Most New Year’s resolutions fail. A study, from the United Kingdom’s Royal Society of Public Health, found that that “quitting smoking is the most difficult resolution to keep.” Only four percent of those who attempt to quit smoking unaided remain smoke-free one year later. Another study, from the University of Scranton, found that only eight percent of people who make resolutions meet their goal. This is known as “false hope syndrome.”
Despite the difficulty, deciding to stop smoking is one of the most common, potentially beneficial and consistently challenging resolutions. Smoking reminders, also known as “cues,” are abundant in society, said Andrea King, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and co-leader of the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Cancer Prevention and Control program.
Those cues also include spotting someone smoking or seeing ashtrays, lighters and cigarette advertisements. These psychological factors, coupled with the biological side effects that come with nicotine withdrawal, make it particularly challenging for many to resist the urge and stay smoke-free.
The first week can be the hardest, King said, with frequent and intense cravings. An estimated one-third of smoking-cessation efforts fail right away, in less than seven days.
Yet it is hard to imagine a more compelling motivation. According to the World Health Organization, tobacco is responsible for an estimated 6 million deaths worldwide each year. Another 890,000 deaths result from non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.
Tobacco use kills more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, HIV, guns and illegal drugs combined. Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hundreds of these chemicals are harmful. About 70 can cause cancer.
That should be ample incentive. For most people, however, the New Year’s resolution process itself is flawed. They rush into a significant commitment, often with a hangover but without a plan. The crucial first step, often bypassed, is to design a specific plan for each person, a written document that is personal, targeted, realistic and sustainable.
“Evidence-based smoking-cessation methods can help people quit smoking,” said King. “However, it isn’t easy. Most smokers can increase their odds of success by using evidence-based methods and seeking professional help.”