Become a quitter


Giving up smoking is a decision no one can help you make. Here are tips to help you take that first step.

Every time I had to dash out into the rain to smoke it irritated me that my addiction was making me do this. I also realised how unpleasant it was for the people in my life to put up with my smoking.”

Schalk Lesch (32) of Cape Town had been a smoker for seven years when he quit because he became sick and tired of having his life controlled by cigarettes.

Jeanine van Wyk* (42) of Vereeniging was one of those smokers “who say they smoke because they want to and no one will persuade them to stop. That was until I woke up one morning and realised I could hardly breathe. I was 34.” She started smoking at 16 and that morning, 18 years later, she had a nasty wake-up call. As she wanted to have children, she decided that would be the day she quit smoking. She wanted to go cold turkey. “The first three days were the worst,” she says. “I took a cigarette to work and kept it in my hand all the time during the first week. Sometimes when the cravings got too much, I would sniff the cigarette or put it in my mouth. The third day was the most difficult – I broke the cigarette and had to take a new one from the packet.” By day five the worst cravings were over. “After that I found I ate a bit more and gained a little weight but I did something about that the moment I realised what I was doing.” She’s still slim, despite having been a non-smoker for almost nine years now. “My social life at work suffered a bit. I don’t always know what’s happening because I’m no longer standing outside with the smokers to hear all the latest news. I’m more focused and feel good about myself because I’m no longer dependent on silly paper sticks.”

Schalk and Jeannie's tips:

You choose. Stop when you’re ready, not when others pressure you to stop. “It’s so much easier if your mindset and attitude are right and that’s something only you can work out for yourself.”

Do it for yourself. Don’t do it because someone else is expecting you to stop. It helps to have a specific goal in mind, whether it’s leading a healthier lifestyle or becoming pregnant.

Do something. Find something to keep your hands busy in the first week or so.

What the experts say:

“I knew smoking was bad for you but I didn’t realise just how bad,” says South Africa’s most ardent anti-smoking doctor, Dr Yussuf Saloojee, director of the South African National Council Against Smoking

(NCAS). “I studied in London and then worked at St Bartholomew’s Hospital where they were conducting research on smoking cessation. Before then I’d never realised how bad it really was for one.”

Here are Dr Saloojee’s top tips to quit smoking:

Have at least three specific reasons for quitting. “If I ask people why they’re quitting and they say their health or money, I ask for details. How much does it cost you to smoke? Calculate it and remind yourself that this is how much you will save. Start thinking what you’re going to do with the money. “If it’s about your health, I want to know what your goals are: do you want to be able to walk half a kilometre without breathing heavily? Do you want to run the Comrades? Once you’ve stopped for three days, you’re going to ask yourself why you’re doing it and then you need to be able to answer that question with something positive.”

Plan survival methods. “What are you going to do when the urge arrives? Have a plan in place before you quit.” Dr Saloojee recommends deep breathing, taking time out from the people around you or going for a walk. “Learn to know which situations trigger the craving and have a solution for each.”

Get your thinking patterns right. “Smoking is a dual addiction – it’s both physical and psychological. Getting cigarettes out of your body is easy but out of your mind is a different story. So you have to be careful about how you talk to yourself. Thoughts such as ‘one cigarette won’t make a difference’ or ‘I wonder what it was like to smoke’ are dangerous.” Another expert shares valuable tips: Dr Charles Nel is CEO of the Allen Carr Easyway to Stop Smoking clinics countrywide.

Don’t be scared of nicotine withdrawal. “Smokers sleep for hours every night and the withdrawal doesn’t even wake them up.”

Stop giving the cigarettes so much power. “If smoking genuinely relieved stress and relaxed smokers, it would have said so on the box.”

Don’t try to cut down; stop completely. “Cutting down makes it harder because it makes each cigarette appear more precious .”

Pity other smokers, don’t envy them. “All smokers envy people who’ve successfully stopped.”

Don’t change your lifestyle. “You’ve stopped smoking – not stopped living!”

Visiting expert Professor Robert Anthenelli, director of the Pacific Treatment and Research Centre in California, has these tips:

Prepare yourself to quit. “Stop buying cigarettes, remove lighters and ashtrays from the house and tell your family and friends about your decision.”

Don’t think because you failed, you won’t get it right next time. “Every time we try to quit, we learn more about the addiction, our own habits and why we do it. If you keep on trying, you can do it.”


When's the best time to stop?

Quitting smoking is a personal journey so opinions inevitably vary on when is the right time but here are two schools of thought:

Prepare. “Give yourself three to four days to prepare for stopping, but not more,” Dr Saloojee says. Professor Anthenelli agrees. “Choose a day and start on that day.”

Just do it. Ex-smoker Schalk Lesch and Dr Nel agree you should stop immediately. “Don’t talk yourself out of stopping by thinking you can do it tomorrow,” Dr Nel says. “Pick the most stressful or social time to stop because the sooner you realise you can enjoy and cope with life without smoking, the better.” Don’t waste time, Schalk says. “Once you decide, tell yourself your last cigarette was an hour ago – even if you have 10 left in the packet.”

The psychology of smoking

The reason people continue to smoke is simply because they don’t understand why they smoke, Dr Nel believes. “Smoking is a simple confidence trick. Once smokers understand how the con trick works, the fear of stopping goes and it becomes easy not to smoke,” he says. “I believe all smokers secretly want to stop. They all know it’s bad for them, they know other people hate it and they don’t like being controlled by the urge but they’re scared. “They carry on smoking because they fear they won’t be able to cope, fear they’ll have withdrawal symptoms, fear they won’t enjoy life or fear the cravings won’t go.” Michelle Strybis is a hypnotherapist based in Cape Town who often works with people who want to stop smoking. This therapy also focuses on the psychology behind the addiction. “First we try to find the need that smoking fulfils. Are you very stressed and you think it helps you to relax? Or does smoking help you to deal with challenging emotions? Often it’s something we’re not consciously aware of. Once that’s established, the therapist works with the client to find another, healthy way of replacing this need.”


- Dalena Theron

* Not her real name.

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