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The ability to quit smoking takes more than will power. Like anything else, there's a process.

Published Oct 1st, 2018

Dr. Thomas Leytham, a physician with USA Student Health and former medical director of an Air Force smoking cessation program, says it is clear that anyone who uses nicotine products on a daily basis should consider stopping for the sake of their health—no matter how good or bad their health is at the present.

In fact, Dr. Leytham explains that the better your health is now, the higher your chances are of keeping it that way if you stop smoking.

According to Dr. Leytham, the first step to breaking the habit is to cut back as much possible. “This also happens to be a good plan for putting some money in your wallet, and most of my patients love that idea."

“When it comes to nicotine usage, the less you use the better,” he adds. “This is always true. In terms of virtually all health problems, 12 cigarettes a day is better than 20, and three cigarettes a day is better than six.”

Dr. Leytham notes that if your plan is to eventually quit smoking for good, as opposed to simply cutting back, then it may be helpful to give up most or all of your morning cigarettes first. This usually makes it easier to give up the other cigarettes later in the day, once you decide it is time to give up smoking for good.

The second step is to begin working on a plan to completely quit.

According to Dr. Leytham, once a person has been using nicotine on a daily basis for a prolonged period of time, they no longer have the option to switch over to being a casual user.

“Many who have a daily tobacco habit think they can continue to use nicotine on an irregular or casual basis after they were once a daily user,” he says. “The possibility of this is extremely remote.”

Dr. Leytham adds that anyone who has used nicotine on a daily basis for a year or more has permanently altered the nicotine receptors in their brain.

“This means that after you have not used nicotine for a while, even a week, the nicotine will bind even more tightly to those receptors the next time you use it. This will heighten the effect and increase the craving for another,” he warns. “Your body also retains the ability to create more receptors rapidly should you ever start using again, which will also make it more difficult to smoke only on a casual basis.”

The Psychology of Smoking

Dr. Leytham says the psychological cravings usually last for months and even last for years after quitting. Giving in to the desire for even one cigarette once you have quit smoking daily is extremely risky if you are committed to quitting.

“When a daily nicotine user successfully gives up nicotine, they should never look back,” he notes. “Even if they had a funeral, a wedding and a high school reunion all in the same day, they should say 'no' to even one cigarette, or they will risk having to start all over again.”

With all of this, Dr. Leytham emphasizes that it is usually much easier to replace a habit rather than to simply quit one.

“Do whatever you have to do—buy chewing gum or take stretching, music or walking breaks instead of smoking breaks,” he advises. “Do word puzzles or sing out loud with your car windows rolled up. Whatever you must do to replace your cigarette habit will be worth the effort.

In addition, Dr. Leytham says some people find nicotine patches or prescription medications helpful in their transition from daily smoker to non-smoker status.

“It depends on the individual,” he said. “Just make sure you use these things properly and do not use any nicotine-containing product after you have already quit using for a full 72 hours.”

To learn more about smoking cessation, visit

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