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Smoking Cessation Health Center

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Facing My Smoking Triggers

Emotions are the most common smoking triggers.

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 smoking triggers.

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.

How Can You Find and Face Your Smoking Triggers?

Trina Ita, the counseling supervisor for the American Cancer Society's Quitline, has some advice:

  • If you find yourself wanting to smoke while riding in the car, make your car an unfriendly place to smoke. Clean it out, empty and scrub the ashtrays and the glove compartment, and get rid of your "what if" pack. Febreze the upholstery. And keep things like gum or sugar-free candy in the glove compartment to give you something to do with your mouth while you're driving.
  • If being around other smokers is a common trigger for you, talk to your friends who smoke. Ask them for help in not smoking around you as much as possible, to minimize the chance of relapse. If your friends are outside smoking, stay inside; congratulate yourself on not having to stand out in the cold, or not missing the big play at your favorite sports bar because you were outside having a cigarette.
  • Do you find yourself wanting a cigarette right after eating? Get busy immediately after your meal. Get up and clear the table, do the dishes, and pack up the leftovers.

As Megan discovered, often just getting through the first few minutes after a trigger spurs the craving to smoke is all you need. "Just delay that urge," says Ita. "Even if you wait just 15 minutes, you'll find that you're not thinking about it anymore."

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Reviewed on January 23, 2009

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