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It was Mark Twain who joked, “Quitting smoking is the easiest thing I ever did, I ought to know because I’ve done it a thousand times".
 
Like most smokers, Twain learned that smoking is difficult to stop because cigarettes contain nicotine, which is an addictive chemical that causes powerful pleasure and intense cravings. These cravings are, in fact, symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Cravings normally start a few hours after you stop smoking and peak at day two or three. If you are lucky, craving will ease in a few days, but they can last weeks.
 
Last month, I discussed my top 10 tips to help you stop smoking, and it might be helpful to recap those tips now.
 
Here, we will look at some tips to help you beat the cravings and become nicotine-free.
 
If you are quitting, you know cravings are coming, so plan ways to handle them. Have a plan of action or a distraction ready for times you feel the urge to smoke.
 
Top 10 tips to beat nicotine cravings:
  • Change the scene and change your thinking. Get up and move around, go into a different room, or go outside. Try to find a way to distract yourself away from the idea of a cigarette. Remind yourself of your reasons for quitting and tell yourself that smoking is not an option.
  • Increase your exercise. It reduces cravings, helps relieve stress, improves mood, and can help to keep you from gaining weight.
  • Breathe deeply. Visualize the fresh air filling your lungs and remind yourself of the health benefits of quitting smoking. Learning relaxation and meditation techniques could help.
  • Drink fluids. Water and cordials are good choices. It's best to limit caffeine and alcohol while you're going through nicotine withdrawal, particularly if you associate them with smoking.
  • Have a substitute. Eat a healthy snack, chew sugarless gum, or have a piece of hard candy, but be sure to avoid any foods that you associate with a cigarette.
  • Hold something in your hand. Try a pen, coin, or paper clip, so that you have something to do with your hands, the way you did when you were smoking cigarettes.
  • Talk to someone. Call a friend or relative or speak with a sympathetic person in your workplace.
  • Be more active. Get involved in an activity you enjoy. Do a puzzle, send an e-mail, play a musical instrument, write in your journal, play a video game. Find an activity that will occupy your hands and change the focus of your thoughts.
  • Delay. Tell yourself you must wait 10 minutes before you have a cigarette. By then, the urge may have passed. If not, try another 10-minute wait. Cravings usually come and go, and last for only a brief period of time. Remind yourself that the craving will pass. The nicotine withdrawal period will pass, too.
  • Visit your doctor. They will advise you on nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products, prescription products and electronic cigarettes.
 
NRT is a way to give nicotine to the body by means other than tobacco. It is used to decrease withdrawal symptoms triggered by stopping smoking or chewing tobacco cessation. NRT comes as patches, gums, oral strips, oral sprays, lozenges and inhalers. One of the biggest problems I see in my clinics is that people stop using their treatment too soon. After quitting gets easier in week 1-3, they assume that they are now ‘cured’ from their addiction and can do it alone. NRT should be taken for eight to 12 weeks. 
 
Champix is a prescription-only medication which works by relieving the craving and withdrawal symptoms associated with giving up smoking. Champix does not contain nicotine but mimics the effect of nicotine on the body. It does not make you stop smoking - you still need determination and motivation to succeed and to break the smoking habit.

An electronic or e-cigarette is a battery-powered device which heats liquid nicotine, which can then be inhaled into the lungs. Available evidence suggests that e-cigarettes are safer than conventional smoking, however there is enough evidence to suggest that they do still damage our lungs in a similar way to cigarettes. More proof is needed regarding the effectiveness and safety of e-cigarettes in the long term. We should not underestimate the addictive power of nicotine products. Therefore other than short term use as an aid to quit smoking e-cigarette use should be discouraged.
 
It is never too late to stop smoking and making a big difference to your health and lifestyle. Good luck on your journey to become nicotine-free.
General Practitioner 
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