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Kicking the habit

According to most surveys, the overwhelming majority of smokers now concede that smoking is harmful — yes, even harmful to their health. And a majority of these same smokers will admit that they would like to quit smoking, but over half say they probably never will.

How can a smoker who wants to quit overcome the equally strong, or seemingly stronger, desire to light up?

First of all, a smoker must realize that he finds it hard to quit because he has become enslaved or addicted to tobacco. Most smokers would never consider themselves drug fiends in the same class as, say, marijuana smokers or heroin junkies, but they are! They have formed a dependence for the drug nicotine. (For more information about the relationship of tobacco use to other forms of drug abuse, write for our free booklet The Dilemma of Drugs)

Since most smokers would like to quit — but can't — it's obvious that simply wanting to quit is not enough. You have to come up with a good reason to stop, and you must be thoroughly convinced of your reason.

The most important motivation to quit is for the sake of your health. Another is the desire not to see your children acquire the same habit. Children are more impressed by what you practice than what you preach, so don't expect them not to smoke if you yourself do.

Then there are financial considerations, especially as the price of tobacco continues to rise. If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, the cost adds up to over $3.50 a week, and over $180 a year. Small change, perhaps in these inflationary times, but small change that, nonetheless, is nice to have in the pocket at times.

OK, so you’ve got the motivation to quit. What will be your plan of attack? The psychology of pleasure, gratification through smoking is complex; people smoke for different reasons and under different circumstances. Some smoke as a matter of habit and are almost unconscious of whether or not they are smoking at any given moment. Others are more likely to smoke under pressure or tension. Some like to smoke at certain times of the day — for example, after a meal.

For whatever reason you smoke, you must be flexible and experiment with techniques to determine what best fits your situation.

Some quit cold turkey; they put out their last cigarette and resolve never to smoke again. Others find it easier to stop gradually. They cut back on the number of cigarettes smoked each day over a period of days and weeks until they are down to zero. Or, using a series of commercially available filters, they may smoke the same number of cigarettes each day, but receive decreasing amounts of tar and nicotine until they are able to stop smoking altogether.

Some like to quit smoking in company. They find it helps to go to withdrawal or cessation clinics or groups where they have the moral support of other people. Or they use the "buddy system," finding a friend to quit with them.

Others, particularly those with an immediate medical problem, enlist the help of their physician who may prescribe a nicotine substitute, tranquilizing agent, or both, to tide them over the first weeks of no smoking.

Again, it is important to emphasize that there is no surefire method that will work for everyone. There are many different kinds of smokers, and each has their own set of problems and their own best ways of quitting. Government agencies and cancer and lung associations have many useful booklets and other information to help the would-be nonsmoker pick his method of quitting.