"Just think about something else"
First, there is an inaccuracy about what the ex-user is saying. He or she is not constantly thinking about smoking or using oral nicotine, rather, he or she is fixating on "one cigarette," "one puff" or "one hit." It's hard to think about something else because only having "one" seems like such a wonderful concept. They are often reminiscing about one of the best cigarettes or oral uses, or more accurately, about the sensation around one of the best fixes they ever had. It may be one they experienced 20 years earlier but that is the one they are focused on.
So what about thinking about something else? Well, it's hard to think of something else that can deliver such pleasure as this magic memory. Even if they successfully think of something else and overcome that urge, they walk away from the moment with a sense of longing or sadness with what they have just been deprived of again.
So, what is an ex-user to do? Change the tactic. Instead of trying (often unsuccessfully) to think of something else, acknowledge the desire. Don't tell yourself you don't want one, you do and you know it. But remember there is a catch. To take the one you have to have all the others with it. And with the others, you have to take all the problems that go with "them." The smell, the expense, the embarrassment, social ostracization, the total loss of control, and the health implications. The health effects are the most serious of the implications considering they often lead to slowly being crippled and can lead to death.
This is what to focus on when the thought of "one" creeps into consciousness, the package deal associated with smoking or other forms of delivery. Think about the hundreds of nicotine fixes that have to go with that first one. Think about the thousands upon thousands that will go with it until they cripple or kill you. These are not exaggerated numbers. Do the math yourself; calculate how many times you would have used nicotine in your lifetime and figure out how many more uses would occur if you didn't quit.
I am not saying to look at your particular nicotine delivery devices negatively, just look at them exactly as they really were. If you pull the whole spectrum of costs into focus, you will be able to walk away from the "urge" with the attitude that you are glad you are not doing that anymore. You won't feel deprived, you will feel grateful. The more you remember using the less you will think about wanting to. In a sense forcing yourself to remember will help you forget. Not forget using but the fantasy, the appeal of a nicotine fix. If nicotine was not worth it while you were using, you can bet it is not worth it as an ex-user with freedom to lose now, as well as all the other implications that always went with using.
In summing up, I will say that not using will never seem as good as the fantasy of using. But using was never that good either. The fantasy is "one" with no side effects, and no loss of control. The reality though is a dirty, disgusting, and deadly addiction. See them for what they are and you will stop wanting them as much.
Again, it can't be said too often, you are fighting for your health and very possibly your life. To win this fight is no more complicated than just keeping your commitment enforced to never use nicotine again!
Note: Joel's original post at FFT was dated 8/31/02 and addressed smoking. The above version has been modified to speak to all forms of nicotine delivery.