How to quit smoking, according to scientists

Mad men, don rogerJustina Mintz/AMCA lot of people struggle to quit smoking, but science can help.

It’s not easy to quit smoking.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death. But by some estimates, it could take as many as 30 tries to quit.

In July, the FDA came out with plans to limit the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, with the aim of not making them addictive. The news sent tobacco stocks falling. Researchers have speculated that cutting nicotine levels could make it easier for smokers to quit, and keep new smokers from getting addicted.

“Rendering cigarettes minimally addictive or nonaddictive, within a landscape including other, noncombustible products such as e-cigarettes, represents a promising foundation for a comprehensive approach to tobacco harm reduction,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In the meantime, however, there are some science-backed approaches that can help you quit. Business Insider spoke to Dr. Michael Fiore, director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention to get some tips on how to quit.

Get prepared before you stop smoking.

First thing's first: it's important to keep in mind that there's no one foolproof way to quit smoking. 'Quitting smoking is hard work,' Fiore said. But you can combine a few tactics that can make the process easier.

If you've had a smoking habit for a while, quitting right away can be a nearly impossible task. Ahead of quitting, the National Institutes of Health's website recommends having a plan. That includes laying out why you want to quit, whether it's for your health or your family. It could also mean letting your friends and family know you're planning to quit, and identifying possible triggers that could cause you to start smoking again.

Take smoking-cessation medication.

Getty Images/ Christopher Furlong.

There are other non-nicotine approaches to quitting that you can use. Fiore highlighted varenicline, otherwise known as Chantix, as one possible approach during the first few months you're quitting. The drug Zyban is another option. The two work to block receptors, keeping the nicotine from activating the brain.

Go to counseling.

Fiore said that in addition to using medication, it's helpful to get counseling -- either through conversations with loved ones or friends, or with a professional.

Use a texting program.

There are hundreds out there, but Fiore said the one he'd recommend are those that have evidence to support them, in particular the one the NIH has, called SmokeFreeTXT.

A study of a UK texting program found that the texts that provided motivational messages and tips on how to quit improved smoking cessation rates over a six-month period compared to a control group that received texts unrelated to smoking.

Practice mindfulness.

Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

While it's still relatively new, there is some evidence that mindfulness meditation could be a useful tool to help people quit smoking. A small study from 2013 found that the 15 people who practiced 'Integrative Body-Mind Training,' a form of mindfulness meditation, were able to cut down their smoking habits by 60%, while the group that was just told to relax didn't have any reduction.

Fiore said the best way to think about mindfulness meditation, yoga, etc. are as add-ons to a quitting plan that involves medication and counseling.


Tim P Whitby/Getty Images

According to, exercise can reduce your urge to smoke and withdrawal symptoms decrease during exercise and for almost an hour after you're done. That's especially the case with aerobic exercise, like running, swimming, and cycling.

Fiore said exercising can also be a good coping mechanism, and can help people keep off the weight they sometimes gain when they quit smoking.

Go 'cold turkey,' or pick a 'quit date.'

One way to quit is, of course, to stop smoking entirely. This can pose some challenges since it's easy to relapse, but it can work well if you have a plan in place. Fiore likes to refer to it instead of as going 'cold turkey,' but rather as picking a 'quit date.'

Whether you're stopping abruptly, or more gradually cutting back, Fiore said it's important to stick to a schedule. It's easy to have one stressful day, or even a celebratory occasion and lapse back into old smoking habits.

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