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Common smoking triggers and how to beat them

For smokers preparing to quit, figuring out how to deal with triggers — the people, places or things that make you want to smoke or use tobacco — is one of the first steps to successfully make a plan to quit smoking.

Identifying your triggers and learning how to deal with them before you quit smoking will make your quit journey easier. Everyone has unique smoking triggers, but some common ones include:

  • Having coffee, tea or alcohol
  • Finishing a meal
  • Driving
  • Feeling stressed, worried, anxious, bored or sad
  • Working or looking for a job
  • Celebrating or having fun

BecomeAnEX®, the digital quit-smoking program developed by Truth Initiative® in collaboration with Mayo Clinic, offers three ways smokers can prepare for triggers in order to quit and stay tobacco-free.

Identify your triggers

Learn to identify your triggers by tracking your tobacco use with the tobacco tracker tool. Every day, you’ll make a list of each time you smoke and make notes about the situation, such as the date and time of day, how strong the craving was, how you were feeling and what you were doing before you decided to smoke.

The more you use the tobacco tracker tool, the more you'll learn about when and why you use tobacco. For example, the triggers that you mark as “light” could represent times you used tobacco out of habit, which may be an opportunity to pick up a new habit or activity. For “strong” triggers, you may consider getting a medication to minimize those cravings.

Beat your triggers

Once you know your triggers, the trigger tracker tool can help you make a plan to beat them, one at a time. For each trigger, think about what you can do instead of smoking when the craving hits. For example, instead of smoking when you drive, you can put your cigarettes in the trunk so you can’t reach for them and make a playlist to sing along to. When you feel stressed, rather than taking a smoke break, maybe you’ll call or text a friend to vent.

When you first start using the trigger tracker tool, you don’t have to give up tobacco completely — after writing down ideas for alternative ways to avoid, minimize or cope with your triggers, wait a few minutes, and then light up. The next time, wait a few more minutes, and so on. Keep adding more time. Eventually, you’ll separate your triggers from tobacco and be able to resist smoking.

Be kind to yourself

It's normal to have difficulty staying tobacco-free. Each time you try to quit, you learn more about your smoking behavior and what might or might not work the next time. If you do relapse, don’t give up or beat yourself up about it. Give yourself time to feel frustrated and disappointed, but then get back on track.

What made you smoke? Was it one of the triggers you planned for? Something unexpected? Take a minute to think about what happened and make a plan for getting past it next time. Visit the EX Community on BecomeAnEX to find out how former smokers beat triggers and got back on track in their quitting journey, and how they stay tobacco-free.

For more information on triggers and to make a plan to quit smoking, visit BecomeAnEX.org.

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