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Fact Buster: Going Cold Turkey to Quit Smoking

Temuco, Chile(Zone 9b)

Is going 'cold turkey' the most effective way to quit smoking?
A: Probably. It's certainly the method most successful quitters use.

"Quitting smoking is the hardest thing I ever did." It's a statement you hear time and time again, but who's saying it? Real people? Or actors in advertisements for quit smoking aids like nicotine gum, patches and pills?

The idea that it's incredibly difficult to quit smoking is widely held and you'd be forgiven for thinking yourself foolhardy to attempt it alone. But in truth it looks like good old-fashioned willpower could actually be your best option.

"Cold turkey is the way that people don't like talking about but it's overwhelmingly the most popular and successful way that most people quit smoking," says Professor Simon Chapman, director of research at the School of Public Health at Sydney Medical School.

"It's the way that most people who have quit stopped. If you take 100 ex-smokers and ask them how they quit, about 66 to 75 of them will have quit smoking without any assistance at all."
Chapman's views are backed by a Cancer Council Australia suvey presented this month at the Asia Pacific Conference on Tobacco or Health.

Nicotine replacement options
But while cold turkey – either stopping dead or cutting down smoking and then stopping – might be the most common way to success, it's difficult to say for sure whether it's better than alternatives.
That's because there are inherent difficulties comparing "going it alone" with aids like nicotine patches, pills and gum in head-to-head tests.

One problem is that smokers who are given a placebo pill or patch in a trial are likely to be able to tell that they have been given a fake because they won't experience the familiar effects of nicotine, says Chapman. A review of studies found that in almost three quarters of trials people could tell whether they were being given the real deal or not. This makes it harder to tease out how much success is due to the pill or patch itself, rather than simply its effect on a person's motivation.

Only for light smokers?
Nonetheless quitting cold turkey clearly works for many and not just those who smoked relatively few cigarettes to start with, Chapman says. "There are plenty of examples of people who were very heavy smokers who have given up alone."
And it's a method that seems to appeal to Australians. Only about 3 per cent of smokers in this country ever call smoking quitlines, he says, despite the phone number being on cigarette packs and anti-smoking literature and advertising for years.

"[People] don't in the main want to engage with public health professionals to try to quit smoking. They want to do it themselves. And many of them do it. There are far more ex-smokers in Australia than there are smokers now, so many of them have succeeded."
"It's like saying how do most people learn to ride a bike? Do they have a professional from the bike shop give them lessons? No, they just do it."

What works for you?
Quitting cold turkey isn't for everyone though; there are some people who will need assistance, Chapman says. But he'd like to see the alternative – going it alone – put forward as a viable option in public health messages about giving up. (A recent paper he co-authored on this topic was published here:

"We need to rebalance the public discussion about how people quit smoking. We need to be honest with people and tell them that most people quit without assistance."
Motivation is key, says Chapman, and public health messages should be changed to encourage people to quit rather than telling them constantly that 'if you quit, it'll be really really hard'.
"We need to tell people that for some it will be hard, but for many people it'll be surprisingly easy. There is some research that shows people who quit smoking look back on the experience and say 'what was all the fuss about it? It wasn't that difficult at all'".

If you don't quit the first time though, don't give up. Research shows it typically takes seven to 12 attempts, although there's plenty of debate about what people mean by a "quit attempt".
As for particular tips on how to give your willpower the best chance? There's little research into techniques such as asking friends to watch out for you or how best to distracting yourself from cravings.

So it's probably best to simply make your own list of tips to try and see which of them works for you.

Saugerties, NY(Zone 5a)

I quit cold turkey 3 1/2 years ago after 40+ years of smoking almost 2 packs a day. I had tried many times in the past and tried alot of methods. I truly believe its all a matter of your own will power, Did I want to live? Or did I want to die at someone else's expense, It was starting to cost a small fortune for me and I was making someone else rich in the process.
I wish everyone could quit easily. Today I cant stand the smell of cig's or being around anyone that smells like a dirty ashtray. Great post, I pray alot of smokers will read it :>)

Temuco, Chile(Zone 9b)

Christine you've done it!

Wonderful and congratulation!

Saugerties, NY(Zone 5a)

Thanks cristina, I'm very proud of myself :>)

Lafayette, NJ(Zone 6a)

Christine - you should be very proud of yourself. Congratulations!!!

This December will be four years since I quit. I used Commit lozenges - about two of them. I happened to be in the hospital overnight and thought if I can not smoke that long I can quit.

I would have to say that I occasionally want one - it is usually when I am stressed. The most amazing thing I found when I quit was how many times my hand reached for a cigarette without even realizing I was doing it. Very scary.

I think however you do it is just great.

I too don't like the smell of cigarette smoke - yuck.


Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

I quit sixteen years ago and am thankful for every clean breath I inhale. I smoked from the age of fifteen until my early forties. It was the third try and I used the patch. Don't know how it works today, but there were three dosage levels and each phase was supposed to last a designated time range. I found early on that the vivid dream warnings were not to be taken was like a 60's experience. I moved on down to the lower dose and found the problem remained but was still able to not smoke. I wanted to but didn't have to. So, I couldn't get a night's sleep without a five dimensional experience in colors they've yet to invent, and moved down to the lowest dose. It seemed to make no difference in my urge to smoke. I used those patches until I was out and thought if I had a problem I'd buy another "program" just to get more of the low dose patches. They were prescription at the time. It was not necessary. My DH, an unwilling partner in this venture (but his option was separate housing) went from the high to low dose with some similar but not as severe symptoms. It took him longer but he never smoked during the course and neither of us have ever smoked since. Two of our four parents, all smokers, died of lung cancer. A third died of cancer associated with smoking. Our children grew up with parents that smoked in their early years but not later. None of them smoke. I feel that's my greatest gift to them as a parent.

It's not easy to quit but no matter what your life is today you will have a better life if you do. All I can say to people who are struggling with this addiction is to try and try and keep on trying. You will love yourself for it.

Temuco, Chile(Zone 9b)

It is so great to hear your own experiences. And you do get much assertive and confident about yourself. Great!

Saugerties, NY(Zone 5a)

Congrats to Loretta & Laurel. It is such a great feeling to know we are all winners and no longer victims of that nasty dirty habit!!!

Nichols, IA(Zone 5a)

Cold turkey here, 15 years ago, with Jasminsmom's story, and agree about the willpower!

I do, I look back now and wonder why I ever thought it was so hard to decide to quit. Nicotine is a very powerful mind control drug and I am so thankful I was able to let myself quit!!

I'm 53 and I smoked for 23 years, starting on my 16th birthday. My decision. I turned down many cigarette offers before.

I'm so proud of everyone who has mangaged to stop smoking!!!

Saugerties, NY(Zone 5a)

Welcome to our club billyporter, congrats to you also :>)

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

I don't feel part of a club nor a former victim of a nasty dirty habit. It's an addiction that some of us are more fortunate to escape than others. Not many smokers choose to remain smokers long term. I've known folks who have quit for twenty years and then started again. The complexity of addiction can't be over simplified. I consider myself and others who have quit to be lucky rather than special.

Nichols, IA(Zone 5a)

MaypopLaurel, I like to feel I'm a part of ''quitting ''club,'' but I don't feel a victem. I smoked knowing then, it was bad for me.

You're right, addiction is complex. My brother could, not smoke all week, then smoke and drink on the weekends. I told him he might as well quit, so he did. A cousin and BIL can stop and start. I'm glad to stop, never to be tempted again. The desire isn't there at all. But it took three tries over the years, to be able to quit. Cold turkey each time.

Saugerties, NY(Zone 5a)

I agree with you billy, I'm not a victim either, it was my choice to smoke and my choice to quit when it made me sick and was slowly killing me and I do think I am special that I had that will power to quit after 40+ years. Will I ever light up again, I always say "never say never" because we never know what tomorrow brings. I'm proud of being a member of the I quit club.

Nichols, IA(Zone 5a)

I can absolutely say never again! I feel like I escaped by the skin of my teeth in the first place :o)

Thousand Oaks, CA(Zone 10a)

I've been a non smoker since September 7, 2010. I smoked for 52 years, started when I was twelve. I still reach for the pack, and occasionally want a cigarette. But this time, I'm going to continue to not smoke. I've tried twice before, but have to admit I really didn't want to quit. I really enjoyed smoking. It just got too hard. No one I associate with smokes, I'm involved in several one smokes. I'd visit friends and walk out to the street to smoke, putting my butts in my pack so as to not leave any evidence. I quit this time because my BFF and I were going on a road trip to Sedona, AZ. I was driving, and we were staying in her timeshare. I didn't smoke in my car when other people were in it, and I didn't smoke in other peoples homes. So I pretty much decided that it was time to quit for real.. I had my last cigarette, got my car detailed and off we went for a week. I was on Chantix, and I feel it helped a great deal. I had none of the side effects they state in the ads and their product information.

Nichols, IA(Zone 5a)

Keepingactive, stay quit! You will not regret it. I didn't smoke as long, but my story is your story. I really didn't WANT to quit, but I knew I had to. You will feel so much different. It might take a year, but you get that year back, and more! You quitin a perfect way, now keep getting out of the house and keep having fun!!

I'm so proud of you!!

Saugerties, NY(Zone 5a)

keepingactive, congrats to you, keep up the good work. Isnt it amazing how much better you feel? Doesnt food taste alot better? It was 4 years for me on the 1st and I'm alive to brag about being a NON-smoker, now I cant stand the smell of smoke. Have a wonderful New Year!!!!

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

Keepingactive, you really get a gold star! You are proof that it is possible. Be thankful for your accomplishment. Your post is inspiring and supportive to others who are thinking about it.

For those who smoke and read this thread, it's okay to try and not succeed. Please try again. The smoking/quitting facts that were part of Cristina's original post supports the idea that many people want to quit and only some do. For those who, like me have quit, it's helpful to share what worked for you.

Nichols, IA(Zone 5a)

If you get Dr. Oz in your area, he shows what happens to your organs. I've been a lot more careful after seeing real body parts on his show. I've learned a lot!

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

"Bodies...The Exhibition" is a good way to see the effects but knowing the results of addiction rarely helps stop an addict. When you near the end of the exhibit maze there are graphic examples of the bodies and body parts of smokers. At least that was in the first exhibit several years back. The exhibit returned to Atlanta recently.

Temuco, Chile(Zone 9b)

Here you can find the most used statement, reasons and opinions given by people that had quit smoking:

This is absolutely the best thing I ever did for myself and my family.

My friend was in Hospital with cancer and you think about how much of a burden you are on them, the family, then I did quit.

I got scared out of my wits when a growth appeared inside my mouth. Luckily it turned out to be non-malignant, but, it was enough to make me throw the snuff away and quit.

I quit about 3 years ago now, along with drinking alcohol (both for health reasons). Quit cold turkey. Feel pretty good.

I quit last September. I have greater lung capacity, and I seem to have less hair loss. It took about 6 months for me to start feeling better lungwise.

Anything that goes into your lungs besides air probably isn't good for you.

Benefits of quitting? you get healthier within 24 hrs of quitting….

The benefits of stopping is I am way fitter, I started sports again, with no problems, I couldn`t walk up stairs before.

I feel better, eat better, can taste what I eat, I do not smell. I can exercise better.

I am saving all that money I used to spend in smokes, by the end of the year I will have a small fortune for my Holidays!

The only bad thing on quitting is that I did become a reformed smoker, I hated everything about smoking, now I am better I just enjoy to be free, not dependent on one addiction

I can smell the perfume of flowers, of my family even the smell of rain ….. it's so, so wonderful

Thousand Oaks, CA(Zone 10a)

Just adding on to what I previously is one of the reasons I finally decided to Quit. I still have not smoked since 9/7/2010. I occasionally still get the urge, but it is diminishing as the days go by.

Someone once told me years ago that I did not smell like a smoker. I was very happy to hear that as I have been around smokers that positively reek, and I was ever so happy that I didn't. Two months before I quit, I was painting outside with a group of gals and I went out to the street to have a cigarette, When I came back, one lady that I was sitting next to asked me if I had gone and had a cigarette. She was sensitive to the smell of smoke, and moved from my side. About a week later, a lady that I volunteer with in a singing group, asked to be moved, because I smelled of smoke. I found this totally embarrassing. And it is one of the reasons I decided to quit. I don't know why the person told me I did not smell like I smoked so many years ago, maybe getting older changed my chemistry or maybe not. But I do know, when I would walk into my home after bing out all day, or the first time in 12 hours getting into my car,I could smell the stale cigarette smoke. Yuk!

Temuco, Chile(Zone 9b)

Interesting your testimony keepingactive. As a matter of fact, in a study done by a health Insurance group, the "smell" account for over 18 % of the people interviewed, of course health matters was the greater percentage.

Nichols, IA(Zone 5a)

All of you, wonderful reasons!!

You're right, only those of us who want to quit are horrified by the things we've done to our bodies.

My dentist told me he remembered me smelling of smoke. Yikes!

I ran to my SIL's yesterday and came home reeking. I immediatly threw all my clothes and coat on the porch and scrubbed down! I kept telling myself to not take a deep breath till I got back outside.

I'd ask her not to smoke, but you know how it is. I'm in her house and I did used to smoke with her.

Temuco, Chile(Zone 9b)

12 good reasons to stop smoking

1. Smokers Die Young
Smoking is the No. 1 leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. And the world …...

And it’s not a pleasant way to go. Smokers risk chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer of the mouth, throat and lungs, as well as asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

They’re also more prone to high blood pressure, high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, stroke and heart disease.

In fact, a smoker’s risk of dying from a heart attack is 2-4 times greater than in non-smokers.

2. You Stink!
You don’t just smell like cigarettes while you’re smoking... you reek all day long. The scent of stale smokes saturates your hair, clothes, vehicle, workplace and home. Smoking also gives you bad breath, and no mint in the world can get rid of the smell of a pack-a-day habit.

3. You Have 10 Times More Wrinkles
You can always pick a regular smoker out of a crowd, not just by the stench, but also by her skin. Smoking accelerates aging.

“It inhibits the body’s ability to repair damage caused by the environment,” says Michelle Aszterbaum, M.D., a dermatologist in Newport Beach, Calif., which means lots more wrinkles.
The damage is more than skin deep: Smokers with prominent wrinkles are five times more likely to suffer from COPD than non-smokers, according to a study published by the British Medical Journal.

Smokers also have pale, ashen skin and yellowing teeth, fingers and fingernails.

4. Your Lungs Are Full of Phlegm and Tar
Smoking causes sticky, black tar to build up in your lungs, which reduces the exchange of oxygen, carbon dioxide and nutrients between the tissues and bloodstream. This hurts your entire body, but you’ll especially feel it in the lungs.

Smokers have a harder time breathing and are more likely to develop painful, chronic coughing because of the increased phlegm.

The good news? If you stop smoking, your lungs can clear some of the tar. Your body begins to heal just 12 hours after your last cigarette, according to the National Cancer Institute.

But it’ll take up to three months for improved lung function and circulation.

5. Smoking Can Cause Depression
Feeling blue lately? Is your outlook on life pessimistic? Smoking is a major cause of depression.

A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry followed more than 1,000 people over five years and found that smokers were twice as likely as non-smokers to be depressed.

Some smokers turn to cigarettes to ease depression, but they only make it worse. Kick the habit and you may see life sunny-side up

6. It’s Expensive
You know smoking burns a big hole in your health and happiness. It’s also taking a wallop out of your wallet!

Depending on where you live, a single pack of cigarettes can cost up to $9, and if you smoke a pack a day, that’s almost $3,285 a year!

If you picked up the habit at age 18 and live to age 68, you'll spend almost $164,250 on cigarettes alone. And that doesn’t include the cost of health care bills, extra gum and breath mints.

7. You Could Become Infertile
Female smokers may have a harder time getting pregnant and male smokers generally have a low sperm count.

“Smoking appears to accelerate the loss of eggs and reproductive function and may advance the time of menopause by several years,” according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

The society’s study also showed that genetic mutations of sperm may cause infertility. Men who smoke are also at a higher risk for erectile dysfunction.

8. You’ll Have a Difficult Pregnancy
Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to experience life-threatening ectopic pregnancies, where the fertilized egg begins to develop in the slender fallopian tube instead of the uterus.

Toxins from cigarettes travel into the placenta, which cuts oxygen flow to your baby by up to 25%
Smoking can cause your baby to have a lower birth weight and birth defects, according to the American Lung Association. You’re also 50% more likely to deliver prematurely, according to a National Institutes of Health study.

9. Your PMS Will Get Worse
Smokers are more than twice as likely to develop premenstrual syndrome (PMS) than non-smokers, according to a 2008 University of Massachusetts study.

Women who began puffing before age 15 increase the chance of developing PMS by more than 2-1/2 times, also they reported suffering from severe PMS - backaches, bloating, breast tenderness, acne, severe cramps, headaches, mood swings.

The habit may affect the levels of several hormones involved in the menstrual cycle, such as estrogen and progesterone.

And the likelihood of irregular cycles increases with the number of cigarettes smoked. Smokers on birth-control pills are nearly 50% more likely to have spotting or bleeding.

10. You’re a Bad Influence
Kids imitate their parents. So if you smoke in front of your children, there's a good chance they'll pick up a cigarette. It gives them indirect permission to smoke too.

One study showed that 50% of kids whose parents were smokers thought the habit was “cool;” 55% planned on smoking in the future

11. Second-Hand Smoke Kills
Not only is your smoke annoying to others, it’s killing them too.

Non-smokers breathe in your second-hand smoke, increasing their risk of developing all the health problem as if they do smoke. Children exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to develop asthma.

12. One is the Loneliest Number
Smoker or non-smoker?

According to Harvard and UC San Diego research, smokers are increasingly edged out and marginalized by their peers.

A study published in the Australian Medical Journal suggested smokers are far more likely to be dateless. It may have something to do with the way they smell, their wrinkly, yellowed skin, or the fact that parents don’t want their kids bringing home a smoker.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

The best two reasons to quit smoking are because one wants to and they are ready. That's why I did. I originally read this thread as supportive of people who want to quit and prefer if it stays in that direction.

This message was edited Jan 15, 2011 7:26 PM

Thousand Oaks, CA(Zone 10a)

I fully agree with Maypop. This is supposed to be a supportive group.

Those who smoke know all the reasons why they should quit. They don''t need to be told they reek. stink, smell, have bad breath, are killing themselves and others, and any of the other reason listed.

We know. We are trying. Thanks your your support and help.
non smoker since 9/7/10

Myrtle Beach, SC(Zone 8b)

I read " The Easy Way to Quit Smoking" . I have been a non-smoker since June 2010.

Nichols, IA(Zone 5a)

Tcinmb, way to go!!!

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

There's an easy way? That would be great! Congratulations; your doing great.

Temuco, Chile(Zone 9b)

Yes! Tcinmb
Congratulation, Good on You!

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

How are you doing, Keepingactive? Check in. How are the other quitters and wanna be quitters doing? I think it will be twenty years for me this March. If not, it is nineteen but whose counting. :) It's wonderful to not be exactly sure any more. I used to count every hour and every day and every month.

My throat was scratchy all day yesterday and I kept coughing. I even woke up in the night and had to get a lozenge. I told SO, "It's like that crawly feeling in my throat when I smoked that used to make me cough". So weird to revisit that. Don't miss that cough at all.

Thousand Oaks, CA(Zone 10a)

tcinmb: Congratulations to you! Keep up the good work. I'm so happy that I quit. I never realized how much my life would change.

Maypop: Oh, no. No old symptoms are allowed. Hope your sore throat has gone away. 19-20 years - WoW! I'm only at 5 months .

Warning to all:
I was so excited as I was on Chantix and it did not seem hard to quit. After I was off Chantix I seemed to be getting some of the adverse side effects that they advertised on TV. I had trouble sleeping, was up at all hours of the night, no appetite even when I made my favorite meals, I seemed to be nervous/jittery ,I would cry for no apparent reason (depression?). These symptoms lasted about 5 weeks. I still seem to be sightly depressed, still reach for that cigarette at times, but it is getting better. Luckily I have not tried to commit suicide, I have told everyone I know that if I show signs of being crazy and suicidal to get me help. It really scared me. It was easy to quit with the Chantix, but the after effects are really scary. I am not sure the after effects are worth the scary feelings and actions I went through. If anyone thats this smoking cessation drug, make sure you have someone to watch you for adverse reactions.

Nichols, IA(Zone 5a)

Maypop, burnt throat here, but I am so much healthier with it than before, LOL! I was up last night sucking on a lozenge too! I'm sipping hot water and honey.

I had to use the calculator, but it should be 17 years for me around Mother's day. I too am to the point that I've forgotten. Yayyy!

Keepingactive, I went cold turkey and after a while, I was a very light sleeper. I kind of liked that. I would get up and look out the windows, enjoy the night sounds and have no trouble going back to sleep.

It's a shame you had those symptoms. Have you tried yoga? It really calms the brain because you have to think about your breathing, and you do feel better after. I Google ''Yoga Asanas.'' There are easy one's to start with. Even the ''Sun Salutation'' can change your mood.

Wow, it's 5 months for you now!! Fantastic!! And Spring is coming so you can take nice walks and work in the flowers beds!!

Temuco, Chile(Zone 9b)

Let's help each other, we can interchange experiences and ideas for support. It is so good that we can do this, in this thread.

Some Helping Tips

Quit cold turkey. In the long run it’s the easiest and most effective technique of smoking cessation.

Do not carry cigarettes. If you have around you, throw them away.

Quit smoking one day at a time. Give yourself time. Do not concern yourself with next year, next month, next week or even tomorrow. Concentrate on not smoking from the time you wake up until you go to sleep.

Then, feel happy and proud for this achievement. Because it is, day by day, an achievement.

Work on developing the attitude that you are being kind to yourself or doing yourself a favor by not smoking. Do not dwell on the idea that you are depriving yourself of a cigarette. You are ridding yourself of full-fledged smoking because you love yourself and you care enough about yourself to want to.

Be proud that you are not smoking.

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