How To Cut Back And Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking can be difficult due to the addictive chemical nicotine. Here are 6 research-backed ways to quit tobacco.

By D Tejaswi
31 May 2022

Each year about 40 per cent of current smokers attempt to quit but only 4-6 per cent succeed, says Journal of General Internal Medicine.


The addiction to tobacco follows a three stage, recurring cycle–binge, withdrawal, craving. Also called as nicotine trap, each cigarette causes the craving for the next, to fill the emptiness caused by the nicotine leaving the body. “Repeated smoking upregulates nicotine receptors, producing tolerance to higher nicotine doses–a logical way how cigarettes turn smokers into addicts,” notes Statpearls, the largest library of medical education in the world.


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Here’s good news. Studies show that smokers who cut back even a little are more likely to stop smoking in the future. Here are some ways backed by research to reduce your cravings day by day, and eventually help you quit tobacco.


1. Try 5A method–Ask, Advice, Assess, Assist, Arrange

The American College of Obstetritians and Gynecologists suggests 5A method to quit tobacco. You can do this either by yourself or with the help of a provider.


The first step is to ask yourself some open ended questions such as ‘How often do I smoke?’ ‘When was the last time I smoked?’ ‘Why do I think it will be a good idea to quit?’ Answering these open ended questions helps you to understand your patterns and habits better.


Next, get advice on your smoking. You have several options ranging from de-addiction helplines, individual behavioural counsellings, real-time video counselling, to group therapy programs and other interventions. Try what is most comfortable. These interventions help understand your urge and offer evidence-based suggestions.


The third step assessment involves thinking about 5R’s–Relevance, Risks, Rewards, Roadblocks and Repetitions. “Getting resources and assistance at this stage improves your willingness to quit tobacco,” says the paper.


Next, assist yourself with a quit plan. Set a quit date. “Ideally your quit date should fall somewhere between 2 weeks post counsellor’s visit,” suggests the paper.


Lastly, arrange support from family, friends, co-workers. Do not forget to schedule a follow-up visits or phone calls to get your self reviewed for progress, adds the paper.


2. Try Nicotine Replacment Therapy (NRT)

Nicotine Replacment Therapy works by reducing cravings due to nicotine addiction. Smoking cigarettes releases high doses of nicotine to the brain in a matter of seconds as opposed to low doses released over a period of minutes to hours by the various forms of nicotine replacement therapy.


Nicotine supplements come in many forms such as gum, inhalers, lozenges, nasal spray and skin patch. All of these work well if they are used correctly. You can buy a nicotine patch, nicotine gum over-the-counter, but generally need a prescription for inhalers and sprays. Ideally, you should seek the concern of your health care provider before you start putting these in your tobacco quit plan.


“Combining a nicotine patch (slow nicotine-releasing) with a rapid-delivery form of NRT (for example, chewing gums, lozenges, nasal spray, and inhalers) is the more effective solution to relieve tobacco cravings, suggests Statpearls.


3. Exercise–get moving!

Exercise alleviates withdrawal symptoms and relieves tobacco cravings. The biological hypothesis suggests that exercise and nicotine have similar impacts on beta-endorphins, cortisol, noradrenaline, and adrenaline. Like nicotine, exercise stimulates the release of adrenaline. A study in Systematic Reviews, 2019 says that “the beneficial effect of exercise on cessation may also be attributed be due to increase in positivity, or distraction from cravings.”

Take-away? You’ve got a better reason to exercise. Hit the gym or just go for a jog!


4. Prepare for withdrawl symptoms

One way to effectively quit tobacco is to be prepared to deal with withdrawal symptoms. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) reports 7 primary symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal: irritability/anger/frustration, anxiety, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, increased appetite, insomnia, and restlessness. The syndrome might also include constipation, dizziness, nightmares, nausea, and sore throat, says the paper.


Be prepared for these withdrawal symptoms, plan a bit ahead to be at a better place. Drink more fresh fruit juice, eat more high fibrous foods and reduce caffeine and refined sugar to help you cope with withdrawal symptoms. Practice some positive affirmations such as “I’m a step closer to quit my tobacco cravings” or “I am stronger deep inside” can help.


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5. Look around for a trigger to quit tobacco

You are more likely to quit your tobacco when a triggering event supplies you with a compelling reason, says Addictive Behaviours Report, 2017. A triggering event is typically something that gives you a new motivating reason to quit. Such events can include a brush with death, a milestone birthday (e.g., turning 30), becoming a parent, and the death from lung cancer of a relative or acquaintance. Look around for such events, watch documentaries, reports to find a sufficiently compelling reason to give up.


6. Find connections who have already quit

You are more likely to quit tobacco if your spouse, a friend, a sibling, or work colleague did, finds a paper titled Quitting in Droves. “The decision to quit smoking is not made solely by isolated individuals, but rather reflect choices made by groups of individuals connected to each other both directly and indirectly up to three degrees away,” adds the paper. Find social connections, to learn about people who quit. You can also use social media. Facebook has several groups that lend genuine advice and experience on how to quit tobacco. Present your opinions, read other’s experiences to keep yourself in a positive place.


7 Avoid smoking zones

Frontiers of Psychiatry, 2015 says that cravings are a core feature of tobacco use disorder. “When you see someone smoking or experience a strong smell in the air, you are most likely to lose your self-control and go for drug seeking behaviour.”


Minimise your triggers by avoiding a common smoking zones such as bars, pubs, and open roads. Instead opt for other avenues such as a library, museum or a child park.




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