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The quit smoking journey can be a tough one. Knowing who's on your team, what to expect and making a plan for how to deal with cravings and mood swings are great ways to set yourself up for success.

Because smoking is so addictive, it's really helpful to have the support of health professionals, friends and whānau when you make the decision to quit. Most people find having the support of those around them makes a big difference in staying smoke free. 

Manatū Hauora | the Ministry of Health's Annual Survey shows that more New Zealanders are successfully quitting smoking. From 2021/2022 to 2022/2023, the percentage of New Zealanders smoking daily declined from 8.6% to 6.8%.

Even if you've tried before, don’t give up hope. Many people aren’t successful at quitting smoking the first time they try, but that doesn’t mean they’ve failed – it’s just the first step in their quit journey. The really important thing is to keep trying and utilising the support that is available. Always remember, you don’t have to go through this alone!

Making a plan

Developing a plan is one of the key steps to success in your quit smoking journey. Here are some suggestions for where to begin:

  • Some ways to quit are more successful than others – going "cold turkey" tends not to work well for many people. Check out QuitStrong for information about the best ways to quit, and tips to stay quit.
  • Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) – such as nicotine patches, gum, and lozenges – can double your chances of successfully quitting by getting you through cravings and decreasing withdrawal symptoms. Your local Defence Health Centre nurse or doctor can provide NRT to you free of charge, or you can order them for a subsidised rate through Quitline (phone 0800 778 778, text 4006, or register online) and pick them up from a local pharmacy.
  • Vaping can be used as an aid to stop smoking cigarettes by allowing you to gradually decrease the concentration of nicotine while inhaling fewer of the toxins that come from burning tobacco. See From smoking to vaping below.
  • Your Defence Health Centre has staff trained to support those wanting to stop smoking. Your doctor or nurse can help you develop a plan, and provide – free of charge – a range of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) products or medication that can help minimise nicotine withdrawal symptoms or cravings. 
  • Quitline is a 24/7 confidential nationwide service of Quit Advisors. Phone 0800 778 778, text 4006 or register here for help working out a quit smoking plan and supportive phone calls and/or regular text messages with tips to keep on track. You can also join their online community for support from others going through the same thing.
  • Sign up for a free Quit Coach. A Quit Coach gives you a much better chance of quitting for good. They can help you make a plan to get everything in place so you can just get on with quitting.
  • For further information on what other stop smoking services are available in your area, visit Smokefree New Zealand.

Once you have made a plan, set a realistic date for stopping and commit to it. Sometime in the next two weeks is a good idea so you have enough time to prepare. Pick a date that isn’t already likely to be a stressful one.

Staying on track

It's normal to experience a range of nicotine withdrawal symptoms after you quit. This can include cravings, feeling hungrier, having trouble concentrating, and feeling restless, anxious or sad. If you feel like this, know that symptoms tend to be strongest in the first few days or weeks, and will weaken and occur less frequently over time.

Plan ahead for how you’ll get through challenging moments. Here are some ideas to help you stay on track:

  • Most people experience cravings after they quit. Feelings and thoughts can range from mild to intense, and can feel overwhelming. A handy technique to use is the 4 Ds: Delay, Deep breath, Drink water, Do something else. Remember that every craving will pass if you give it time.
  • Exercise can help to reduce withdrawal symptoms, cravings and stress. Your Physical Training Instructor (PTI) can work with you to design an individualised training programme.
  • Prepare for situations or times of the day in which you may be tempted to smoke. Practice in your mind how you will deal with them. Know your smoking triggers has lots of helpful ideas.
  • Keeping yourself busy and changing up your routine are both useful tactics. Little changes everyday will help you reduce your cravings and triggers. For example, in your break time you could call a friend for a chat, or replace the hand to mouth action with holding a drink and taking a sip or chewing on gum or mints. 
  • Write a list of your reasons for quitting and keep the list with you as a constant reminder of the reasons to stop and the benefits you will enjoy. It can help to include some photos of what is motivating you to quit and stay quit. Is it for your physical fitness, your tamariki or mokopuna, or maybe to save money? (see Reasons to quit below).
  • Tell the people who will support you in your decision. Most people find quitting with a buddy, and with friends and whānau supporting them, provides the best opportunity for success.
  • Some find mindfulness or meditation to be a useful tool to help them cope with cravings and manage stress. Find out more about mindfulness here and specific guidance on how you can utilise it on your quit journey here
  • Try one of the many stop smoking apps such as Craving to Quit and Flamy and QuitNow.
  • Be positive. You are more likely to remain positive about being smoke free if you continue to reward yourself in the short, medium and long-term. Try rewards other than food – go for a brisk walk or watch a movie for example.

Remember, the first week after quitting is when you are at most risk of slipping up – if you can get through the first week without a single puff you’re 10 times more likely to stop for good.

How friends and whānau can help

Here are some tips for supporting someone who has decided to stop smoking:

  • If you’re a smoker, consider quitting with them. Quitting together with whānau and friends can make the journey a lot easier for both of you.
  • Remind them that you are there to support them, and chat with them about what to do when a craving hits and how they might avoid situations where they may be tempted to smoke.
  • Don’t nag! Be positive and remind them of the many reasons to not smoke – they'll have more money, their taste buds will come alive, they’ll breathe easier and smell nicer etc.
  • Remove things that might prompt smoking, like ashtrays and lighters, and keep cigarette packets out of sight.
  • If they have a slip up, reassure them that this is normal. Stopping smoking is hard and usually takes several attempts. Remind them of their reasons for quitting, and that the key thing is that they keep trying.
  • Encourage them to join a support group or seek one-on-one support from a smoking cessation professional, such as their doctor or a Quit Coach. 

From smoking to vaping

Vaping can be used as an aid to stop smoking cigarettes. Your doctor or Quit Coach or Advisor (see Making a plan above) can help you work out a plan for to gradually reduce the amount of nicotine you use.

Although vaping is thought to be less harmful than smoking, it’s not harmless. The long term effects of vaping are unknown, but in the short term it can cause headaches and coughs, and leave you with a dry and irritated mouth and throat. Ideally vaping as a smoking cessation aid should only be utilised for a limited time period (such as up to 6 months). 

The Ministry of Health and Te Hiringa Hauora | the Health Promotion Agency are supported by a number of other organisations in their position on vaping:

  • Vaping is not for children or people under the age of 18
  • Vaping is not for non-smokers
  • Vaping is not harmless but it is much less harmful than smoking
  • Vaping can help some people quit smoking

Learn more about nicotine here.

For support in utilising vaping to give up smoking, or to quit vaping, reach out to any of the services listed above.

  • Vaping explained
  • Why vaping was right for me
  • Doctor discusses vaping

Benefits of quitting

Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health and that of your tamariki. Research shows that children with smoking parents are up to 6 times more likely to start smoking.

The health benefits of quitting start immediately after your last smoke. Within 24 hours your risk of heart attack starts to fall, while your sense of taste and smell will improve. You'll experience enhanced physical performance as your heart rate decreases, your blood circulation increases, and your lung function improves.

To see more of the positive health impacts of stopping smoking click here, and here to see the benefits to your heart.

Smoking also has a considerable financial cost. Money saved by quitting will reduce your weekly bills significantly. For example, if you smoke 10 cigarettes a day and pay $25 for a pack of 20, you could save $4562 a year! Calculate your savings here.

The health impacts of smoking

The Ministry of Health reports 5000 deaths every year related to smoking and second-hand smoke. That’s more deaths than from drowning, suicide and motor vehicle accidents combined.

Around two-thirds of smokers who continue smoking will eventually suffer significant tobacco-related illness or death. Notably, long-term smokers will die an average of 10 to 15 years earlier than non-smokers.

Most people who smoke will experience effects on their overall health at some point in their life:

  • Smoking increases the risk of developing cancers of the lung, oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, pancreas, cervix, colon and rectum (colorectal), stomach and bladder.
  • Smoking is a major cause of vision loss/impairment.
  • Smoking increases the risk of developing diseases of the urinary tract, pelvis, bladder and digestive tract.
  • 40% of all strokes in people aged under 65 years are caused by smoking.
  • 40% of heart disease in those under 65 is caused by smoking.
  • Smokers have 2-3 times the risk of having a sudden cardiac death (when the heart suddenly stops beating) than non-smokers.
  • During pregnancy, inhaled smoke can pass through the placenta, affecting the healthy development of the unborn baby.