How many times does a typical smoker quit throughout his or her life?

Many attempts at quitting are often the norm. Occasionally you will find someone who threw the cigarettes out and never went back. That is atypical for most smokers. Research shows that 70% of smokers want to quit, 81% of smokers have tried to quit at least once, 35% try to quit each year, and quitting may require more than 10 attempts before becoming successful. Only about 7% of smokers attempting to quit remain smoke-free at the end of one year. This is exactly why tobacco dependence should be thought of as a chronic relapsing condition, and adding the various medications and support groups available can increase the success rates for quitting.

What can I do to avoid "triggers"?

Triggers are the environmental stimuli that are associated with smoking and serve to support the ongoing habit. A trigger prompts you to reach for a cigarette. Some of the most common triggers for smoking are things such as stress, coffee, and alcohol. Other triggers include:

The morning routine

Certain people, often smoking buddies or a spouse


Finishing a meal

Watching TV

Talking on the phone

Post coitus


Finishing something

Breaks at work or after work

Only about 7% of smokers attempting to quit remain smoke-free at the end of one year.

Feeling anxious, tense, angry, or lonely

Whatever the triggers may be, it's important to make note of them. If you prepare for your triggers, you can handle them better. Avoiding triggers, at least until you are more secure as a nonsmoker, will help in the process. Triggers can overwhelm the unprepared quitter.

Try the "4 Ds":

Drink plenty of water, between six and eight glasses per day.

Delay the impulse to smoke for three to seven minutes. The urge should pass.

Do something else that will take your mind elsewhere.

Deep breathe.

It is important to drink lots of fluids, eat right, and get enough sleep. A poor diet and the lack of a good night's sleep can decrease your resistance to triggers. Cognitive behavioral therapy and support groups also help to both identify the triggers and assist in developing coping strategies when one is confronted with a trigger (see Questions 71-73).

Lisa's comment:

During the first days after quitting, I experienced a mysterious and disturbing phenomenon whereby I received repetitive images of my right arm (I am right-handed) that kept swinging up to my face holding a lit cigarette. I did not want a cigarette; however, I told my therapist that I could not imagine going through the rest of my life with this image "assaulting' me. She told me to vocalize my determination to quit and that my subconscious would listen. Every time the image jumped up, I loudly spoke out "I do not want a cigarette. I have a higher goal in mind, and that is to live my life as a nonsmoker; smoking a cigarette is an obstacle to reaching my goal." It's truly amazing how quickly this worked and how the appearance of the image began to decrease in frequency, until it disappeared altogether. The images stopped in a few days after this method.

What is the difference between a "slip" and a "relapse"?

Two terms are used when talking about getting a person back on track to quitting: slips and relapses. A slip is when you have a cigarette or two after you have quit smoking. It is not uncommon for people who are trying to quit to have an occasional slip. Because smoking can be so automatic, you may not even be consciously aware that you've smoked until after you've finished. A slip or two does not mean that you have failed. If you slip, the best thing to do is get back on track immediately. Look at the trigger that led to the slip and figure out how to handle it differently next time. A slip will not prevent you from quitting successfully. It is all part of learning to quit smoking.

Tips for preventing slips:

Reinforce why you want to quit.

Think of all the hard work you've done so far. Would you ever want to repeat it again?

Continue positive self-talk; do not get discouraged.

Say mantras such as, "One away from a pack a day."

Get help and support from friends.

Ride out the temptation. The urge usually lasts only three to seven minutes. Deep breathe during the tempting moments.

Look at what caused you to smoke and how you plan on getting back on track.

Develop a plan to deal with the situation in the future.

A relapse is when you start smoking again daily. A relapse will not prevent you from quitting sometime in the future. Quitting smoking is a process, and most people make more than one quit attempt before they stop for good. Don't feel discouraged. As long as you learn something positive with each quit attempt, you will be further ahead than before your first attempt. You can overcome relapses by:

Not beating yourself up or losing hope.

Thinking of the relapse as a learning experience and one more step in your journey to becoming smoke-free.

Planning a new quit attempt right away, including developing a plan to prevent relapse.

Being aware of the people, places, situations, thoughts, and emotions that trigger your urge to smoke.

No matter how old you are or how long you've smoked, quitting will help to prolong your life.

Planning ahead what you will do to cope with each trigger. You should continue to be aware of your triggers for a long time after you quit. Some situations, especially unexpected ones such as crises, can catch you by surprise. If you figure out ahead of time how you will deal with difficult situations, you are more likely to stay quit.

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