Struggling to quit smoking? Try this expert-backed method

Not everyone is able to stop smoking straight away. Here’s a method that may help make quitting more achievable.

If you’re struggling with a smoking addiction, you’re not alone.

“Ten per cent of the Australian population smoke, and 70 per cent of those people want to quit or cut back,” Dr Isabelle Carr tells The House of Wellness Radio show.

Quitting can add as much as 10 years to your life expectancy, but breaking the addiction is difficult.

If you are stuck in a loop of tried and failed attempts or just don’t know where to start, Dr Carr explains why a cut-back method could be worth trying.

Why do people smoke?

It’s no secret that smoking is bad for your health, and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare considers smoking tobacco the most important preventable cause of ill health and death.

But it’s an addiction, and one that starts with a highly addictive substance.

“There are lots of studies on why people keep smoking, and people quote that they’re addicted to the nicotine itself,” Dr Carr says.

As well as the physical addiction to the substance, the habit of smoking itself can be even harder to quit.

One in three Australian smokers had no intention of quitting, according to a 2022-23 government survey, with most citing enjoyment, relaxation and nicotine addiction as their reasons.

“People often build habits around smoking and use it to relax, destress or take a break at work,” Dr Carr says.

“For example, if you’re a chef at a really busy restaurant and the only time you get to yourself is two minutes outside to have a cigarette, then that becomes an invaluable piece of time.”

LISTEN BELOW: Dr Isabelle Carr discusses how to tackle quitting smoking on The House of Wellness Radio show:

What is the cut-back method of quitting smoking?

Quitting is the ultimate goal to strive for; however, Dr Carr says the cut-back method can be an achievable first step.

Among all the methods used to quit smoking, she says cutting down can be a less intimidating option.

“Cutting back could mean reducing your cigarette smoking by even one cigarette a week at the start,” Dr Carr says.

Experts say it is best practice to set your quit date, then gradually reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke until you quit entirely.

“This way it’s more achievable for you to feel proud of the progress you’re making,” Dr Carr says.

She says it’s a middle ground to the “all or nothing” approach, which can be harder to commit to.

“People think they have to just stop smoking and go cold turkey, but a lot of the time that’s not really feasible because cigarettes are so addictive,” she says.

Instead, cutting back may be a less intimidating approach that can remove smoking habits at a slow and sustainable pace.

What to expect when you quit smoking

Whether quitting immediately or using the cut-back method to work towards quitting, the benefits are undeniable.

The health benefits can begin almost immediately, and will increase over time.

Quitline notes that effects such as stabilised blood pressure and improved taste and smell can begin within days of  quitting, while long-term benefits such as healthy lungs and reduced stroke and cancer risk can come in the following months and years.

There’s also the financial benefit, which Dr Carr says can make a big impact on your life.

“If you were smoking 25 cigarettes a day for five years, that would cost $40,000,” she says.

Where to find support to quit smoking

Whether to quit, cut back or discuss a smoking addiction, your GP and Quitline can be your best resources.

All GPs are trained in smoking counselling and can help make quitting achievable.

“When someone comes into general practice (looking to quit), we look for some healthy habits to build on and try to educate people,” Dr Carr says.

“We’ll go through the statistics on Quitline and go through some different motivators for change.”

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Written by Hayley Hinze.