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Is New Year's the Best Time to Quit Smoking? Find Out

December 29, 2017
By Pivot
Hand holding a sparkler in the dark

The start of a new year can be a hectic time in wellness.

There’s the mad rush around the holidays, closing out the previous calendar year, and gearing up for the next. For many companies, January is also the start of a new benefits and wellness program year.

There’s also a good chance your wellness program participants have gotten swept up in the frenzy of New Year’s resolutions. But while there’s a lot to be said for finding ways to capitalize on this annual reminder for fresh starts, New Year’s might not be the right time for people to try to quit smoking.

What?! Are we seriously saying that people shouldn’t quit smoking?

Not at all! We want everyone to quit smoking. But the truth is that, for a lot of people, hitching the challenge of quitting smoking to all the external noise and excitement of January 1 can actually hinder their chances of success.

Why? Read on.

While almost everyone who smokes can name someone who quit “cold turkey,” the reality is, that’s not how it works for most people. It takes 10-15 quit attempts, on average, for someone to quit smoking for good. Even people who say they quit cold turkey actually tried several times before they got it to stick.

So, it’s unrealistic to expect that January 1 will be the magical day that flips the switch. Quitting smoking is a process that involves fits and starts. Making a quit plan, finding the right strategies for dealing with triggers and cravings, finding the dose and type of cessation medication that works best for curbing withdrawal, getting the various forms of support that are needed—it all takes time, and some trial and error.

Everyone who smokes knows that they should quit. And the pressure to quit can be even higher around the New Year, when everyone around them is either making resolutions themselves or nudging them to make a resolution to quit. But external pressure (or internal feelings of guilt) aren’t going to provide people with the sustainable motivation that they’ll need for quitting.

A funny thing about New Year’s resolutions is that, while their aims are often grandiose, their staying power is often short-lived. Most resolutions are abandoned by the middle of February. Quitting smoking is a long game. Ultimately, we want people to quit for good. To do that, they have to have the forms of motivation that will keep them going, even when quitting gets tough.

There are three keys to supporting sustainable motivation: (1) Providing people with opportunities to have ownership around how and when they quit; (2) Helping people develop the necessary skills and tools for being able to quit successfully; and (3) Creating an environment in which people have space to experiment, try, lapse, and come back, without judgment.

One of the things we’re especially excited about in the New Year is the FDA’s Every Try Counts campaign. This is an initiative that gets it right. Helping people quit isn’t about asking them to set a date or make a New Year’s resolution. It’s about helping them figure out their own timing, and creating an environment that reframes “failed” attempts as necessary practice.

So, before creating a campaign around quitting smoking for the New Year, consider your overall goal. Is it quit attempts, or is it successful quits? If it’s the latter, look for a way to frame quitting around your program participants’ internal motivations, rather than an external force like New Year’s.

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