Real-life (and Sometimes Weird!) Strategies to Quit Smoking

by Jeanine Barone Health Writer

Anyone who has tried to quit smoking, including those with COPD, knows that everyone faces different hurdles. “It’s not one size fits all,” says James Davis, M.D., medical director of the Duke University Smoking Cessation Clinic in Durham, NC. “Some people have a genetic predisposition to being dependent on nicotine.” Others smoke because of depression, stress management, or weight issues. Each person’s challenge requires a customized quit-smoking strategy, says Dr. Davis. Click through for some strategies that successful quitters have employed on their own.

Try DIY Aversion Therapy

In addition to using the patch, when Nicole McKeon, 41, of Arlington, TX, has a craving for a cigarette, she relies on a half-full bottle of water containing cigarette butts. “I open the bottle and smell it,” says McKeon. “I’ve always hated smelling like cigarettes; this is how I train my brain that wanting a cigarette is associated with that horrible smell. So far, I’m using it three times a day, usually in the morning when my husband and kids are stressing me out, or when I have wine with dinner because alcohol lowers my inhibitions so I might want to smoke.”

Give in to Peer Pressure

“When I got pregnant, I told my dad (Pete, 64) he would never hold his grandson if he was still smoking,” says Michelle Spano, 31, of Morristown, NJ. “My dad smoked his last cigarette after I called that I was in labor. He slapped on a patch and met me at the hospital where he waited for hours without a cigarette for the first time in 45 years. He’s been a nonsmoker for three years now.” Sometimes peer pressure can be the thing that triggers someone to take the first step, says Dr. Davis. “Ultimately, it takes more than that; it takes genuine support from people you care about most.”

Go Full Service

“I stopped going into gas stations, and instead I only pay at the pump,” says Marcia Scarlette, 31, of Hampton, VA. “Not going inside took away the convenience of buying cigarettes. To this day, I avoid going inside a gas station if I’m stressed or upset.” Adds Andrea King, Ph.D., director of the Clinical Addictions Research Laboratory for Smokers at the University of Chicago Medicine: “Venues that sell cigarettes may activate the brain reward pathways and trigger a desire to smoke. By avoiding such cues or triggers, a smoker can reduce the frequency and intensity of such conditioned cravings in their environment.”

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Book a Laser-Acupuncture Appointment

“I haven’t smoked since doing one 40-minute laser-acupuncture session,” says Christine Allen of Lake Mary, FL. Low-level lasers are used (instead of acupuncture needles), and practitioners claim they help to release the same opiate-type chemicals as nicotine. Laser acupuncture is one of three alternative quit-smoking methods (the others are hypnosis and meditation). “Though there are no randomized controlled trials, people have had tremendous success with these methods,” says Dr. Davis. And when she's missing the activities around smoking, Allen relies on another technique: “I carry around a straw, placing it on my lips when I have a craving, and it’s gone in seconds.”

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Sign Up for Something New

Though Sheila Lefe, 63, admits to being addicted to Nicorette gum, “I threw myself into new activities, chief among them, salsa dancing and hiking," says Lefe, who lives in New York City (and asked not to use her real name). “You can’t take something beloved from a person without replacing it with something equally pleasurable. With salsa dancing, I’m encouraged and rewarded by the progress I make.” These activities work by providing a healthy compensatory behavior to counteract cravings that may percolate if one is bored, says Dr. King. Physical activity can also provide a distraction from smoking urges and may help to decrease the intensity of a craving.

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Breathe Like a Yogi

“I do yoga breathing when my cravings are really bad or when I’m stressed over not smoking,” says Angela Stubanas, 52, of Houston, TX. For yoga breathing you breathe in and out of your nose, as deeply and slowly as you can. “My cravings last about three to five minutes. If I do the breathing exercises, which take six minutes, it usually will surpass my craving to smoke.” Adds Dr. Davis: “Stress is one of the main drivers of smoking and if people can manage their stress, such as by breathing, that’s helpful for smoking cessation. However, though the data on interventions that focus on breathing seem to show an effect, it’s a relatively small one.”

Suck on Lollipops

“The patch gave me the nicotine that my body craved, but I needed something for the hand-to-mouth action,” says Donna Jackson, 66, of Jacksonville, NC. “Years ago, I saw Telly Savalas in Kojak playing a cop who quit smoking by sucking on lollipops, so I tried it every time I got the urge.” How it works: The hand-to-mouth sensations of smoking get associated with the pleasurable effects of nicotine and are reinforcing, says Dr. King. Sucking on a lollipop can help satisfy that urge.

Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking

Try the Allen Carr Method

“I always had an idea that smoking helped relieve my stress,” says Brooke Arciszewski, 47, of Austin, TX. “Allen Carr's book made me realize that the only thing cigarettes do is cause me to crave another one, feeding the addiction. When I have an occasional pang, I introduce the thought that with nicotine it’s back to living in constant withdrawal.” Though there’s limited evidence for the effectiveness of Allen Carr’s popular Easyway to Stop Smoking book and training, which works by debunking myths associated with smoking, a randomized trial published in Tobacco Control found that quit rates were significantly higher with Carr’s method compared with a traditional online quit-smoking intervention.

Drink Bottled Water

Addicted to the ritual of smoking, Gina G., 50, of Lugoff, SC, says, “I’d crave grabbing the pack, tapping it, opening and closing the pack, lighting the cigarette, etc.” Her new ritual involved bottled water: grabbing the bottle, taking off the cap, taking a sip, putting the cap back on, also fidgeting with the label. It worked because “smoking involves a relationship to a behavior and a sensation,” says Dr. Davis. “Drinking water gives you something to do and it provides a sensation. It also quells the desire to eat. The urge to smoke and the urge to eat are intertwined.”

three friends at music festival, two are smoking cigarettes
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Take a Hiatus from Friends Who Smoke

“I realized that hanging out with my friends who still smoked was detrimental to my quitting journey,” says Ibukun Oluwafumbi Ajayi, 31, of Ibadan, Nigeria, who admits to shifting focus and energy on more productive things. “I would rather read a book alone than hang out with my friends who smoke,” says Ajayi. “Social interactions with other people who smoke exposes you to a litany of triggers, like smelling the smoke and drinking alcohol,” says Dr. Davis. “You need to spend time away from friends who smoke and tell them, ‘If we hang out, I need you to not smoke.’” It’s not about them, it’s all about you.

Jeanine Barone
Meet Our Writer
Jeanine Barone

Jeanine Barone is a scientist and journalist with an eclectic background. She’s a nutritionist and exercise physiologist who regularly writes about travel, health, fitness, and food for numerous top-tier publications. Jeanine enjoys active travel, especially long-distance cycling and cross-country skiing.