How to Quit Smoking Gradually

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Someone wanting to become drug-free, but who is unable to simply quit smoking immediately should use a gradual smoking cessation method. It could save his or her life.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) or other drugs are available to assist aspiring quitters, but they're not always effective or necessary. Throwing more drugs at an existing drug addiction is a questionable practice. It doesn't usually work, and the tradeoffs are often risky. What are the side effects? Even if one decides that NRT is safe, doesn't one still have to wean oneself off of nicotine?

A very small percentage of smokers can actually quit smoking 'cold turkey,' but the vast majority of these attempts fail. Such abrupt physical and mental changes are always intimidating and usually unnecessary. Unless for health reasons one absolutely must quit smoking TODAY, he or she should consider a more conservative plan. Gradual quitting is actually more effective for long term results.

Statistics, schumistics. Try common sense. Can a marathon be run without conditioning? What's more likely to succeed - quitting cold turkey in 6 months after smoking for years, or quitting completely in the same 6 months after systematically cutting down? Doesn't conditioning make other seemingly impossible goals easier? What makes quitting smoking different?

For 'cold turkey' supporters, if one actually quit the first time one tried, how smashing! The person had great will power, and deserved a gold star for putting mind over matter. What's next, walking on hot coals? Keep in mind that many 'cold turkey method' failures before a final success should rate no better than quitting gradually. In fact, that route is most often worse. In the long run, one will probably just end up smoking even more cigarettes, having an even harder time, while taking even longer to quit.

If one can quit today, then by all healthy means, one should. Otherwise, setting goals is a sound approach; it's good to mentally prepare oneself by setting a 'quit date' several months in advance. The main problem is that most would-be ex-smokers have a tendency to try to smoke as much as possible before quitting! This does not work because the more one uses an addictive substance, the more addicted he or she becomes. Failing to cut down first actually makes it harder to beat the addiction.

One can increase the chances of success by weaning down gradually before quitting for good. The following steps help hopeful quitters keep that all-important promise to quit smoking.

1) Set the quit date. This date is the LATEST date to quit. Don't rule out the chance to completely stop smoking even earlier than expected, but give a comfortable margin. Set a memorable date about 6 months out.

2) Plan the gradual weaning schedule. 6 months is 26 weeks, so if one currently smokes 26 cigarettes per day, then he or she should cut out one per week. In the first week, the aspiring quitter should smoke a maximum of 26 cigarettes per day, in the second week, a maximum of 25, etc.... The quitter should be down to 1 cigarette per day at the end of 6 months - and quitting completely will be much less painful. The body, now used to going longer periods without nicotine, will already be experiencing a lot of the positive effects of becoming smoke-free: breathing easier, coughing less, feeling more energetic, and sleeping better.

3) Track progress. One should select a method to keep track of this quitting schedule while one is sticking to it. A small notebook will allow keeping tick-marks for each cigarette.. Another way can be to use a hand-held 'clicker' or item counter. There are also keychain-sized 'smoking cessation devices' available that will automatically guide users through a gradual quitting program. Considering the costs of smoking, they're well worth the price. See for a well-designed smoking cessation device.

4) Execute your plan. Whatever gradual reduction system was chosen, one should STICK TO IT. When the battle gets tough, just imagine how much tougher it would be to quit cold turkey. And the moment one thinks that cold turkey is easier, guess what? The battle has been won. One can go ahead and put the cigarettes away for good, ahead of schedule.


Sleep Well. Get plenty of sleep - try to resist the urge to smoke in the 1-2 hours before bedtime. The more rested one is, the less irritable one will be.

Push Hard. Each day, one should see how long he or she can go before the first cigarette, and push it a little longer each day.

Stay friendly. Gradual quitting will also mean a gradual mood change - though doing a great thing, being extra patient and forgiving of other people will help to keep up one's own spirits during the quitting process.

Be Healthy. Get plenty of exercise. This is all about a gradual change process. Ramping up on exercise will really help with ramping down on cigarettes.

Eat Less. Resist the urge to replace cigarettes with snacks or food. Gradual quitters are much less likely to balloon up than cold turkey quitters. Eating small meals will also help lessen the after-meal 'nic fits'.

This may seem obvious, but it's not: One should not smoke when one does not want a cigarette. Say Sam the Smoker is going to a movie - does he smoke a last cigarette before he goes inside, just so he won't have an urge during the movie? Sam should quit that practice, and instead force himself to wait until after the movie. Instead, Sam should keep conditioning both body and mind to defeat those urges to smoke. The more one learns to handle those 'nic fits' during the weaning period, the easier it will be when one gives cigarettes up for good.

Beware! Some smoking cessation devices can tell one to smoke even when one wasn't thinking of smoking. The good ones remain silent unless one actually requests permission to smoke.


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John Snyder

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