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Quitting: the first two weeks are the hardest

Kate Fitzpatrick
Monday, September 5, 2011
Image: Getty

You've made the decision to quit, now find out where to get started — and how to stay on track.

According to anti-smoking group Quit, on average it takes a smoker about 13 attempts before they actually stop for good. This stat is not meant to be discouraging but rather a reminder to smokers that if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

"I want to defuse the idea that if people try and quit and they don't, that it's because they aren't motivated," says associate professor Renee Bittoun from the smoking cessation research unit at the University of Sydney.

VIEW GALLERY: Tips top help you quit

"Most people are very motivated to quit. But it's like taking an antibiotic for a bacteria it doesn't suit. If they haven't done well with one method, they should try something else. It's not their fault if it didn't work."

Luke Atkin from Quit agrees: "Quitting is a difficult thing to do but it's not something they can't do. It will be potentially hard and if they have an attempt at quitting and it fails, don't view it as a failure but view it as a learning experience."

The best way to butt out
For smokers who've made the crucial decision to quit, Renee Bittoun warns that the first two weeks are the hardest.

"I always say to people it takes three months to give up smoking. It doesn't mean for three months you're biting your nails, desperate for a cigarette — and then it stops," Bittoun explains.

"It's just that it gets better and better with time. The first week is the hardest, the second week is less hard and it just keeps getting better with time. So the longer you go without smoking, the longer you'll go without smoking."

VIEW GALLERY: Quitting strategies

Both Bittoun and Atkin agree there is not a single best quit-smoking method — it's an individual process but there are approaches that have more supporting evidence than others.

"The pharmacotherapies are very effective. I recommend people should try all of them because some are just more suitable to others," Bittoun says.

Included in this group are prescription-only medicines like Zyban and Champix, as well as over-the-counter nicotine-replacement therapies like patches, gums and inhalers.

Atkin too supports these evidence-based treatments and recommends that smokers utilise the free Quitline (137 848) or talk to their GP or pharmacist. "They can give you personalised, individual support and advice," he says.

Popular alternative therapies like hypnotherapy, acupuncture, laser and homeopathy are not supported by clinical research and Bittoun warns against throwing away money on unproven treatments. Atkins is similarly cautious but concedes, "If something works for an individual, then that's fantastic. But at Quit we would channel people towards more evidence-based methods, like medications and therapeutic nicotines," he says.

Staying smoke free
Once you're on the way to quitting, being clued on to common relapse moments, especially in those crucial first two weeks, is vital.

"Alcohol, caffeine and stress are all key triggers," Bittoun says. Rather than avoid these things all together, focus on disassociating these behaviours, like drinking coffee inside the house and smoking outdoors, when once you may have done the two together.

"The benefit of pharmacotherapies is they quell those urges, so that when you do have a cup of coffee you're less likely to want a cigarette with it," Bittoun adds.

But what of cold turkey — is it a viable way to quit smoking. Yes say both experts.

"Some people can do and others can't," Bittoun says. "Being able to quit cold turkey has nothing to do with personality, that they're stronger or wiser. It just means they have a lesser problem."

And the extent of one's problem is not measured by the number of cigarettes smoked in a day but rather how they are smoked.

"We're more interested these days in whether you drag hard on the cigarette — you can smoke five a day and that can be as bad for you as smoking 50 a day depending on how hard you drag on the cigarette," Bittoun says.

The keys to quitting smoking
Don't be discouraged if you can't quit on your first attempt. It can take many tries and a mixture of methods to quit successfully.

  • Get help. Your GP, pharmacist and specialised telephone hotline operators can all offer assistance, advice and support.
  • Utilise a support network: "Make family and friends aware that you're trying to stop and enlist their support to motivate and encourage you," says Quit's Luke Atkin.

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