'How I quit smoking'

Justine Speller

Justine Speller, a gardener from London, quit cigarettes with the help of an NHS stop-smoking group. She kept a week-by-week record of how she achieved it.

Week one

“I didn’t smoke during the day or at home, but after a glass of wine I could get through a whole pack. As I drink every other night, I sometimes smoked 60 cigarettes a week. My skin looked dull and I was starting to get tiny wrinkles round my mouth. I knew it was seriously damaging my health.

“I’d decided to join an NHS stop-smoking group. My first session lasted for 90 minutes. The other six were an hour each.

"Angela, our co-ordinator, was very friendly. She told us how the programme works, the aids available, such as patches and gum, and the ‘quit date’, which would be on the third session. We were encouraged not to change our smoking habits before then. The idea was that we would all give up together, so that we could support and encourage each other."

Angela, the group's stop-smoking co-ordinator, says: “Groups are great for people who don’t want to give up alone. If one person is having a side effect, someone else will be going through the same thing. Sometimes some healthy competition goes on, which makes people think twice about letting themselves and others in the group down by having a smoke after the quit date.”

Week two

There are 4,000 chemicals in a cigarette

“In week two we were tested for carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas in tobacco smoke, which lowers oxygen in the bloodstream. You take a deep breath, then blow into a tube. Luckily, I hadn’t had a smoke for four days so my count was pretty low."

Angela says: “There are a scary 4,000 chemicals in a cigarette, including carbon monoxide (CO), which binds with your red blood cells and prevents oxygen from doing so. This means that you have less oxygen circulating in your system, which can lead to a grey complexion, cold fingers and toes, gangrene and limb amputation. Other chemicals include acetone (used in nail varnish remover), pesticides and formaldehyde.

“From the moment you put out your last cigarette, your levels of these chemicals begin to return to normal. In 24 to 48 hours, your CO reading will be the same as a non-smoker, and it will stay there unless you have another cigarette.”

Week three

“Just before quit day, I was smoking more than ever, determined to make the most of my freedom! All I could think about was not being able to have a cigarette with a glass of wine after a stressful day at work. I had to drag myself to the session that evening.

“Outside the building, a few fellow quitters were puffing frantically. At 6.30pm, we went in, armed with our chosen NRT (nicotine replacement therapy). I’d opted for gum and patches. Angela explained how to use these and the various ways of managing any cravings. Then off we all went.

“The first few days were hard. I felt twitchy and even wanted to have a cigarette at times I normally wouldn’t, like first thing in the morning.

“But after my first smokefree week, I felt amazing. No guilt, no ashtray mouth and my lungs felt easier. I liked this new me and was determined to keep it up. The gum and the patches really took most of my cravings away.

“Cravings should only last three to four minutes. If you think about them, they last longer. But if you do something else, the cravings will go away. The group leader gave us suggestions on how to do this, but the group soon shared ideas too."

Angela says: “Some people have side effects, such as irritability or disturbed sleep. You might have a few symptoms, lots or none at all, but using NRT, as recommended, will help to ease them. They only last a maximum of four weeks. After that you’ll feel so much healthier and fitter.” 

Week four

“After four weeks I left my NRT patches at home. However, after a couple of drinks I lost my willpower and had a few cigarettes.

“Next morning, I felt devastated. Desperately, I called a friend from the group. She told me I had no need to worry and that I should put it behind me. I really believe the support of the group made all the difference to me quitting."

Angela says: “Having a cigarette after you quit activates the brain’s nicotine pathways, making you want to reach for the next and the next. That’s why you shouldn’t even have a single puff.

"But it’s not the end of the world if you do. Call someone from the group or the group leader. Talk about why you lapsed and what you’ll do differently next time that situation arises.” 

Two months

“It’s been a month since I had that relapse. I now feel more in control, healthier, happier and slightly richer, and I love saying no to a cigarette.

“To anyone who wants to quit, I totally recommend using a support group (some of them offer one-on-one sessions). It’s free, confidential and very, very effective.”

To find your nearest NHS Stop Smoking clinic, call the NHS Stop Smoking Helpline 0300 123 1014 or go to the NHS Smokefree website.


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Megan is 16 and a smoker. A make-up artist transforms her appearance to demonstrate the effects that smoking will have on her body. Will the results make Megan rethink her habit?

Media last reviewed: 24/09/2013

Next review due: 24/09/2015

Page last reviewed: 23/07/2012

Next review due: 23/07/2014

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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

littledevil said on 25 February 2013

i give up smoking last year on the 14th off sept with no help just willpower alone and i wanted 2 as i was having palpitations when i was lying in bed my heart was going faster and scared me 2 be honest and more so why i stopped my teeth were getting worse my skin was looking gaunt and i got to say i dont miss it at all.

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patrick d said on 18 January 2011

I tried stopping smoking at various times over 40 Years and nothing helped me stop. The patches, cigarette substitutes, lozenges et al help with the craving but do not help you to stop as nicotine is still in the system.
I was diagnosed with a heart valve problem in 2009 after being treated for a suspected chest problem. I spent 11 days in hospital in the chest ward. In the ward were 5 other patients, mostly with cancer, I was tested and found to be cancer clear and I have not smoked since. The time in a cancer ward and the negative result was all the motivation I needed.
It was found that my heart valve was a birth defect and nothing to do with smoking. I have still stopped and will not start again as I feel that I have had another chance.
Do I still miss smoking? Yes every day and it gets no better.

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James67 said on 10 July 2008

Nicotine replacement therapy has a proven track record and can double the chances of giving up smoking. But on the individual level, the best way of quitting is whatever works for you, whether it's NRT, Zyban, Champix, the Allen Carr method, hypnotism, acupuncture or cold turkey.

As for NHS Stop Smoking support groups (the main subject of this article) I can heartily recommend them. Before I went to my first session, I had this idea that they would be very formal and almost "ritualistic", but in fact it was all very relaxed and friendly. It helps so much to have friends who understand what you're going through (because they're going through it too) and who can help you get back on track if you do lose your resolve.

And as of 10 May 2008, I am an ex-smoker and I'm feeling great. And I've got my local NHS Stop Smoking service to thank for that.

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Anonymous said on 10 July 2008

Why will the NHS not accept that swapping one form of nicotine for another is not the way forward.

When will you finally acknowledge Allen Carr's Method, the best success rate and craving free

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