Please help replace tobacco with another break-taking stimulant-type thing.
March 31, 2010 5:11 PM   Subscribe

I've quit smoking, but I miss the periodic (5-15 times/day) neurochemical "hit" -- as well as the break-taking-ritual aspects -- of having a cig. What are my options? (Answers should be less unhealthy than smoking, but don't necessarily have to be "safe as milk").

2 months since quitting cigs altogether. Switched to snus (a method I, personally, can reccommend for its gentleness, though IANAD). I'm ready to quit tobacco altogether now.

But when I think about it, I'm not in love with the tobacco, I'm in love with taking a break, ingesting something, and feeling momentarily different. (With all attendant ritualism).

I don't particularly care for tea or coffee (or the caffeine family, in general), and would prioritize things that are portable and require little or no prep-time. I'd also like it to be legal and available in the U.S., and less harmful than tobacco. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
my suggestion for this is always a lollipop habit. you get to keep a stash at work, you can still go outside and enjoy it, and it satisfies the oral fixation.
posted by nadawi at 5:14 PM on March 31, 2010

Buy an alto recorder, ingest air, and do something soothing, and self-entertaining for 3 to 5 minutes at a time, several times a day.
posted by paulsc at 5:16 PM on March 31, 2010

Apples are often referred to as an alternative to coffee for 'wake me up' moments. Not a sudden jolt though, more of kind of a time-release thing.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 5:22 PM on March 31, 2010

When I gave up cigs (using patches), I continued to take my usual cigarette breaks, but instead of smoking I'd take a brisk walk around the building. The extra air would refresh me, and the simple act meant that rather than abandoning the ciggie-break ritual, I was just replacing it with something else.
posted by pompomtom at 5:23 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, when I quit I did crunchy snacks, esp. cut up celery or baby carrots or sugar snap peas, all of which I'm partial to anyway. Slice 'em in the evening and stash in plastic bags and you have your portability and lack of prep time etc.

I also think walks are great. I used to go outside all the time to smoke anyway. I favor walks with Ipod to listen to podcast, book or movie, but whatever.

And if you don't like caffeine but can tolerate hot drinks, you may want to try Rooibos tea. I love the stuff ever since going to South Africa. It is now very easy to find in the supermarket.
posted by bearwife at 5:26 PM on March 31, 2010

Good for youuuuu! Seriously, that is me cheering.

I still take "non-smoking breaks." I step away from my desk, go outside, savor the day, and take several long smoking-like breaths. You get a pretty serious hit of oxygen when you breathe like you're desperately smoking. It can really clear the head.

I know several other former smokers who take little exercise breaks. A few reps with the dumbbell at the desk, or toe touches, or what have you.

By the way, smoking a cigarette (or snusing a snus) isn't clearing your head or giving you a little kick. It's just dispelling the fog of addiction desperation that has been slowly creeping over you since your last hit. The nicotine LIES. Don't believe it.
posted by ErikaB at 5:27 PM on March 31, 2010 [6 favorites]

I second the apple idea. It gives me something to focus on (don't want to drip juice anywhere) and it's refreshing. The only downside is it makes me feel a little CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP conscious when munching around other people in a quiet area.

Clementines are an alternative, especially if you challenge yourself to peel it in one piece.
posted by sallybrown at 5:31 PM on March 31, 2010

You're doing great! Keep it up!

What helped me - and still does almost 5 years later - is strong flavors of gum and or mints. Keep several flavors ( wintergreen, spearmint, etc ) and rotate through them so you don't get board. The mint flavors especially seemed to immediately stimulate my senses and provide the distraction I was looking for. ( I recommend the 60-count packs of Equal gum. No financial imperative, it just works for me ).

Also, chiming in for exercise - instead of getting up every 30 or 50 minutes for a smoke - take a brisk walk for that 10 minutes. You'll get back refreshed and awake.

You'll get through this, and you'll be glad that you quit.
posted by HannoverFist at 5:35 PM on March 31, 2010

coffee or tea
posted by fifilaru at 5:38 PM on March 31, 2010

coffee or tea OOps you don't care for caffeine, but it would help with the little jolt you are looking for and is relatively harmless. (Yes, to all of you who are going to tell me that caffeine is a neuro-toxin, I know.)
posted by fifilaru at 5:41 PM on March 31, 2010

I don't know if I'd go the coffee route. I have a bit of a caffeine addiction. While the symptoms of not having any are not in any way as bad as nicotine withdrawal, they can be as bad as being exhausted and irritable. So switching from one to the other may be problematic.

I'd go with sugar free gum or lozenges. But still take the break.
posted by Splunge at 5:43 PM on March 31, 2010

Amyl nitrite? (less safe than milk)

After quitting smoking I find I like drinking massive quantities of tea.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:47 PM on March 31, 2010

Strong mints, definitely. They'll give you a sudden sugar rush (unless sugarless, of course), give you a cool fume-ish sensation if you take a few good deep breaths, and freshen your breath while you're at it.
posted by fish tick at 5:50 PM on March 31, 2010

tootsie roll pops
posted by mmf at 5:51 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Amyl nitrite? (less safe than milk)

Real amyl nitrate is nearly impossible to find anymore. Modern poppers are made of different stuff with radically less pronounced effects.

However, nitrous oxide is readily available (in the form of whipping cream chargers). While prolonged sessions of nitrous can cause hypoxia (low oxygen), the nitrous itself is not dangerous. And the effect is most excellent. Ever since I read Zodiac (by Neal Stephenson), I've wanted to hot-box a room with nitrous and oxygen--you need the O2 so as not to suffocate. If you just do a lungful of the stuff, the effects will last about a minute.

Also, pure oxygen is available as well. Oxygen, in and of itself, causes a remarkably pleasant, if subtle, euphoria. There are people selling it in cans (at quite a price), or you can get it from medical supply places and breathe it through a nasal cannula. I promise that ten minutes of high flow oxygen will make you feel quite good.

Another possibility is masturbation. Obviously you may have taboo-related issues if you're spanking the monkey at work. And, similarly, it's probably a lot easier (read: less messy) if you're female. But it's definitely a ritual with an associated altered state.
posted by Netzapper at 6:06 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Five minutes of controlled breathing is pretty rad, and can give you some of the same stress relief and/or focus enhancing benefits of smoking.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 6:14 PM on March 31, 2010

Exercise. The kind that leaves you breathless (jumping jacks, or jump rope = OMG) because now that you've quit smoking you can do such things. At first it will be difficult. But talk about getting a "hit"..

Apples (actually any fruit). A fruit break will give you an obvious, happy jolt of energy - especially when you haven't smoked for a while.

PS. I know you don't like coffee or tea - but the ritual of preparing tea is a treat in itself and works right in to all those blanks left by smoking. Non-caffinated = no problem..
posted by marimeko at 6:17 PM on March 31, 2010

This is pretty disgusting, though better than smoking. I would put a cheek full of sunflower seeds in, crack them and spit the shells out like a sailor. Seriously...spitting the shells was great fun, and an activity that provided my peabrain with some taboo value similar to smoking.
posted by littleflowers at 6:17 PM on March 31, 2010

You're looking for a legal drug with a discernable, stimulating, psychoactive effect that isn't cigarettes or caffeine, and that isn't especially harmful. Your options are pretty limited and are fairly obviously inappropriate: alcohol, OTC stimulants like pseudoephedrine, prescription pharmaceuticals like Ritalin, khat (which however seems to be illegal in the US), poppers as mentioned. Apart from that, you've got chocolate, candy and other foods which purportedly can have a mild psychoactive effect (though, I'd suggest, a fairly negligible one).
posted by dontjumplarry at 6:26 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you don't mind that something being nicotine, you can try an electronic cigarette. They're just nicotine and a handful of GRAS chemicals, no actual tobacco. MeMail me if you have questions.
posted by K.P. at 6:27 PM on March 31, 2010

I used to be a pack-a-day chain smoker so I totally understand the importance of the smoke break ritual.

What really helped me after quitting were tea tree oil toothpicks. You can find them at any Whole Foods or other health food stores.

The toothpicks come in a small, square, portable container (just like a cigarette pack!) that slips easily into a pocket, purse or wherever you used to keep your cigs. The tea tree oil gives the toothpicks a strong, almost cinnamon/peppermint-type flavor that gives your mouth a small burst of energy. Whenever I'd feel the urge for a cigarette break, I'd step outside, flip open the box and pull out a toothpick. I'd chew the toothpicks to a pulp, but they were great for keeping my hands and mouth busy.

The tea tree oil toothpicks really helped me kick the behavioral addictions I had associated with smoking.
posted by yeoja at 6:52 PM on March 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

Seconding electronic cigarettes. You can go to for comprehensive information about them. They even have nicotine-free liquid if you'd prefer that, and the liquid itself comes in a multitude of flavors... some better than others.
posted by biochemist at 6:52 PM on March 31, 2010

Water. No really. Get a big bottle of water and drink it over the course of an hour and a half or so. It takes a little bit to get in the habit, but it'll make to you take a leak pretty regularly. I used to use these as an excuse to take 'the long way' back to me desk out and around the building. It always feels good to relieve yourself, gives you a good chance to slip outside or at the very least walk around for a bit.
posted by ghostiger at 7:13 PM on March 31, 2010

When I quit, I bought a couple bars of fancy-pants chocolate as dark as I could find it. Whenever I wanted that "break" I would snap off a tiny piece, maybe 1/3 or 1/2 of the little strip that breaks off, take it outside to my smokin' chair, and just hang out while it dissolved in my mouth (which takes a while). It not only satisfies the break time urge, but because it's bitter rather than sweet or minty it also gave me a good satisfying "dirty" taste if that makes sense.

God knows I probably would have felt better doing 5 minutes of yoga or drinking a glass of water but that is so not my style; smoking was a naughty treat for me so i wanted my replacement crutch to give me some of that same satisfaction.
posted by lilnublet at 7:13 PM on March 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

Coffee. Lots of coffee.
posted by ged at 7:51 PM on March 31, 2010

I like coca leaves.
The buzz is sort of similar to nicotine, but much healthier, and less jittery then caffeine.

I like to chew them with a bit of hydrated lime, but they also make a nice tea.
posted by St. Sorryass at 8:14 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

e-cigs of course.... the main risk is inhaling some nasty contamination from the nicotine solution. This stuff's not regulated yet. And the long term effects of inhaling from even proper e-cigs is unknown. They've only been around for a couple years. That said... You're looking for e-cigs. Weigh the risks and decide for yourself.
posted by malp at 8:18 PM on March 31, 2010

Seconding the lollipop habit. It makes you look cool like Kojak.
posted by lexicakes at 9:22 PM on March 31, 2010

My wife and I tried the electronic cigarettes, by the way. We both found them totally unsatisfying. The problem isn't that the "smoke" (glycol and nicotine vapor) sucks. It's that the actual "cigarettes" themselves pretty much suck. We found that they only worked about half the time. Even with a full charge, and a full capsule of gunk, we still found that they'd very often fail to deliver any vapor when we sucked on them. Fiddling, switching batteries, switching capsules, and shaking them around seemed to help sometimes.

But, if you're still addicted to nicotine, there is fucking nothing more enraging (I mean that literally) than a purported nicotine delivery device that inconsistently delivers nicotine. Imagine going to smoke your last cigarette and discovering that it's been soaked through with water, rendering it unsmokable. You'd shoot a motherfucker.

If you're going to stick to nicotine, I heartily suggest nicotine gum. I actually like it better than cigarettes. The only reason I haven't switched completely is that I like to smoke and drink simultaneously, and you can make yourself quite sick by drinking while "chewing" the gum.
posted by Netzapper at 9:41 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding the nitrous. Oh man, seconding the nitrous.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:45 PM on March 31, 2010

When I was first quitting I took my regular breaks in my usual spot with a bottle of water.

But don't kid yourself. There are some good answers here, but none of them are tobacco and that addiction is a real bitch. I would get actively angry that I "wasn't able" to have a smoke. Yes, angry AT the bottle of water because it wasn't a cigarette. Nothing you choose will be as satisfying, so you just have to power through. As of today, it's been a full 6months and I still nearly cave every day. MeMail me if you need a quit buddy.
posted by Eumachia L F at 1:45 AM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Chewing gum, may be.

Though I second just powering through, as nothing in the short term will get anyway close to a cigarette and just remind you of smoking. The more habits that you associated with smoking that you break, though hard at the time, make long term quitting easier. (This is me speaking as a multiple quitter over several years back in the day - but I'm quit over ten years now and most of the time I forget I even smoked so keep going)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:00 AM on April 1, 2010

Licorice root!

OK, I know it's kind of hippy dippy, but it's very healthy. It's good for your teeth, it has a really strange kind of aromatic taste that grows on you, and it is also similar in shape to a cigarette. The pictures on the wikipedia page there are just woodchips, but you can normally by the sticks in health food shops. My dad chewed on these all the time when I was growing up.
posted by molecicco at 4:21 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

ooh! I have an answer for this that works for me! Though I was never a heavy smoker, I adored the ritual of it and the momentary altered state. After I quit, I started to suck and chew on whole cloves (the spice). Clove oil is a mild analgesic, so it'll give your mouth a tingle while satisfying the oral fixation. It also only stays firm for about the length of a cigarette break. I also started smoking with clove cigarettes then moved to regular ones, so the flavor has that association for me.
Sweets or veggie sticks or fruits would never in a million years work for me. Smoking is nothing like eating those things. Sticking a clove in my mouth is a much closer approximation to the acrid tingle of a cigarette. Added bonus: it's a breath freshener! and is used as such by many cultures.
posted by inkytea at 7:17 AM on April 1, 2010

My wife and I tried the electronic cigarettes, by the way. We both found them totally unsatisfying.

I was rather unimpressed with the first one I tried too, but after I bought one of these here (and later one of these for going out) I was pretty satisfied. The manual-switch-battery was pretty essential. I haven't had or wanted a real cigarette (or anything else) in about a year and a half. It's only about as fussy and fiddly as rolling-your-own or smoking a pipe.
posted by K.P. at 7:17 AM on April 1, 2010

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