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Quitting smoking

Why should I quit smoking?

Nobody will pretend quitting cigarettes is easy. But you can look at it this way: if you smoke, you've got the chance to do the one thing shown to make the biggest positive impact on your health - quitting. Non-smokers must make any number of other difficult, long term changes to get a health benefit anywhere near this size.

If you have a partner or family who rely on you, and you try to quit, you are doing it for them as well. Smokers who do not quit have a one in two chance of dying of a smoking-related illness - most commonly lung cancer and other lung disease such as emphysema, heart disease and stroke. Smoking also damages the health of those around you, your fertility and the unborn child if a pregnant woman inhales smoke. More information on the effects of second-hand smoke on children.

The positive effects of quitting begin within hours or days. Your chance of having a heart attack starts to decrease after quitting for one day. After a few years of not smoking, some of the serious heart risks return to the level of those of someone who has never smoked. It is beneficial to stop smoking at any age. If you are pregnant, it is vital for your baby's health that you stop smoking.

Nicotine is addictive

People who smoke cigarettes become addicted to nicotine but it is the other components of cigarette smoke that damage your health.

Nicotine activates an important group of nerve and brain receptors, producing many effects. Smokers say it gives them stress relief, improved mood and the ability to think or concentrate better, and because nicotine is rapidly absorbed from cigarette smoke, it gives instant effects.

The addictiveness of nicotine is as strong as some 'hard drugs', it's just that the immediate effects are less extreme. About four out of every five smokers are addicted to nicotine. Smoking your first cigarette within 30 minutes of getting up in the morning is a sign of a high level of addiction to nicotine.

For regular smokers, the downside is that without nicotine the opposite sensations (withdrawal effects) are experienced. These can start a few hours after the last cigarette and include:

  • cravings for a cigarette
  • feeling irritable, anxious or depressed
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty sleeping
  • a temporary increase in appetite and weight gain.

Why smokers fail to quit

Reasons people give for failing include:

  • being unable to cope with cravings for nicotine
  • thinking it would be okay just to have one
  • having no support from friends, family and those who still smoke
  • being unable to 'say no' in social environments, such as when having a drink with friends
  • being unable to shake the habit of smoking (eg, 'have to hold something' while having a drink)
  • not making full use of Quitline, your doctor and medical treatments for nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

Having one cigarette while trying to quit does not mean you've relapsed into smoking. If you recognise how it happened and renew your effort, you can learn how to avoid the situation again.

If you do start smoking again, do not be discouraged. Think of it as one less quit attempt to make before you give up for good. Each time you'll learn a bit more about how to succeed. Be determined more than ever to get the health benefits of quitting by stopping completely.

Do I save money by quitting?

 Compare your
 Treatment cost                   $ … ... per week 
 with your
 Usual spend on tobacco    $ … ... per week

Use our Smoking cost calculator

When treatment stops you will save all of your weekly spend on tobacco, so even if the treatment costs more than the cigarettes it will not take long to get back the cost of your treatment.

How can my doctor help?

When trying to quit, ask your doctor if you can set up a line of support with the practice or, alternatively, contact Quitline (0800 778 778).

What are the available medications?

  • Nicotine replacement therapy - subsidised treatment available (contact Quitline or your GP)
  • Bupropion (Zyban) - on prescription
  • Varenicline (Champix) - on prescription
  • Nortriptyline (Norpress) - on prescription.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) supplies nicotine in a controlled way that avoids smoking. The nicotine skin patch is designed to deliver a background level of nicotine. Nicotine chewing gum, nasal spray or inhalers deliver it more quickly and can be used when you get a sudden urge for a cigarette. The patches and gums come in different strengths to suit you.

The objective is to stop cigarettes as soon as you start NRT and then reduce the use of NRT over about 8-12 weeks - to gently wean yourself off your dependence on nicotine. Subsidised NRT is available from Quitline or your doctor (Quit Cards), as is support while trying to quit. NRT is safe to use in pregnancy and is recommended to prevent harm to the unborn baby from smoking.

Other non-nicotine medications must be prescribed by your doctor. They can be useful, and your doctor will explain how to use them. These medications work in one or both of the following ways:

  • by reducing the negative sensations of nicotine withdrawal - so you do not miss having a cigarette so badly; or
  • by blocking the pleasant sensations of smoking - so having a cigarette is less enjoyable.

Try to answer these questions about your smoking

  • What do you like about smoking? 
  • What triggers cause you to want to smoke?
  • What stops you from quitting smoking?
  • What could you do instead when you want to smoke?
  • Who could help you to stop smoking?    

Some tips on how to quit

  • Decide that you want to quit and know why
  • Talk to your doctor about help with quitting
  • Set a date, tell people you're quitting, and ask them to be supportive, and not offer you cigarettes (See also tips on how friends can help someone quit smoking)
  • Don't put it off
  • Decide now what you will do instead of smoking if you get the urge for a cigarette
  • Avoid people who may encourage you to smoke - who can you be with instead?
  • Reward yourself with something using the money you save each week on cigarettes
  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any problems with, or questions on, the medications helping you to quit.

Further information

The Quit Group provides free phone support (Quitline) and subsidised nicotine replacement (contact details under "Further information and support" below). Maori quit support programmes can also be found online at www.auahikore.org.nz and www.tehotumanawa.org.nz. If you do not want to quit right now, tell your doctor, keep this information and talk to your doctor when you are ready.

Original material provided by UBM Medica (NZ) Ltd. Updated November 2008.

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