Megan M. was about 18 when she started smoking in high school in
Pennsylvania. She first started trying to quit at 22. Today, at 24, she's a
marketing professional in San Francisco and credits identifying smoking
triggers as a key part of her success. Here's how she identified her smoking
triggers, and how you can, too.
I started smoking as a social thing. I'd have a cigarette while I was out
with friends. But when I went to college, I was in a long-distance relationship
and it was stressful, so smoking became my outlet. … I stopped working out. I
was smoking and felt awful about myself. I decided that I had to get my life
back on track, and smoking was the first thing to go.
I started smoking when I was a bored and lonely 17-year-old irrigating
alfalfa fields in Utah for money and reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance for enlightenment. I smoked watching magpies splash in the
ditch, and for 20 years I kept sucking those nasty things for reasons of
self-loathing and distraction, and mainly because I couldn’t stop. In 1996,
just before my son was born, I put a lid on it. I wasn’t going to contaminate
my babies with second-hand smoke. And it wasn't hard...
I did it on my own. … And one of the most successful things I did was
identifying my smoking triggers, the typical times when I automatically lit a
cigarette. The biggest smoking trigger was in the car. I'd get out of work or
class and get into the car to drive home, and I'd have a cigarette to make the
time pass. Another time would be after a meal. When I was really full, I'd
smoke to take the edge off the fullness feeling. When I was out with friends
and having drinks, I'd always smoke. And I'd smoke when I was
So when I'd get in the car, I'd say to myself, "I'm not going to have
a cigarette now." I'd be very conscious of it. And I'd wait 10 minutes and
focus my mind on something else, and usually the craving would pass. When I was
stressed, I started replacing cigarettes with doing crunches, because I felt
the need to move to alleviate tension. Or I'd chug a whole glass of
The toughest trigger to get over was the social smoking. Those are the
only times I've fallen back and had a cigarette. Fortunately, I now live in
California where it's almost taboo to go out of the bar to smoke, so that's
How Identifying Your Smoking Triggers Can Help You Stop Smoking
Megan has identified some of the most common "smoking triggers,"
says Lirio Covey, PhD, director of the Smoking Cessation Clinic at Columbia
University, where a major component of counseling focuses on identifying
Covey identifies these common smoking triggers:
Stress and emotional upheaval -- often negative, but sometimes positive
emotions can trigger the desire to smoke.
Exposure to the cigarette or something related to it, like being in the
company of other smokers, is another common trigger.
Conditional or environmental triggers, like the times you used to smoke and
behaviors you have been conditioned to associate with smoking. These are
strongest right after you stop smoking, and can weaken over time.