Unusual Ways to Quit Smoking

Tried everything? Maybe it's time for an offbeat approach to kick the habit.

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on July 29, 2010
5 min read

Quitting smoking is tough. But it can be done -- and many people get creative to kick the habit.

Take Sandi Sedberry, 44, of Rock Hill, S.C. You might say her method was motherly love.

Sedberry smoked for 26 years. Last November, when she discovered that her 19-year-old son, Ricky, had picked up the habit, she was motivated to change. “I made a pact with him to quit together,” she says.

Sedberry bought a case of chewing gum and says she walked around looking like Bessie the Cow, for about 2 months, but it worked. Ricky quit, too.

“No patches, no shots, no hypnosis -- just trying to make sure my son did not pick up the bad habit," Sedberry says.

No question -- quitting smoking can save your life. But it brings temporary physical withdrawal symptoms -- such as irritability and headache -- followed by the long haul of sticking with it.

"The physical withdrawal, for most people, lasts from a few days to a maybe a week. After that, it’s the psychological withdrawal that people have the most difficulty with,” says Heath Dingwell, PhD, author of 12 Things to Do to Quit Smoking.

In essence, if you make it past the first week, you then face the psychological symptoms -- the mere habit of lighting up - which, for some people, can last quite a long time. In Dingwell’s opinion, it comes down to breaking that habit and finding better ways to manage stress.

Here are other offbeat ways smokers have kicked the habit.

Melissa Gold, 34, of Washington, D.C., quit smoking in 2001, on the first day of a six-month no-smoking challenge from her boss. At the time, she worked for Bratskeir & Co, a PR agency in Manhattan, when the owner came across a group of employees standing outside the building for a smoke break. He later asked what it would take to get them to quit. “I promptly said he'd have to pay me,” Gold says. That afternoon he issued the challenge.

The deal: The smokers would get $5 per day -- the cost of a pack of cigarettes then -- taken out their paychecks and stashed in a quit-smoking fund for six months, and Bratskeir would match that. If any of them faltered or got caught -- they split that person's payment.

“I think the final payoff came to around $2,000, plus he took all of us out for a celebration dinner,” Gold says.

Bratskeir also paid for whatever crutch the employees needed to quit. Gold remembers one woman chose acupuncture; another picked a nicotine patch. She tried nicotine gum, but says she couldn’t handle the taste and switched to watermelon bubble gum, which her boss also bought.

Five employees joined in, and all five earned the payout. Gold is still smoke-free nine years later. “I think with any kind of discipline challenge (weight loss, smoking cessation, etc.), it's really important to do it with a group. The peer pressure to stay clean and keep you accountable is key,” she says. A generous boss didn’t hurt either.

Susan Brannan, 33, of Rochester, N.Y., quit smoking using vitamin C drops and reciting a mantra she found online (NOPE- Not One Puff Ever). “I had been a pack-a-day smoker for 12 years and quit cold turkey using this method.” She had her last cigarette in 2007.

Brannan says she'd previously tried to quit using nicotine lozenges, but didn’t like the taste. With the lozenges, she weaned herself to smoke only on weekends, but after eight months went back to full-time smoking. Next, she thought of using gum, but worried about her dental work.

In the end, she settled on the vitamin C drops because she liked the citrus flavor. “In the beginning, I went through quite a few. I would say 15 or so every day. Over time, I used less and less.”

Brannan had not been a fan of using mantras, and thought it sounded a bit flaky. But she says it helped in the early weeks.

"I would be alone in my car and the urge would strike to smoke. Having this little phrase to say out loud gave me the backbone I needed to resist the temptation.”

Some people swear by replacing smoking with another activity. Reeve McNamara of Atlanta spent years trying to quit, and found the only thing that really worked was running.

“Runners always asked me how far I ran and my answer was until I did not want a cigarette, which started out as only a few miles, but now I have run up to 44 miles in a day," he says.

McNamara no longer craves cigarettes -- but the distance runner says he's now addicted to running.

Robert Brown, 46, director of the How Quit web site, modeled his smoking cessation program after the Marines.

“I've found that quitting smoking is less difficult when you believe you can do it. As a former Marine, I had the belief in myself and knew that I could do it on my own. But there are thousands, maybe millions of smokers who aren't ex-military or highly disciplined and need help to quit.”

Brown combined effective techniques with boot-camp strategies to devise a program others can follow successfully. Tenets like dumping all smoking gear, using the buddy system, exhausting yourself with activities and exercise, and relying on team spirit comprise his boot camp-like quit regime.

Dingwell says even with unconventional methods, the more approaches you use at the same time, the better your odds of lasting success. And "lasting" is what you really want.

Dingwell’s research on conventional means of quitting smoking show that "it does not matter what method a person used to initially quit smoking, long-term success rates drop for absolutely every method" that he has studied. So if freezing your last pack in a block of ice or betting your best friend would motivate you to quit and stay smoke-free, give it a go.