How to Quit Smoking Without Feeling Like S**t!

Smoking is a complex issue. It encompasses a combination of three areas: physiological, psychological and behavioural, So trying to quit smoking is like fighting a fiery three-headed dragon! You would definiteky need some pretty powerful weapons to successfully kill this dragon. Here are some useful tips from our Smoking Cessation Coach Patrick YC Lim...

When you first started smoking - probably more than a decade or two ago, it seemed like a cool, hip, sexy way of expressing your personality. All the coolest people you knew smoked, such as rock stars, movie stars, artists, thinkers, etc. So why not you?


But now you’re not so sure. It doesn’t seem so cool to smoke anymore. Everyone around you has quit, and it seems like you’re some kind of outcast. There are even TV ads showing how miserable life is for family members of a smoker! You can’t even smoke in public without someone glaring at you. You know it’s time to change, if not for your own health, at least for the health of those around you. You want to break the habit – butt out, and stay out. But every time you’ve tried to quit, something happens (and you don’t really know what) and you end up smoking again. You want to break the cycle, but don’t really know how.

I know, because 12 years ago, I was a heavy smoker. I had been smoking for 27 years, since I was 18, and at one time, smoked as many as two packs a day. Then on 12 June 1999, I decided enough was enough and it was “butt out” for me. I have stayed smoke-free ever since.

So yes, I do understand how smokers feel. In fact, even now, as I write this article, I can almost feel the euphoria of smoking!

Smoking is a complex issue. It encompasses a combination of three areas: physiological, psychological and behavioural. So trying to quit smoking is like fighting a fiery three-headed dragon! You would definitely need some pretty powerful weapons to successfully kill this dragon.

Physiological Dependence

“There is little doubt that if it were not for the nicotine in tobacco smoke, people would be little more inclined to smoke than they are to blow bubbles or to light sparklers.” (Russel, 1976)

Nicotine is the only known psychoactive ingredient in tobacco smoke. Smokers who are addicted (not all who smoke are addicted) smoke for one principal reason – to get their accustomed doses of nicotine.When such smokers stop smoking, they are likely to experience unpleasant symptoms such as irritability, sensitivity to sounds, light, and touch, and sudden, irrational mood changes.

So, indeed, this dragon’s head is very real, giving rise to ‘fiery’ physiological dependence. Research has shown that it is much faster for a substance to reach the brain through smoking than through swallowing, snorting or even injecting. Once inside the brain, the nicotine triggers the release of chemicals associated with euphoria and pleasure, creating the “high” feeling. Typically, a smoker takes about 10 puffs on a cigarette in 5 mins; this means he or she gets an average of 200 ‘hits’ of nicotine to the brain if one pack is smoked in a day.

Nicotine initially acts as a stimulant to give the smoker a sense of alertness and energy, causing a rapid release of adrenaline and increased release of acetylcholine. The brain also produces more endorphins and dopamine, giving a sense of pleasure to the smoker.

So how does one cut off this dragon’s head? The logical answer is to find substitutes that can replace the stimulation and pleasure felt by the smoker, as well as eliminate the craving caused by nicotine withdrawal. There are many healthy foods, for instance, that can give us a natural increase of endorphins and dopamine. Some smokers who want to quit may use nicotine patches and nicotine gum to relieve this craving.

Psychological Dependence
Many nonsmokers think that smokers smoke only to avoid physiological withdrawal symptoms as outlined above.
But research has shown that smoking seems to provide a surprising variety of desirable psychological effects as well.
Most smokers will say that smoking helps them concentrate, keeps them from being bored, and helps reduce the perceived level of tension in their lives. In addition, smoking helps them cope with an over-stimulating environment, gives them positive pleasure, helps them relax, reduces their feeling of distress, helplessness, and loneliness, makes them feel more at ease in social situations and even helps them keep weight down! Smoking can also provide an instant burst of energy when feeling tired, and for a short time, help a smoker concentrate more effectively. In fact, smoking helps a smoker control his moods. Understandably, these are substantial benefits that would not be easy to give up.

And finally, the last fiery head.

Behavioural Dependence
There are two main areas of behavioural dependence that the smoker may not even be fully conscious of: handling of the cigarette and habit.

Trivial as it may seem, the sequence of steps involving smoking - opening of a pack, tapping it lightly, positioning it between the lips, flicking open a lighter or in the case of a lady, waiting for a gentleman to light it up for you, right up to exhalation of tobacco smoke - forms an established ritual which by itself gives the smoker a degree of comfort and satisfaction. (Picture your favourite movie star... so macho/seductive!) Once a smoker stops smoking, he or she may feel fidgety, just longing to light a cigarette or to do something with the hands!
With prolonged use, the smoking activity also becomes part of the daily routine of a smoker’s life. I know a smoker who lights up as soon as he wakes up, even before brushing his teeth. He says it helps to wake him up. There are some who enjoy hanging out with fellow smokers over a smoke after lunch. Certain places, times of the day or activities may be associated with the smoking behaviour, forming environmental cues that ultimately reinforce the habit.

Weapons to Kill the Dragon Once and For All
The first step is to adopt a healthier lifestyle, which includes eating right, exercising, managing stress and getting support from family and friends.

Taking these pro-health steps is your valuable first step towards quitting, since it will prepare you psychologically to make a firm commitment to quitting. A healthier lifestyle is a no-lose proposition. And these lifestyle measures will certainly affect other areas of your life.


First of all, keep in mind that three out of four smokers would like to quit. Five out of six say they would not start smoking in the first place, if they had the choice to make over again. In fact, most smokers eventually do quit smoking. The 1989 Surgeon General’s Report estimated that almost 50% of all adults who had ever smoked regularly had quit.

But to quit smoking isn’t easy. Studies have shown that many successful quitters failed in their first attempts to quit. It requires strong motivation. Motivations don’t just happen. You have to take an active part in developing your motivations and making them more effective.

STEP 1: Start acting like you can quit.
To start off, complete this sentence: To quit smoking means ....

What did you write in the blank space? Do you think of quitting as giving something up? Or gaining of something positive – better health, taking control of your life?


It will help you to believe it is possible for you to quit. If you have quit before, try reframing your past “failure” as a success. First of all, you were able to quit for some length of time (probably for longer than you thought you could). You learned some things that will help you this time. You probably learned you can’t “just have one.” And maybe you recognized some triggers or temptations you really need to watch out for.

As we have seen, there are many reasons why you smoke – habit, addiction, social enjoyment, stress relief, hunger control, advertising messages, and more. In fact, your reasons often change from day to day, minute to minute. Smoking fills different needs at different times of the day.

Each time you smoke, you reinforce the connection between the act of smoking and your current activity or situation. You no longer think about needing something to do with your hands. Instead, you automatically smoke whenever you’re on the telephone, or when you’re waiting in line, or when you’re taking a coffee break.

These feelings and situations serve as triggers – cues to light up. Think for a moment, and try to find out your personal “triggers.” What are some of the triggers you had today? What situations caused you to have a cigarette? Smoking is such an automatic habit that most people don’t think about what triggers it, or how important any particular trigger is.


STEP 2: Examine your health concerns.
Do you have some nagging health concern that you’ve tried to brush off? For example, many smokers have a chronic heavy cough, which often brings up mucus. Coughing is an early warning sign of potential lung damage. More severe problems such as shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing up blood could be a sign of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or even lung cancer. Chest pain could be a sign of cardiovascular disease. These are serious problems that should not be ignored.


Think about other health concerns that you have. And then think about how these problems might be made worse by your smoking. This is not a very pleasant job, but when you start to learn how smoking is affecting your health, you will be motivated to quit and stay smoke-free.

STEP 3: Uncover your reasons to stop smoking.
Once you have faced your health concerns, you may become more aware of other reasons to stop smoking. For example, does it seem as if more and more people are asking you not to smoke? If so, you have probably realized that the anti-smoking message has spread quickly.


Most people start smoking because of social pressures (to fit in, to look older, more sophisticated, sexier). Once they become smokers in today’s world, however, they’re increasingly pressured not to smoke. With this changing social climate, nonsmokers have become more aggressive about approaching total strangers to ask them to butt out. These changing norms regarding smoking behavior may help you to quit once and for all and stay quit.

Most people who stop smoking do so out of personal reasons. This means that your own reasons for wanting to quit may be very different from someone else. Knowing your own reasons for quitting (and remembering them when things get a little tough) will be a big step in helping you become a nonsmoker for life.

Find out your personal reasons. These can include:

  • I will be healthier
  • My heart rate and blood pressure will be lower
  • I’ll have less chances of getting heart disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and cancer.
  • I will have more control of my life
  • I’ll save lots of money
  • I’m tired of having stinky clothes and smelly breath.
  • I’ll have more energy
  • I’ll be providing a healthier environment for my children and a more positive role model for them to follow
  • Other reasons:_______________________________________________

Now rank your reasons for quitting in order of importance. Next, list any reasons you can think of for NOT quitting.

Once you’ve made your list, study it for a few minutes every day. Keep adding to it new reasons that occur to you. Make this active process each and every day.

STEP 4: Try to become a nonsmoker at work, or cut down.

One place where important social norms can encourage non-smoking is at work. Many workplaces now sponsor quit smoking clinics. Companies have actually found that they are cost-effective because nonsmokers miss fewer days of work and make less use of medical benefits. The Singapore Health Promotion Board has a Work Health Promotion (WHP) grant given to companies to help their employees quit smoking. (Write to me if you want more information.)

STEP 5: Close the back doors.

The fear of quitting – of never ever having a cigarette again – makes some people leave a back door open – as an excuse for going back to smoking. Some of these “doors” include:

  • fear of gaining weight
  • crabbiness
  • a minor relapse, so you might as well smoke
  • family quarrels
  • work pressure

Before you quit smoking, you have to close all these open “doors.” Begin by deciding what you are going to do about each barrier and each roadblock that’s holding you back.

STEP 6: Develop your quitting plan

There are two basic questions you have to answer in developing your personal plan to quit smoking:

1) What method of quitting is best for you?

  • Cold turkey. You set a quit date and when that day comes, you stop smoking entirely.
  • Nicotine fading. A process of changing the type of cigarettes you smoke to gradually reduce your nicotine intake before you quit altogether.


2) Do you want to use medications to boost your effort? Many smokers quit successfully without assistance from nicotine replacement products or drug treatment. This is a popular approach.

  • Nicotine replacement. Current choices among nicotine patches, nicotine sprays, nicotine nasal sprays, and nicotine inhalers are widely available in the market.
  • Medication available from your doctor can also help in quitting smoking.
  • Some people have found that hypnosis and acupuncture also helps.

Each of these questions is independent of the others. You can decide on one or more choices for each. If you find it tough to fight the dragon on your own, I would encourage you to work with a health coach or a buddy to help you stay on track.


Article is written by Patrick YC Lim, founder of Health Coach International Pte Ltd and a Certified Smoking Cessation consultant, registered with the Health Promotion Board. For enquiries, wrote to: