The Nancy Reagan Way To Stop Smoking

630157_lowby Tony Yost

Do you want to stop smoking cigarettes? I don’t mean your wife/husband, girlfriend/boyfriend, mother/father, or doctor wants you to stop smoking.
Do YOU want to stop smoking?

If you do, then I can help! If you’re just trying to please someone else, don’t bother. Quitting is very, very hard to do, and doing it because YOU want to is the only way you’re going to be able to do what it takes to quit.

Some background… I smoked like the proverbial choo-choo train for about 20 years. Not “I didn’t inhale”, or “One cigarette every now and then”… I mean “chain-smoking, if you can’t smoke there, I don’t want to go there”, 2-3+ packs a day, smoking. See, I smoked before the “non-smokers revolted”. In those days, you could smoke on airplanes. You could smoke at work. (In fact, the CFO at one of the places I worked had a (humorous?) sign that read, “This is a smoking area. Please smoke. If you persist in non-smoking you will be asked to leave.” So I could chain smoke, even at work…no waiting for “a smoke break”. You could smoke at restaurants, too. And I did.

Later, I became an independent computer consultant. Somewhere around 1991 companies started restricting smoking. I began to have a tough time with some of my clients. After about 45 minutes in a non-smoking meeting, I would agree to just about anything…if they would just let me take a quick break (this was not a good negotiating tactic).

I also found that I didn’t really enjoy smoking any more. I just had to smoke. I was addicted to smoking cigarettes. And the coughing that came with it didn’t make me feel better either. I made the decision that I was going to quit.

There are many reasons to quit.

  • You will have more money for things that you do enjoy (cigarettes are expensive!)
  • You will not stink to your non-smoking friends (yes, I know you can’t smell it, but they can)
  • You will get your sense of smell back (I didn’t even know mine was gone until a few weeks after I quit, I started smelling things again).
  • You will be healthier. (I am told that after 10 years, an ex-smoker’s lungs are about as healthy as a non-smoker’s).
  • Ultimately, you will feel better, have more energy, and live longer.
  • If you’re a lady, maybe you don’t want to develop those wrinkles around your mouth.
  • You may have other reasons…

If YOU REALLY WANT TO QUIT, for your own reasons, I can tell you how I did it, and how YOU CAN DO IT, too.

Some of the things I will suggest are the exact opposite of what others say to do. I am not a doctor, or psychologist. I am not giving medical or psychological advice. I am just telling you what worked for me. I quit on Saturday, Feb 22, 1992 and I haven’t had more than 6 cigarettes since. (I had those with my Mother when my Dad passed away).


Step 1: You have to decide that, this time, you are going to do it. “There is no TRY, there is only DO, or NOT DO”. (I thought that was an ancient Chinese proverb, but someone told me it came from Star Wars). Regardless, either decide you are really going to quit, or don’t put yourself through the pain of trying.

Step 2: Decide on a nicotine-containing product to help you with the withdrawal. There is a real physical addiction to smoking, and you should get help with that. I used the Nicoderm patches. In those days, you needed a prescription for them. It was a 10 week program. The large size for 6 weeks, the medium size for 2 weeks, and the small size for 2 weeks. The patches have the advantage of giving you the nicotine without you doing anything that reinforces the habit (chewing the gum, “smoking” the fake cigarette, etc). At the same time, it gives you the mental strength to know that you are only fighting the mental habits (no small feat), not the physical ones too. If you have questions about this one, ask your doctor.

Step 3: Decide when you are going to quit. I purposely decided on Saturday at noon. I could smoke as much as I wanted until then. (And believe me, I did! I sat in a chair and smoked and smoked until noon.)

Step 4: On the designated day, throw out all cigarettes, except for one unopened pack. You don’t need them anymore, right? So, throw them out. The one unopened pack is to remind you that this is a choice that you have made. No one is making you quit, it is your own choice.

Step 5: Keep it a secret. This is where I differ from most people who would give you advice. To me, keeping it a secret gave it power. While inside my head I would be screaming “I NEED A SMOKE!!!”, on the outside I would play a game. “Would these people notice that I am not smoking? I mean, how could they not? They never saw me without a cigarette before!” I was surprised how long it took most people to notice. If they did notice, I would very casually say, “No, not right now…”. That kept the game going. It was powerful!

The other reason to keep it a secret, is that well-meaning, non-smoking friends will try and encourage you. They mean well, but they really have no idea what you are going through, and so their advice seems hollow and useless. Maybe that’s just me…

Step 6: Do NOT allow the internal argument about smoking. When you quit smoking, you will almost certainly begin to have internal dialog, usually depicted by the devil sitting on your shoulder talking to you.

It goes something like this:
devil: “A cigarette would sure taste good now, wouldn’t it?”
You: “Yes it would, but I’ve quit smoking and I’m not going to have one!”
devil: “If it would taste so good, then why not?”
You: “Because I want to feel better.”
devil: “Oh, you feel real better now, huh?”
You: “Well, no, I feel like @#$%^*!”
devil: “Just 1 cigarette will make you feel better. You can cut down…then quit.”
You: “Well……I guess 1 wouldn’t hurt”

To me, this is the single most important step, and it’s the reason that I call this the “Nancy Reagan approach”. Ms. Reagan started the slogan “Just Say No!” Please don’t dismiss this as just a shallow slogan. Hear me out.

You must not allow this inner conversation to take place. If you do, there is a very good chance that you will lose. What I did, and what I suggest that you do, whenever this conversation starts in your head, immediately just say “No!” and force yourself to think about something else. Do not let that conversation begin. You will have to do this many times… that devil (a.k.a. your habit) is very persistent. And it will come at you when you are the weakest. Just say “No!”

Step 7: Make the rule for yourself that “Anything goes, as long as it’s not a cigarette.” You can eat, run, exercise, take a vacation, swim, drink, watch TV, shop…anything as long as it’s not a cigarette.

One thing I did was to eat sunflower seeds in the shell. That kept my hands and my mouth busy. I also took my family to the lake for weekend vacations…boating, walking…etc.

Looking back, I really don’t think I could have done it without this rule. But I have to be honest…for me it did have one undesired side effect. Since I mostly used eating to compensate for not smoking, I gained weight. Given the choice, it is a trade that I would make again, though. I watched my Mother gasp for air, unable to breathe properly for the last three years of her life (it’s like drowning very slowly… a very unpleasant way to go) because of cigarettes.

Maybe you can make this step work for you without the weight gain…or work on the weight issue after you’ve quit smoking. The point is…you chose to quit smoking, whatever it takes.

OK, that’s it. After you get through the hardest part (for me it was about 10 weeks), life begins to get good again. One day, I noticed that I could smell things again (and I found out why people say that smoking stinks). And food tastes better. And I could go the distance in long business negotiations. And I will more likely live long enough to play with my grandchildren (if I ever have any).

Good Luck! If I can do it, you can do it!

4 Responses to The Nancy Reagan Way To Stop Smoking

  • Zoey Diaz says:

    It is hard to Stop Smoking at all but i tried so hard to quit smoking because of the fear of lung cancer”

  • Luis Howard says:

    My dad have bronchitis due to Smoking, he has a hard time quitting smoking. “

  • gamucci says:

    All I can think about is smoking. I don’t want to smoke and if anyone offered a smoke here and now, I’d decline. I feel I’m in a really depressing state of mind and have had trouble getting to sleep but yet I recognize I must absolutely end up resilient. The electronic cigarettes may help me out in the long run.

  • Jules Recker says:

    Smoking tobacco is both a physical addiction and a psychological habit. The nicotine from cigarettes provides a temporary, and addictive, high. Eliminating that regular fix of nicotine will cause your body to experience physical withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Because of nicotine’s “feel good” effect on the brain, you may also have become accustomed to smoking as a way of coping with stress, depression, anxiety, or even boredom…`”*

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