Yes, it’s hard to quit smoking, and there’s no magic pill to make it happen. But there are a few simple tools and tricks that can help smokers overcome cravings and move beyond them without reaching for a cigarette. Here are six of the best:
1. Chew mints. The taste of menthol or peppermint makes a smoker’s mouth feel cool, fresh, and clean, which tricks the brain into feeling less desire for that hot intake of smoke. Stash mints everywhere, so they’re always handy.
2. Drink water. To overcome cravings and strengthen the positive goal of becoming healthy, a great trick is to drink a glass of water very slowly when a craving hits. “Envision that the water’s washing away the urge to smoke and washing away all toxins from smoking at the same time,” Susan Gayle tells smokers. Gayle, an addiction counselor in New York and the author of popular stop-smoking self-help CDs, points out that a craving lasts just 15 seconds. “By the time you’ve finished the glass, you’ve distracted yourself, and the craving’s gone.”
3. Chew gum. This tip may sound obvious, but experts say there’s a reason they recommend gum — it really works. The flavor of the gum keeps the mouth fresh, making smoking less attractive. The act of chewing relieves the desire for oral stimulation and keeps the mouth busy, as well. Smokers often opt for nicotine gum, but many stop-smoking experts say a sugarless mint-flavored gum works just as well or better.
4. Eat red or purple grapes. Not only is chewing grapes another substitute oral-stimulation technique, but natural chemicals and antioxidants in grapes work to relieve cravings, says addiction expert Susan Gayle.
5. Use a calendar. It takes 21 days for a new thought pattern to become automatic, which is what’s required to eliminate a habit, experts say. Three weeks without smoking is enough to make it stick. But as any smoker or alcoholic who’s tried to quit can tell you, the first few days are the hardest. After that, cravings weaken, and the intervals between cravings lengthen, giving smokers longer periods of feeling good.
Put a calendar where the smoker in your life can see it, and mark off each day he’s gone without a cigarette. Reward him at the end of the first and second weeks with something he really wants: a new shirt or tickets to a game or concert. At the end of the third week, do something significant to commemorate the occasion, such as dinner out or a day at the spa.
6. Use a nicotine patch or gum. Not all experts agree on the usefulness of nicotine substitutes, also called nicotine replacement therapy, since they don’t break the physical addiction to smoking. But they can be useful tools in overcoming the psychological side of the smoking addiction, which is a big part of the equation for many smokers. Still, experts say, patches and gum should only be used in combination with counseling or a support group; they’re not likely to work on their own. Patches and gum come in three different strengths. Smokers should start with the strongest amount if they smoke more than 25 cigarettes a day, the weakest version if they smoke fewer than 7 cigarettes a day.
By Melanie Haiken, Caring.com senior editor