The Great American Smokeout: Tips for People Deciding to Quit

PHOTO: The Great American Smokeout is a day dedicated to encourage smokers to either quit.PlayGetty Images
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The American Cancer Society continues its tradition today with the 36th Great American Smokeout -- a day dedicated to encourage smokers to either quit or set a date to officially put down the pack.

According to the CDC, there are still 46 million smokers still in the country and one in five deaths can be attributed to tobacco use. What's worse, 70 percent smokers who try to quit relapse, and experts say that it takes a smoker seven to 10 times to quit for good.

Here are seven tips for smokers looking to kick the habit from leading experts.

1. Quit on a Monday

Some experts say that a huge part of whether or not smokers successfully become ex-smokers all depends on what day of the week you decide to quit.

"There's a logic to it," said Dr. Thomas Glynn, the director of cancer science and trends at the American Cancer Society. "It's good to pick a time you're more busy, and Monday is ideal. It's the beginning of the week, beginning of a new non-smoking life for you."

Glynn added that beyond a specific day of the week, smokers should pick a day that's meaningful to them to attempt to quit -- "usually between two to three weeks [of when] you want to stop ... a birthday ... something that has some meaning for you."

2. Find a Reason to Quit

"The main thing for any smoker is they have to analyze how committed they are to this," said Glynn. "Write down the reason you want to stop on a piece of paper. Take that piece of paper, laminate it, keep it in a special place, pull it out every time you want to start."

Glynn said that reason could be anything. Feeling sick because of your habit? Have your kids urged you to put the cigarettes down? Want to save money? Any of these reasons will work if it's important enough to you.

3. Get Treatment

Dr. John Hughes of the University of Vermont, who looks into the psychology of quitting, said the best thing smokers can do is get professional treatment.

"It's not only important to quit, it's important to quit when you're young," he said. "The reversibility of smoking is related to how long you smoke."

Hughes said that people who quit in their 30s can completely reverse the effects of smoking because of the astonishing ability of the body to repair itself.

"Your risk of heart attack is back to normal between two and three years," he said. "The risk of cancer takes a couple of decades, but it does go away."

Glynn agreed, and said that pairing medications with counseling is more useful than doing just counseling alone.

Hughes also advised that smokers don't try to quit several times on their own before deciding to seek help.

"Use a medication, quit line or counseling," he said.

4. Take Advantage of Medicines

Hughes said that using over-the-counter drugs, including nicotine gum, lozenges or patches, doubles the chances of a smoker quitting.

He added that using over-the-counter patch to deliver a constant stream of medication and a lozenge or gum to combat intense cravings is something many physicians have been recommending -- though the FDA is still determining if it's a safe option..

"The data are pretty clear that it's a much more effective way," said Glynn.

Hughes also recommended talking to your doctor about Chantix, a prescription drug that has recently made headlines for increasing suicidal behavior and depression far more than other drugs designed to help smokers.

"If you don't have past problems, you should look into it," he said, adding that if you do have a history of depression you should talk to your doctor.

5. If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again

Experts say that it usually takes smokers seven to 10 attempts to kick the habit before they actually give it up for good, and Hughes said it's important that people trying to quit don't stop if they happen to relapse.

"Any behavior you have been doing ... it's hard to change it," he said. "It's important not to give up."

Glynn said that it's a learning process. Every time a smoker slips -- say, by smoking a cigarette after dinner -- they should learn from that experience and do something to change. He suggested finding something to do after dinner to take their mind off of the craving until it passes. Take a walk, talk on the phone, anything.

"Most cravings last two to three minutes," he said. "Multiple slips are not only acceptable, they are expected."

6. Communicate With Loved Ones

Hughes and Glynn both said that there are several things non-smokers can do to help their loved ones get through the day, including sitting down with them to set some ground rules.

"Ask them not to smoke around you, keep the cigarettes away from you, make cigarettes not very available," Hughes said. "Going a day without smoking for them is harder than if I fasted for a day. Many smokers would much rather go without eating for a day than without cigarettes."

Glynn suggested that the smokers go through their homes and get rid of any cues that may cause them to pick up a pack. Matches, stressful work that has been sitting on the desk, lighters or anything that may cause a craving has to go.

"Getting social support is very important. Let them know you're going to do this and you're going to need help," said Glynn.

7. Look at Your Bank Account

These days, Glynn said, economics is driving a lot of people to think about quitting as much as their health is. The average cost of a pack of cigarettes in the U.S. is $5.50, and in some regions, packs can cost upwards of $10.

People are not only spending an extra $2,000 to $4,000 per year just on the habit alone, but must also account for extra health care costs, dental visits, dry cleaning, etc.

The good news, according to Glynn, is America has passed a new threshold. In 2009, there became more former smokers than current smokers. There are now 49 million people who have successfully quit.

"Smokers need to think of this as a gift to themselves, their family and co-workers," said Glynn, "something you can really do for yourself and others."