Great American Smokeout: Make today the day you quit cigarettes for good

Today, as we write this, countless people across the country are finally standing up to tobacco. They're saying "no more!" to habits that do nothing but harm. They're saying "yes" to a better, healthier lifestyle. That's because this week marks the Great American Smokeout – and if you're a smoker, this could be just the motivation you need to quit cigarettes forever.

It took a moment like this to finally motivate me, after 17 years of smoking. I knew years earlier that smoking was hurting me. I didn't even enjoy it for most of this time. But it owned me. Because I allowed it to own me … until that one fateful day when I was walking up a gradual incline, and was completely winded. That's when I said, "enough."

This is a golden opportunity to have your own moments of epiphany. Now, we're no doctors. And we're certainly not presenting the following as medical advice. But if you're still smoking, we'll go out on a limb and assume your own physicians would approve of you quitting the habit.

Any time you make a dramatic change to your physical habits, your doctor should be involved -- to help you manage any subsequent health needs, and to monitor your progress safely, with realistic goals in mind. Your doctors need to be involved with every part of this journey, and show you how to stay healthy throughout the process, and long after you quit for good.

That said, today can be the day you make your first step toward a tobacco-free future. Here are five general tips I used, with the help of physician advice, to break me free from cigarettes forever.

Set a date

We know how difficult quitting cigarettes can be. If you can make the Smokeout your official last day of cigarette use, great! If not, use this celebration as the first day of your planning, by setting a target quit date that makes sense for your needs and cravings.

Then, like any other deadline, work towards that date with the goal being no cigarette use from that point forward. Maybe the date you target comes on a special day, like a holiday or family event (what better holiday gift is there for your loved ones than a smoke-free you?). Maybe it's a date directly following a stressful period of your life?

Maybe you just want to enjoy your first smoke-free Super Bowl in decades? Regardless of your motivation, set that date, write it down, and commit to making it happen.

Involve your loved ones

You know those people that always nagged you about smoking? Yeah, you thought they were annoying, but that's because they were actually trying to be your biggest support system. By involving your friends, family and even coworkers, you can create shared accountability for your success – and a quality support system if you slip along the way.

Also, if your friends and loved ones also serve as your "smoke break buddies" use this as an opportunity to help them, if they are ready to quit, as well. You'd be surprised at just how well a shared goal can be in motivating one another toward healthier decisions.

Allow yourself to be human

While we hope your journey to a tobacco-free lifestyle is as smooth as possible, it can be a turbulent ride for many. There are always challenges to face, and obstacles to overcome, such as possible medical symptoms from nicotine withdrawal (this is where your doctor's involvement is key).

While you likely want to remove tobacco from your home to eliminate any temptation, if you slip and have a cigarette, do not allow yourself to stray further. You're allowed to make mistakes – but don't let those mistakes become choices – choices that can derail any progress you've made thus far.

Don't rule out smoking cessation products

Just as a cold and flu-sufferer wouldn't pass up a medication to help alleviate those symptoms, smokers looking to become ex-smokers should consult their doctors to explore whether smoking cessation products are right for them. To boot, these helpful gums, lozenges and patches are FSA- and HSA-eligible with a prescription.

If you feel you might need a little assistance in your smoke-free journey, speak with your doctor to see if these smoking deterrents are right for your needs.

Change the routine

Smoking isn't considered a "habit" without reason. Beyond the obvious nicotine factor, smoking is as much a behavioral habit as it is a physical one. And the desire to smoke can be triggered by seemingly innocuous activities.

For example, if you always had a cigarette after a meal, consider finding a different post-dining activity you can do each day, regardless of location. If you wake up and want to smoke, consider leaving toothpicks or hard candies on the nightstand to satisfy those immediate cravings.

No matter your routine, if smoking is directly connected to a specific set of behaviors, try and switch things up to throw off those pangs.

The holidays are near, as is a new year. Don't let the hectic nature of the season keep you connected to tobacco. Instead, look at this as an opportunity to start fresh from 2018 and beyond, by snuffing your smoking addiction once and for all.

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