Since the Surgeon General released the first report on smoking in 1964, the smoking rate among adults has decreased from 42 percent to 15 percent. Though great strides have been made, more than 36 million adults in the United States continue to smoke cigarettes, claiming nearly half a million lives a year and leaving 16 million others to live with an illness or disease caused by smoking. There are now more former cigarette smokers than current smokers in the United States, and more than half of all people who have ever smoked have quit, according to the CDC.
If you’re still smoking and would like to quit, you’re not alone. Nearly seven out of 10 cigarette smokers want to quit for good. Although each person’s journey to a tobacco-free life is different, knowing what’s worked for others could help you find what works for you. Participants from CDC’s Tips From Former Smokers campaign share what worked best for them in their journeys to quitting smoking.
Choose a quit date and support team
Tiffany Roberson, 35, of Louisiana started smoking when she was just 19, despite having watched her own mother, a smoker, die of lung cancer. Over the years, Roberson tried to quit multiple times but struggled to stay quit for good. When her own daughter turned 16, she was inspired to try again. This time, a combination of tactics helped her succeed.
►A nicotine patch helped control her cravings. She chose it because it was discrete and easy to use.
►She chose a quit date. To avoid the temptation to smoke, she stayed busy on that day.
►She told her daughter and another relative she was quitting so she would be accountable for staying smoke-free. Her relatives supported her with a daily text of encouragement, noting the day of her progress-“Day 2 without smoking” and, eventually, “Day 365 without smoking.”
►During work breaks, she drank water instead of smoking.
Beatrice Rosa-Swerbilov, 40, from New York tried her first cigarette at just 7 years old, and became a regular smoker at age 13. Although she had tried many times before, she quit for good after her 11-year-old son wrote her a letter asking her to quit smoking. Here are her success strategies.
►Avoiding triggers-things or situations that made her crave a cigarette. For example, going out for drinks with friends was a trigger, so Rosa-Swerbilov gave up doing that for a while.
►Creating accountability for herself by telling everyone that she was quitting. Her hope was that if someone did see her smoking, they would say “Oh, I thought you quit,” thus holding her accountable for her decision to quit smoking.
Amanda Brenden, of Wisconsin, began smoking in fifth grade and was a daily smoker by age 13. She would duck outside during the day – even during Wisconsin winters – to smoke. By college, she was smoking a pack a day. When she got engaged and found out she was pregnant, she tried to quit, without success. The stress of being a pregnant college student drove her back to cigarettes. Her daughter was born two months premature and today still struggles with asthma. Breathing problems like asthma are common in premature babies.
►Stress was a trigger for Brenden, as it is for many smokers. In a smoking cessation class, she learned stress reduction techniques. She also relied on support from her family.
►When Brenden feels frustrated, she exercises to release her negative energy rather than reaching for a cigarette.
Substitute positive for negative
James Fulton, 40, of New York, began smoking at 14 to emulate his father, a smoker who was well-respected in their community. When decades of smoking began to affect his health, Fulton created a plan for quitting that included replacing negative behaviors with positive ones.
When he felt a craving for a cigarette, he used a nicotine patch or chewed sugar-free gum. He’s learned to rely on exercise, becoming an avid cyclist and swimmer.
Rebecca Cox-MacDonald, 57, of Texas, also found exercise to be helpful in quitting. Surrounded by a family of smokers, she started smoking as a teenager. Multiple events inspired her to try quitting a final time; her father died of a smoking-related illness, she watched the health of other relatives who smoked deteriorate, and she developed severe gum disease-a risk for smokers-that required her to get bone grafts and dental implants.
She quit and committed to a healthier lifestyle that included regular exercise like running and getting treatment for the depression that had been a major factor in keeping her smoking.
The CDC’s Tips From Former Smokers campaign brings together science-backed health information and quitting tips drawn from the real-life experiences of former smokers. For more information about how you can quit smoking, including tips from successful former smokers, visit the CDC’s Quit Guide online.