The 4 Ds for Becoming (and staying) Tobacco Free


As a tobacco cessation coach, I often hear similar challenges with my clients who are trying again to be smoke free. “I started smoking again because of stress”, “My doctor told me if I didn’t quit, I would get COPD”, “I can’t smoke at work anymore, and people give me dirty looks when they walk by”. “It’s getting so expensive and I hate the way it smells.” “My life is controlled by smoking.” “I don’t want my kids to start smoking, so I want to be a good role model.” Sound familiar?

Quitting smoking is the # 1 thing you can do for your health. It can add several years on to your life. In an article published by the American Journal of Public Health, “Doll and colleagues determined that never smokers aged 35 years had a life expectancy that was 8 years longer than that of men aged 35 years who smoked until death compared with about 8.9–10.5 years for men and 7.4–8.9 years for women in our study.”

Often times, smokers have unrealistic goals for themselves, like quitting ‘cold turkey’ and when they fail at their goal, they feel deflated and give up. As a coach, I remind them that each time they quit, they learn something new, whether it is the triggers for relapse, their expectations, or situations to avoid. I also talk about the 4 Ds, which are helpful in changing and replacing the behavior of smoking with something else in addition to managing stress, which is often a reason for relapse.

Deep breathing: Not only does deep breathing throughout the day reduce stress, it also brings much needed oxygen into your lungs and body. Since smoking depletes oxygen, deep breathing replenishes it, making for a healthier body! Begin by taking a slow, deep breath in through your nose and then slowly exhale through your mouth. When your lungs begin to function better (as early as 2 weeks after quitting smoking), you will be able to breathe easier.

Drinking plenty of water: Drinking water helps flush out those hundreds of toxins in nicotine. It also replaces the hand to mouth motion from cigarettes to a bottle of water. Our bodies are 66% water, so when we are well-hydrated, our organs work more effectively.

Distracting yourself. Doing something instead of smoking is key to changing the behavior and habit of smoking. Some of my clients change their route to work to avoid lighting up a cigarette at the first light they come to. Some take a walk outside or get on the computer after meals to break the habit of smoking after meals. Some hang out with nonsmoking co-workers in the lounge or walk up and down stairs during their work break to avoid smoking on their breaks. Some take up an old hobby like carpentry or knitting to keep their hands busy. Some detail their cars and put mints and toothpicks in their clean ashtrays to avoid smoking in the car.

Delaying. You can practice reducing your nicotine use by trying to delay the first use of the day by 10 minutes or so. Instead of lighting up with your first cup of coffee, how about taking a shower first, or walking the dog? There are many free apps available that can help you delay and also give you support and accountability.

It’s also important to reward yourself when you quit. Many of my clients put the money they save on cigarettes in a glass jar as a reminder for how much they are saving. I coached a couple who quit together, and at their 6 month anniversary of being smoke free, they took a cruise with the money they saved from not buying cigarettes.

Keep in mind that sharing your goals with others makes you a lot more likely to achieve your goals because of support and accountability. Learn what your triggers are, and find ways to avoid them in your quest to be smoke free. There are several nicotine replacement therapies available, like patches, lozenges, gum, or prescriptions that help with cravings, irritability and withdrawals.

Quitting smoking is a process and can take many tries to feel confident and ready to make this big step in your life, so be gentle with yourself on your journey to becoming a healthier you!