Health Q&A

Top five tips to stop smoking

May 15, 2017

Smoking in South Africa: Just how bad is it?

Even though we all know by now just how bad smoking can be – both for the smoker and for those around them, almost 20% of South Africans over the age of 15 still smoke.

While that number may seem high, it’s actually good news: in 2000, over 24% of the same age group smoked.

This is according to a 2015 World Bank study on the prevalence and effects of smoking globally. The study breaks new ground as it sheds fresh light on the scale of the problems connected with smoking.

Health24.com explains,

‘Dr Debbie Bradshaw of the Medical Research Council and a member of CDIA, one of the leading participants in this mortality study says, “We have known about the link between smoking and mortality for many decades, but did not know the magnitude of the problem.”

She explains that, by adding a simple yes/no question regarding smoking history to routine death certification, researchers had gained access to over 480 000 death records between 1999 and 2007, revealing the impact of a lifelong smoking pattern. The study found particularly high tobacco-related mortality in the coloured population, for whom smoking causes one in four of all deaths in middle-aged men and one in six of all deaths, in middle-aged women.’

The revolutionary World Bank findings are summarised in five interactive charts, here.

If you’re reading this, though, you already know smoking is bad for you. What you need is some practical tips for kicking the butt, so to speak, and giving up the habit for good.

Know your WHY

‘When you know your WHY, you’ll know your WAY.’ – Michael Hyatt

When you need to make any big change in your life, it’s important to have a strong motivating force to drive you when the going gets tough. Simply knowing that smoking kills won’t be enough to keep you away from that box of cigarettes when you’ve had a stressful week, and you’re unwinding with a glass of wine, surrounded by your closest friends … or whatever your particular smoking pattern may be (see below).

You need to be very clear on the WHY behind the decision to quit, or you may find it hard to hang on to your resolve when those cravings hit. And it needs to be a BIG why. Your reason needs to have power and meaning – something you just can’t imagine not achieving.

Action Step: Write your BIG WHY down on a piece of paper (or many pieces of paper) in large, bold letters. Put the paper(s) up in places you look at every day. Make it hard to forget why you’ve taken this important decision.

Know your WHEN

Take a clear-eyed look at your usual smoking patterns. Do you chase your morning cup of coffee with a cigarette? Is it an after-dinner distraction? Do you only smoke when you spend the evening at the pub, or in social settings with friends around the braai?

Action Step: Write down all the times, places, and events that usually end with a smoke. Now get creative with ways to change those behaviours and avoid those situations. Write those down, too. Put them up where you can see them – and always keep a copy of your action plan with you.

Know your HOW

Brainstorm strategies for avoiding smoking. What will you do when you crave a cigarette? Some ideas include:

  • Grab a cup of coffee instead of a cigarette.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Use a substitute (see ‘Know your WHAT’.)
  • Call a friend (see ‘Know your WHO’).


Action Step:
Write down your coping strategies and (you guessed it!) put them up where you won’t miss them. Make it hard for yourself to go back on your plan.

Know your WHAT

Smoking is a complex addiction. It’s not just about the nicotine. It’s about the routine and ritual. It’s something to do with your hands, or something to do with your friends. It’s about something to put in your mouth and a way to cope with stress.

You need to know what smoking is to you. Then you need to find a healthier option to fill that gap.

Gum, nicotine patches, and e-cigarettes all provide helpful substitutes for the nicotine fix from a smoke. In fact,

‘People attempting to quit smoking without professional help are approximately 60% more likely to report succeeding if they use e-cigarettes than if they use willpower alone or over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies such as patches or gum, finds a large UCL survey of smokers in England,’ according to Addiction Journal.

But if your addiction is a little more abstract than a simple chemical reaction, it helps to know – and address – that. Chewing gum (or carrot sticks!) can help if you feel the need to keep your mouth busy. A hobby like drawing, writing, or playing a musical instrument can help keep your hands busy. (Don’t worry: no one said you had to be Mozart or Picasso. Just express yourself.) Hobbies are also good ways to fill in the time and even meet new people if these are gaps you’ve previously looked to cigarettes to fill.

Action Step: Try to work out what needs smoking fills in your life, and identify healthier ways to meet these needs.

Know your WHO

A recent UK study shows that people who get support (especially professional support from smoking counsellors) are three times more likely to quite successfully – and stay away from cigarettes – than people who don’t.

The study’s abstract explains its findings:

’The researchers estimate that smokers who use a combination of specialist behavioural support together with a stop-smoking medicine or nicotine product in their quit attempts have approximately three times the odds of success than those who stop smoking without any aid. But on the flip side, smokers who buy nicotine replacement therapy over-the-counter with no contact with a health professional have similar odds of success as those who stop without any aid.

Professor Robert West from University College London, who led the team of researchers, said: ‘When you think that stopping smoking saves 6 hours of life for every day of smoking avoided, investing an hour or two over a 6-week period to see a stop smoking advisor seems like a good investment.’’

Action Step: Enlist the help of family, friends, loved ones, and even your doctor, to help you avoid the temptation when it strikes. Better yet, find a trained specialist who will help you stay on the straight and narrow and manage your addiction.

Many more actionable tips can be found in the book “SmokeFree Formula”, by Addiction Journal editor-in-chief Robert West. The book describes 29 ‘ingredients’ that smokers can put into their own personal ‘SmokeFree Formula’ based on Professor West’s guidance and their own experience.

As Professor West says, ‘Stopping smoking saves 6 hours of life for every day of smoking avoided’. The sooner you start living smoke-free, the sooner you start living better, and longer.

If you want to quit smoking, speak to your doctor today and start living your healthiest life today. Call our client services centre on 0860 00 21 58 or drop us a line today if you need a medical aid solution that will help with finding the nearest doctor to you.