Resolved to Quit Smoking in the New Year? Better Plan Ahead

Dec 31, 2014

If you’re planning to quit smoking in 2015, you’re not alone. After losing weight, it’s perhaps the most commonly made New Year’s resolution.

If you’re still smoke-free by June, you’re in much more select company.

A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that while more than half of smokers tried to quit in 2010, only 6 percent were ultimately successful. Other CDC data suggest it could take as many as 11 attempts for the average smoker to permanently kick the habit.

But there are steps you can take to substantially improve your chances of quitting successfully. In Pennsylvania, you can start by calling the PA Free Quitline (1-800-QUIT-NOW).

Dr. Amy Lukowski is clinical director of health initiatives at Denver-based National Jewish Health, which operates Quitline services for Pennsylvania and several other states.

“Our call volumes go up significantly in January,” Lutkowski said. “It’s people committing to health, to starting anew, which always comes with the first of the year.”

The New Year can serve as a powerful psychological hook for people preparing to make a major life change, Lutkowski said. But many do so impulsively, or without a full understanding of the process involved in breaking a physical addiction.

“They think, ‘Oh, I’m just going to break this habit, it’s a bad habit,’” Lukowski said. “That’s how a lot of people frame it, so they don’t go into it adequately prepared.”

In fact, most first-time quit attempts are cold-turkey – and they almost always fail.

Factoring out those false starts, the odds of success improve dramatically. With counseling and medication, CDC data show the probability of success can  increase to as much as 31.7 percent.

“The science tells us that counseling along with any type of quit medication, whether it’s over the counter or prescription, gives you the best chance of success at quitting for good,” Lukowski said.

PA Free Quitline counselors can help smokers figure out what combination of interventions will work best, and help them work out a long-term plan for quitting. After that, the first step is to set a target date. Lukowski recommends picking a day that holds meaning for the smoker.

“That can be a child’s birthday or a grandchild’s birthday or an anniversary, something like that,” she said.

Counselors stress the importance of preparation: researching medications and cessation aids, modifying your environment and daily routine to minimize the risk of relapse, and – especially – enlisting the help of family, friends and coworkers.

“A support system is really key in quitting,” Lukowski said. “It’s having those people in your life who support you that, when you’re having withdrawal or feeling irritable, you can go to.”

It’s also important to identify potential triggers – certain people, emotional cues, even places or smells – that could derail the process. For those already trying to quit, or planning to start soon, the next few weeks may be especially difficult.

“The holidays can be very stressful,” Lukowski said. “As we talk to smokers through the quitline, we find that that’s the number one reason people continue to smoke, and it’s the number one reason people relapse.”

For that reason, it might be wise to postpone any big changes a bit longer – without losing sight of the larger goal.

“Sometimes the timing isn’t right,” Lukowski said. “And that’s okay. But even mentally preparing, saying ‘OK, now is not the time for me to do that, but I’m thinking about it, I’m preparing for it,’ that’s an important part of the process as well.”

Even acknowledging all the potential pitfalls, a resolution to quit smoking in the new year is something cessation experts generally encourage.

“Calling a quitline doesn’t mean you have to be ready to quit. Calling a quitline is saying, ‘I’m starting the process, I’m starting to think about this,’” Lukowski said. "Even if you want to do this and you haven’t adequately prepared, it’s OK to start the process."

Learn how to keep your resolution to lose wight here.

Learn how to keep your resolution to exercise more here.

Learn how to make your resolution to volunteer more stick here.