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Get rid of all your tobacco

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When trying to help smokers to quit, one naturally has to respect each individual’s preferences and beliefs about the best way to do it. But there are a few pieces of advice on which we can be pretty clear. One of them relates to the importance of getting rid of all your tobacco.

Not keeping cigarettes around when you are trying to quit sounds so obvious, but many smokers making an unassisted quit attempt keep some of their cigarettes or just don’t bother to carefully find and get rid of all their cigarettes. Even among smokers attending a specialist treatment clinic, around one in ten hang on to at least one cigarette after their target quit date arrives. When asked why, the answer is often something like, “just in case”. When asked, “just in case what?”, the answer is usually “just in case I feel I really need one.” Of course there will be times when you think you really need one, and perhaps the main thing that will stop you from smoking one will be that you don’t have one handy.

Sometimes smokers say that they’ll feel calmer knowing they have a cigarette nearby. But in my experience the availability of tobacco serves to stimulate cravings rather than reduce them. I’ve known smokers who have almost turned their house upside down during a quit attempt, trying to find that one cigarette that they remembered was in an old coat pocket, or the back of a drawer. Urges to smoke occur frequently during the first weeks of a quit attempt, but they are usually brief – from a few seconds to 5 minutes. Focusing attention on something else and keeping busy helps reduced the length, frequency and severity of cravings. But having cigarettes around or even just the knowledge that one is available somewhere in the house can trigger cravings and make it harder to refocus your thoughts on something else.

It is important to be thorough about this prior to your quit day. That means more than making sure you have either finished or thrown out your current pack. It also means making sure there are none in your car, workplace, closets, old clothes and down the back of the sofa! It involves having a good think about where any cigarettes might be available, prior to the quit day and disposing of them, along with any matches or lighters you still have.

Disposing thoroughly is also important. A half-full pack in the trash can start to seem mighty tempting after a few hours. Similarly giving what is left of your carton of cigarettes to your partner or neighbor to “look after” doesn’t cut it. Its too easy to pop round and say, “Remember that carton I gave you, can I have just one back?” Any remaining cigarettes should be scrunched up, soaked in water and put in a garbage bag along with all the other rotting food, and then the garbage bag placed out in the trash can. By thoroughly disposing of your tobacco and avoiding tempting situations where cigarettes are available, you will reduce your cravings and significantly increase your chances of successfully quitting.
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About the Author


MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.

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