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Harvard Commentaries
Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Cut Back

June 06, 2014

Tobacco Cessation
Prep for the Ride
Cut Back
Cut Back
Try to cut back on the number of cigarettes you normally smoke.
InteliHealth Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Cut Back
You've been planning to quit, thinking about quitting and preparing to quit, but you don't feel ready to quit yet. What can you do to test your level of motivation?
Cutting back on the number of cigarettes you smoke is not a successful quit-smoking strategy compared with quitting all at once. Studies have shown that smokers who cut back have essentially unchanged levels of nicotine byproduct in their urine. This suggests that smokers who cut back may inhale more deeply or may smoke cigarettes to a shorter length, in order to compensate for the reduced number of cigarettes. Still, cutting back may at least allow you to test your experience with fewer cigarettes, and it may help you understand your need for nicotine replacement (such as patches) once you have prepared to leave cigarettes behind you completely.
If you decide to cut back, there are several ways to do this:
  • Smoke one less cigarette each day.
  • Smoke half of each cigarette.
  • Determine ahead of time how many cigarettes you'll smoke and carry only that number of cigarettes.
Some people find it helpful to switch to a brand of cigarettes they don't like. This may make it easier for you to cut down on the amount you smoke. (Don't switch to a "low-tar" cigarette. These tend to make people puff more, rather than less, to get the full nicotine fix.)
Start Testing Your Resolve
Now is also a good time to begin to "test" yourself. If an urge to smoke kicks in, see if you can wait 30 minutes before lighting up. Or, see if you can space your cigarette use out over the day. Allow yourself to smoke only during the day's even hours (noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., etc.) and abstain during odd hours (1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m., etc.).
Continue to change your smoking routines. Hold the cigarette in your other hand. Sit in a place other than where you normally smoke. Keep cigarettes in a place you normally wouldn't keep them (like outside of the house). Allow yourself to smoke only in one particular place. And make that place uncomfortable: For example, sit in a chair that faces your basement wall.
Breaking your routines will help you break from the comfort you normally feel when you smoke.

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Be Reasonable
Take it one day at a time, and be sure your goals are reasonable. This isn't the time for unattainable goals. (For example, if you're a pack-a-day smoker, don't limit yourself to smoking only one cigarette a day.) Failure to achieve short-term goals will sabotage your dedication to achieving your long-term goal to be smoke-free. So make your goals do-able.
Write down your smoking goals each week. Be specific. For example, "This Thursday, I will not smoke after dinner." Or "Friday, I will smoke only during the even hours of the day." Try to think of a small goal to work toward every day.
Give yourself a small reward when you accomplish your goals!

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