, it’s not the time to hole up alone in your room, or you will find it much harder to keep your mind off of having another cigarette. Take this as an opportunity to spend more time with your friends and family, and you will not only be distracted from smoking, but you will be happier.

Remember to avoid temptation while you are being socially active. Don’t go to parties where everyone is smoking or spend all of your time with your friends who are die-hard smokers because that will make you much more likely to smoke. Find new ways to be socially active if you need to.

13. Find a new hobby or interest

Finding a new healthy “addiction” to replace your smoking habit can help you refocus your energies and be more excited about your new routine instead of feeling like you are just slogging through your days without smoking.

Be adventurous. Do something completely out of your comfort zone that will take your mind off smoking.

14. Get professional help

Behavioural therapy combined with medication therapy can improve your chances of successfully quitting. If you have tried quitting on your own and are still struggling, think about getting professional help.

Therapists can also help you through the process of quitting. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help change your thoughts and attitudes about smoking. Therapists can also teach coping skills or new ways to think about quitting.

15. Try Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)

NRT includes all types of patches, gums, lozenges, nasal sprays, inhalers or sublingual tablets that have and deliver nicotine into the body. It can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms and can increase your chances of quitting by 60%.

Side effects of NRT include: nightmares, insomnia, and skin irritation for patches; mouth soreness, difficulty breathing, hiccups, and jaw pain for gum; mouth and throat irritation and coughing for nicotine inhalers; throat irritation and hiccups for nicotine lozenge; and throat and nasal irritation as well as runny nose if the nasal spray is used.

16. Get medicine to help you quit

Your doctor can prescribe medications that are designed to help curb your cravings. Talk with your physician about the side effects of these medications and whether they will work for you.

17. Combination treatments

Behavioural therapy, nicotine replacement therapy, medications and ample support from friends and family can be a good way to ensure that you will truly quit smoking for good.

18. Explore alternative practices

There are a number of different alternative practices that can help you quit smoking. These range from herbal and mineral supplements to practices like meditation. Meditation can be a useful practice to help distract your mind for the desire to smoke. Many smokers ingest Vitamin C candies and lozenges which they believe help curb their cravings.

Sunflower seeds are a go-to for cravings you can’t seem to get rid of. Grab a bag and eat them when you really feel the urge to smoke. It really works.

19. Eat healthy

After having all of those bad chemicals inside of you, eating healthy is very important. Try eating as many fresh fruits and green vegetables as you possibly can because they help flush out your system.

Some foods enhance the flavour of cigarettes, but other foods make cigarettes taste worse. Packing flavours that clash with cigarettes into your diet can make cigarettes seem less appealing.

While everyone’s taste buds can vary slightly, the flavours of red meat and coffee tend to enhance the taste of cigarettes, so you may need to cut back on these foods and drinks while you are trying to quit.

On the other hand, most fruits, vegetables, and dairy products make cigarettes taste worse, so now would be a good time to add these foods to your diet.

20. Enjoy something sweet

On average, roughly 30% of a smoker’s cravings are for carbohydrates instead of nicotine. Sucking on glucose tablets or long-lasting fruit candy can help satisfy the carbohydrate craving, making your overall cravings less intense.

Moreover, chewing gum or sucking on a piece of candy can give your mouth something to do other than smoking. By keeping your mouth occupied, your hands and brain can stay away from cigarettes, too.

21. Sip on fresh lime juice

When your next craving strikes, cut open a lime and suck the juice out of its wedges. While not quite as effective as nicotine gum, early studies suggest that lime juice can slow and stop many cigarette cravings.

Citrus is also one of the many flavours that can worsen the taste of cigarettes, so flooding your mouth with the taste of lime juice can make the thought of lighting up less appetising.

22. Self-massage your cravings away

Try massaging the ear or back of your hand for two minutes each day. Continue the practice for a total of one month, even if your cigarette cravings subside before then.

Self-massage can help relax your mind and body, especially when performed on your ears. It also gives your hands something to hold onto other than a cigarette.

23. Practice mindful meditation

Mindful meditation can help you focus your mind and control your breathing, thereby decreasing your stress levels and giving you less of a reason to pick up another cigarette.

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Attend group sessions or practice on your own by following an instructional CD or audio recording. Try to meditate for 45 minutes daily to maximise the effect, and continue for one to two months, or until the habit is safely behind you.

24. Remind yourself of the risks

Visual reminders of the dangers related to smoking can make your urge to quit even stronger. Find images of mouths with cancerous lesions or diseased lungs and save them in your phone and look at them whenever you feel the urge to smoke.

25. Keep track of your progress

Pushing through can become easier when you can look back and see how far you have already come. Keep a journal or other record of your progress. Document the therapies you have tried and note which have been successful, and note how long you have gone in between cigarettes.

Nowadays, there are also mobile apps you can use to help record your progress. A few examples include Quitter, Livestrong, MyQuit Coach, Smoke Out, and Smoke Break. These apps can track your progress, record your achievements, and integrate everything into your social media accounts.

26. Make it a group effort

If you have friends or relatives who smoke, agree to quit the habit together. People who quit together can support each other through the process by sharing stories about the difficulties and successes they undergo.

If traditional support groups aren’t available, seek support online. Many social networks, including Facebook, have a plethora of groups dedicated to quitting the habit. Actively participating in these groups can be just as helpful as actively participating in a real-life support group.

The above-mentioned ways should help you greatly in quitting smoking. But keep in mind there will be times when you might give in and have a smoke. If that happens, or rather when it happens, don’t give up hope because it’s completely natural. You will have relapses along the way. The trick is to positively deal with them and not give up.

Here’s what you should do if you have a relapse:

1. Be ready for relapses

Take it one day at a time and do not be overly harsh on yourself for giving in to your cravings. You are going to have setbacks in efforts to quit and it is important to remember that you are a part of the process.

Continue your plan even if you have bumps in the road. If you have a relapse and smoke for an entire day, be sure to be gentle and forgiving with yourself. Accept that the day was tough, remind yourself that quitting is a long, hard journey, and get back on your plan the next day.

Try to avoid relapsing as much as possible. But if you do, recommit as soon as you can to quitting smoking. Learn from your experience and try to cope better in the future.

2. Reflect after the relapse

After you have had a relapse, whether it was just bumming one cigarette at a party or smoking an entire pack during a rough day, it’s time to sit back and ask yourself why it happened. Understanding why you had a relapse is the key to preventing future relapses.

3. Resume your routine

This is an important point. Just because you had one cigarette or relapsed for a day doesn’t mean you should think you are a failure and give up completely. Don’t use the relapse as an excuse to go back to smoking. Just because you had a moment of weakness doesn’t mean that you’re a weak person and that you don’t have the skills to quit.

Just do what you have been doing. If you’ve been trying to quit for a while, then your body will be craving cigarettes less than it normally would, even if you have had a relapse.

Be extra vigilant after the relapse. For the week after the relapse, try harder than ever to stay busy and active, to avoid temptation, and to manage your stress.

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In the end, it’s all about willpower. Remind yourself that this is a process and not an event. Remember to take quitting one day at a time. The first few days are the hardest. Reward yourself for getting through your first few days, or first few weeks, of quitting smoking.

Celebrate your good behaviour by treating yourself with something you enjoy. It is likely that quitting smoking will make you feel sad, increasing your craving to smoke. Instead, try activating the pleasure centres of the brain with something that you enjoy. Take the money you save by not smoking and use it to reward yourself, buying something nice, treating yourself to a movie or a nice dinner, or even saving long-term for a trip.

All the best!

Asad

Asad is a counsellor, life coach, inspirational speaker and a personal-development expert. He advises on social, personal and emotional issues. You can send him your questions for this weekly column at [email protected] with “Ask Asad” mentioned in the subject line and provide as many details as possible.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Express Tribune.

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