In quitting, former smokers discovered non-traditional advice

Tim Skillern

Gum. Patches. Carrot sticks. Meditation. Self-hypnosis. Cold turkey. Isolation. Having kids.

Ask smokers, and they'll tell you they've tried them all when attempting to quit.

Thursday marks this year's Great American Smokeout, a day when organizations across the country encourage smokers to stop, and Yahoo News asked former smokers to offer to advice to those trying to quit.

While there's no perfect salve for smoking, certain solutions work better for some than others. Indeed, many who shared their stories said prescribed or traditional methods simply didn't succeed. Here's a collection of stories and tips they shared this week.

Family is a powerful motivation to quit

Jeff Briscoe started smoking socially at 20 and relied on it during law school. Soon, it became part and parcel to bachelorhood, and for a half decade, he clung to a pack-a-day routine, clipping cigarette coupons and defying price increases. He preferred Camel Lights.

But then he married a non-smoker. Kids followed, as did regret. He felt guilty, and he didn't want his kids around smoke:

"I never feared quitting because I knew it must be done. I rapidly reduced to three to four cigarettes per day. Though enough to serve as a crutch, it made ending a seven-year habit less intimidating. As it happened, I caught bronchitis shortly after the birth of our second child and a week passed without any smoking.

"When I recovered, my wife informed me I had already quit. While not my intention, I went seven days without smokes and didn't even have any in my possession. She challenged me to keep going. Though weight gain followed, I was successful. Seven years later, I have never smoked again."

Be where the cigarettes aren't

Go to jail.

If you want to quit smoking, it's that easy, Douglas Stewart says.

When he was a troublemaker kid, Stewart landed in jail, where he discovered cigarettes cost $5 per cigarette. Because tobacco was, as he says, unattainable, he quit for two years. For those not keen on a stint in the pokey, he offers the next best thing: "Do your best to replicate that type of isolation." Here's his advice:

"The second time I quit smoking I did so by taking a rather short trip to the Berkshires and rented a house directly on Lake Garfield. The owner would not allow smoking, so I packed up everything I needed and headed out leaving cigarettes behind. The key here is to bring everything that you need on trip like this. Doing so will ensure that you do not purchase cigarettes (or bum one) if you have to head to the store because you forgot something. Once you make it past the first few days you can start to think of yourself as a non-smoker and also start to congratulate yourself daily, or even hourly."

'Small victories became larger ones'

"I puffed down smokes for 15 years," Monica Bullock says, "and I loved every single one of them."

At 17, she started because of her "cool" new stepsister, and her pack of Marlboro's. Experimentation turned to habit, leading to clove cigarettes and marijuana. "I don't blame anyone but me," she says.

Fifteen years later, after raising a son and battling serious lung infections, she quit—many times:

"I gave it up, about 50 times. I tried gum, but that didn't work. I hated all that chewing. The patches were OK until I started wearing patches and smoking. Eventually, I sought prayer and encouragement from a local religious group. I began counting my victories differently too. Instead of 'just quitting,' I quit for an hour, then two, then six—then a whole day.

"Small victories became larger ones until, one day, I realized I hadn't smoked in days. I won't lie and say that I don't think about it occasionally, but I sure don't crave them anymore. I quit smoking and so can you. Count the small victories."

Self-hypnosis helped this smoker quit

"These cigarettes taste like crap."

That's what Eric Brennan told himself repeatedly. And that's how he stopped smoking.

He took up smoking at 11. At 13, he was sucking down a pack every day. "Whatever the reason," he says, "I know now how stupid of a decision it was."

In his 30s, strenuous tasks during his job as a construction worker would leave him winded. But it took athletic embarrassment for him to quit: "After a pathetic foot-race loss to an uncle who was 20 years my senior, I knew it was time to give it up."

He eschewed nicotine gum, patches and medication. He quit the old-fashioned way: He just stopped smoking.

"I used a technique that my grandfather had used years ago to help him quit smoking: self-hypnosis. Every day for an entire month, every time I lit a cigarette, I would tell myself how gross they tasted. I'd repeat the mantra to myself with every cigarette: 'These cigarettes taste like crap.' Each cigarette soon got less and less flavorful.

"By the end of the month, I had a pack of cigarettes that was half full and I was smoking just a few cigarettes a day. In about 45 days, I couldn't even stand the smell of them. I didn't even finish the last pack; I just tossed them in the garbage and never looked back. While not all of us might not be that strong-willed (or easily fooled), everyone can quit if they just put their mind to it."

Meditation eliminates the 'sad crankies'

Jo Burns started early, in her teens, mimicking her parents, who also smoked. But that was part of the culture in the 1970s, and warning labels didn't always help: "What?" Burns asks facetiously, "Cigarettes are really bad for us?"

Decades later, in 2002, she was 42 and still quitting smoking—"for what felt like the 100th time."

She finally quit with the help of meditation and herbal supplements:

"I knew I had to find a long-term method for dealing with the lingering urge to smoke. Distraction methods weren't particularly helpful for me, so instead of chomping on carrot sticks or taking up knitting, I began to meditate. When the desire to smoke hit I would take a few deep breaths, try to relax and let myself experience the discomfort of wanting a cigarette. Knowing it would pass in a few minutes, I learned to simply ride it out."

Avoiding others who smoke is key

Boredom led then-15-year-old Sharyl Stockstill to plunk change into an old-fashioned cigarette vending machine in Albuquerque, N.M.

Thirty-four years later, she's still struggling to quit—but she's nearly there. Part of the problem, for years, was that her sons and daughter smoked too. Quitting as a group is nearly impossible, she says: "When all four of us attempted to quit, we met with success until one of us failed, and then we all four tumbled like dominoes."

Now her sons have moved out of state, and she and her daughter are seeing success:

"It was only when I was with others who were smoking real cigarettes that I stumbled and fell flat on my face. So, this time, I will keep on track by avoiding others when they are smoking. My daughter and I have an agreement: If either of us fails, we will not smoke around the other. One of the best tips I can give is to avoid other smokers. Just the smell and sight of someone smoking can trigger overpowering desires to light up again."

Heart attack forces end to 36 years of smoking

At 12, Regina Hurley was smoking a pack a day. By 20, it was two packs.

"Marlboro 100's every single day for 36 years," she says. "If I got in the car, answered the phone, got upset, or opened a soda, I lit a cigarette."

Even though she knew smoking wasn't cool, and she knew it was killing her, she couldn't quit on her own.

"Two months ago, I had a heart attack, and was forced to make the decision to either quit smoking or die an early death," Hurley says. "I choose to live."

"I tried going cold turkey, but even as serious as I am about quitting it just didn't work for me. So, I joined a free online smoking cessation program for Georgia residents. They send me patches in the mail and counsel me when I need someone to talk to. The patches help a lot with cutting down on the number of cigarettes I smoke each day. Another thing that I have found very helpful is changing my daily routines. Small things can make a big difference -- like not smoking as soon as I get out of bed each morning and drinking a cup of coffee without a cigarette every day."

She says she's quitting Thursday—for good.

"Thursday is the Great American Smokeout. It's also the day I've decided to quit. I am going to quit smoking cigarettes forever on Thursday. Please, join me and let's all live longer, healthier lives."

More stories from smokers:

Vegetable juice a completely different way to quit smoking forever

The smoker's dilemma: one man's journey to stop

A good reason -- pregnancy, your dog, money, anything -- is key to quitting smoking

Quit smoking or give up on a relationship

Thoroughly and hopelessly hooked on cigarettes -- but quitting anyway