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Smoking Cessation Health Center

Find Your Smoking Triggers

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Defuse Smoking Triggers in Advance continued...

“But conditioned responses like these can be broken,” says Scott McIntosh, PhD, associate professor of community and preventive medicine at the University of Rochester in New York and director of the Greater Rochester Area Tobacco Cessation Center.

His advice: before your quit date, de-fuse triggers by changing your routines. “If you’re used to smoking in the car, for example, practice driving short distances without smoking. If coffee triggers a craving, practice taking your coffee break without having a cigarette. Have a glass of wine but don’t accompany it with a cigarette. Focus on breaking your own most powerful triggers in advance of quitting.”

Avoid Situations That Spark a Craving to Smoke

Before your quit date, look over your list of triggers and put a checkmark beside those that you can reasonably avoid. If you have friends you’re used to smoking with, for example, decide in advance not to see them during the first few weeks of quitting. If drinking coffee is a strong trigger for you, switch to tea. If you associate smoking with watching TV, skip television for a couple of weeks and take a brisk walk around the neighborhood instead. If you’re used to lighting up a cigarette when you take the dog for a walk, alter your route into unfamiliar territory.

The more thoroughly you change your usual routine, the easier it will be to steer clear of triggers. Instead of breakfast and a cigarette first thing in the morning, take a short walk around the neighborhood. If you usually step outside to smoke a cigarette during a break at work, do a few simple exercises such as deep knee bends or stretches at your desk instead. Whenever possible, go to places where you can’t smoke, such as libraries, museums, or theaters.

Plan Ways to Resist Smoking Triggers You Can’t Avoid

Some situations or feelings can’t be avoided, of course. By acknowledging in advance that they’re likely to spark a craving, you can be better prepared to ride it out. Bring along something else to put in your mouth instead of a cigarette—a mint-flavored toothpick or some carrot sticks, for example. While you’re walking, take deep breaths, focusing on how good the fresh air feels in your lungs. Other useful strategies to ride out a craving include sipping ice-cold water through a straw, taking deep breaths, keeping your hands busy by squeezing a rubber ball or doing a crossword puzzle, or taking a brisk walk.

Remember, each time you resist a trigger and don’t light up, you’ve lessened its power over you. Most cravings only last a few minutes. If you can ride them out, you’ll be one step closer to a lifetime free of nicotine.

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Reviewed on January 20, 2011

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