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You Can Stay Smoke-Free

It’s hard to stop smoking. And for many people, it’s even harder to keep from starting again. For smokers, however, staying away from cigarettes and tobacco in any form is the final and most important stage of the process.

So what’s the secret to success?

“Most people who quit smoking for good are able to do so by reviewing the reasons that inspired or drove them to quit in the first place,” says Dawn Wiatrek, Ph.D., director of the American Cancer Society’s Quitline program. “If you’ve quit and you’re struggling to stay smoke-free, you can use the same methods you did to help you make it through withdrawal.”

These additional strategies can help.

Have a plan

Know your triggers for wanting a cigarette and figure out a plan to deal with them. For example, if you used to smoke whenever you drank alcohol, try to avoid situations where drinking is likely to happen.

Ride out the desire

It will go away, but until it does, have substitute behaviors on hand to get you through.

Not even one

Remind yourself there’s no such thing as having just one cigarette.

“The best thing you can do to stay smoke-free is avoid smoking even one cigarette,” Dr. Wiatrek says.

But if you do, don’t beat yourself up about it and don’t fall into all-or-nothing thinking—meaning don’t think since you smoked one cigarette, you might as well smoke a whole pack.

“Instead, start again with the self-knowledge you’re still an ex-smoker who’s had a slip up, and you are not a smoker,” Dr. Wiatrek says.

Learn from your slip

The difference between a slip and a relapse is within your control. You can use the slip as an excuse to go back to smoking, or you can look at what went wrong and renew your commitment to stay away from cigarettes for good.

And even if you do relapse, don’t get discouraged.

“Very few people are able to quit on the first attempt,” Dr. Wiatrek says. “In fact, most people take six to eight tries before they’re able to quit, and every time you quit, you learn something about yourself so you’ll be better prepared the next time you stop smoking.”