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How to quit smoking | Science, statistics and pictures

28 December, 2017
How to quit smoking


CBHS members holding Hospital or Package cover have access to programs that can help them quit smoking – get started on your smoke free journey.

Giving up smoking

Smoking has earned its reputation of being horrible – extremely horrible – for your health. The endless links between smoke inhalation and cancer, COPD, nicotine addiction and a host of other conditions can’t be missed, but fails to address the underlying issues that smoking ‘fixes’.

It’s highly addictive nature and its correlation with relaxation, socialisation, and habit, can make giving up smoking a challenge.

Luckily, we know that people can kick smoking once and for all. Here’s what the science says can help you quit (for the last time).

Going cold turkey is best

Cold turkey statistics

We’re not sure where the original idea that going cold turkey was more likely to fail, but this misconception is soon to blow away under the clean, fresh breeze of new research.

As reported on by Time, abrupt quitters were:

  • 25% more likely to quit
  • 49% of cold turkeys were successful, compared to 39% of graduals
  • At the half year mark, 22% of cold turkeys were smoke-free compared to 15% of the graduals

Need help quitting? Check out our Better Living programs for phone support and tailored guidance.

How to go cold turkey

Going cold turkey

Make a plan
– organising your new smoke-free life is a great place to start, helping you avoid or manage situations where smoking would have previously been an inevitability.

Avoid temptations – staying clear of situations where you’re more likely to want to smoke reduces your chances of giving in to cravings. For example, if you’re a worker who leaves their desk to go outside and smoke, you don’t have to stay glued to your desk. Instead, take a walk around the block and avoid the usual spot where you smoke.

Socially, this might be harder to do, especially where alcohol is concerned. If you know you’re going to be drinking, being aware of your feelings and surroundings might be enough to keep you from smoking.

Take on a new hobby – pouring the energy, attention and enjoyment from smoking into something else can prove to be a fulfilling distraction. It might be a small hobby, like crosswords or sudoku, or a more involved hobby like a game or sport.

Build a support network – you don’t have to go alone. Having a network of people that are supporting you when you need it, to share your frustrations with or to receive encouragement can help boost your confidence and remind you of why you’re quitting in the first place.

How to quit gradually

If cold turkey isn’t your thing, then you can try quitting gradually.

Quit smoking gradually

Make a plan – quitting gradually requires a different kind of planning. You need to figure out how many cigarettes you’re allowing yourself to have, as well as when, and the date you will be completely smoke-free.

Nicotine aids – nicotine patches or other medications are designed to help ween you off addiction. It takes care of the craving, and keep you motivated to steer clear of situations where you would usually smoke.

Find substitutes – as you progress towards quitting completely, you can start replacing your usual cigarette with something else like gum, fruit, walking or drinking tea or water.

Quitting smoking through willpower

What is willpower?

What we call willpower can be more accurately defined as ‘delayed gratification’ – our ability to delay short-term urges to fulfil a greater goal. In the same way you save money, leave half a meal for leftovers, or smile at a terrible joke, your ability to delay the gratification of spending, devouring the rest of the chicken, or telling someone they’re nowhere near as funny as they think they are, is your willpower at work.

It’s more than your mind

The internal urge to demolish six doughnuts in one sitting and not doing it isn’t just your mind battling with itself – it’s an entire physiological process. In the way that experiencing stress puts you into ‘fight or flight’ mode, delaying gratification enters you into a state called ‘pause and plan’.

Pause and plan provides extra energy to your prefrontal cortex, enabling you to prioritise long-term goals over short term impulses.

You might have noticed after a particularly stressful day that it’s much harder to maintain a healthy eating streak or stay away from your favourite destructive habits. Stress, and your fight or flight response, releases adrenaline and directs you to think in the present and to make snap decisions. It’s a great mechanism when getting chased by an angry buffalo, but extremely unhelpful when trying to avoid another smoke.

Willpower is like a muscle

You’ll notice that after you’ve exercised yourself to your limits that simpler, non-related tasks become more difficult. Your energy drained, you need time to recover and fortify the muscles you’ve worked out.

The same is true of willpower – there’s only so much you can flex it before it fails. Just like your regular muscles, once your willpower is expended, it becomes harder to use it for any task, even ones unrelated to what you originally spent it on.

Training your willpower

Quitting smoking requires both endurance and strength – you want to delay gratification over a long period, as well as be able to say ‘NO’ firmly when the cravings are at their worst.

Like any form of training, keeping a record of your performance can be a great tool in understanding how you’re progressing, where your challenges lie, and where your next opportunity in growth is.


It’s always the best time to go smoke-free, even it’s after your first attempt. 



American Psychological Association – The Strength Model of Self Control

American Psychological Association – Willpower


Time – The Best Way to Quit Smoking According to Science


Stanford University – A Conversation About the Science of Willpower

Stanford University – Stanford Med: Answers to your Questions About Willpower and Tools to Reach Our Goals – Quitting Methods

Burns DM. Nicotine Addiction. In: Kasper D, Fauci A, Hauser S, Longo D, Jameson J, Loscalzo J. eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19e New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2014. Accessed December 12, 2017

All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies. For full terms, click here.

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