You would have thought that the undisputed knowledge that smoking is bad for you would deter people from picking up a packet of cigarettes ever again. Yet 1.3 billion people the world over are still addicted to the habit. Even in the USA, there has been a rise in the number of smokers since 2020. This increase was attributed to the onset of the pandemic, the increased amount of time spent at home, and the stress that lockdowns and fear engendered.
In the UK smoking trends showed the reverse – since the covid outbreak, over one million people in the UK stopped smoking.
Yet there is still a worrying trend that teenagers all over the world are still experimenting in smoking. While up to 3.2% of teenagers in the UK and the USA are still smoking, many others are consciously choosing alternative smoking habits such as vaping. This could be due to the wide range of eliquid flavours that are widely available, contributing to fight to stop younger children picking up the more damaging traditional cigarettes.
But why is it so hard to give up smoking, and why do people persist with it despite knowing how damaging it can be?
The addictive nature of smoking
Nicotine is known as an addictive substance. As a stimulant, it can help to alleviate low mood and negative emotions. This places you in the cycle of dependency to raise mood – as nicotine levels drop the negative emotions increase. This you are soon caught in the up and down cycle.
However, nicotine actually stays in your system for no longer than 48 hours. It seems sensible that if you can ride out the first two days of quitting smoking, then your system is clear of the addictive element, and refraining from smoking should be easy from then on.
But smoking is a habit – and the habitual element of smoking is actually stronger than the chemical addiction.
The Power of Routines and Habits
We all love a routine. Our routines keep us grounded, help us get through a challenging day, act as a trigger point or marker at various points during the day. Cigarettes are one of those markers. In the same way that the kettle goes on for the first mug of tea of the day, so does that cigarette mark the start of a routine. It’s the cigarette and coffee break mid morning. It’s the cigarette you enjoy after a good meal. It’s the cigarette that accompanies that first glass of wine, marking the start of your evening. It’s the last cigarette of the evening when you’re out walking the dog before bed. These are all markers to your day which, without that ritual cigarette, somehow doesn’t feel right. It feels as though something is missing. This feeling is known as cognitive dissonance.
Don’t be an ‘ex’ – position yourself as a ‘non’
Breaking this psychological hold cigarettes have over us is probably the most difficult aspect of giving up cigarettes. As a smoker, you know that you are doing something that is deeply damaging to your health, as being ‘addicted’ can give you the excuse that you need as a reason to be constantly failing to stop. The key is to stop seeing yourself as someone who is looking to ‘give up’ – you’re immediately putting yourself in a position of depravation. Instead of thinking of yourself as an ‘ex-smoker’, you need to start thinking like a ‘non-smoker’. A non-smoker would not even consider having a cigarette, they would not miss it, they do not play a part in their daily routines. They simply do not feature in their lives. This is one of the most powerful techniques to getting you back on the straight and narrow road to truly being a non-smoker.
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