FAQ on Quitting Smoking

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 10, 2023

A lot more than nicotine is in cigarettes. There are thousands of chemicals in cigarette smoke. Some of them are also in wood varnish, the insect poison DDT, arsenic, nail polish remover, and rat poison.

The ashes, tar, gases, and other toxins in cigarettes harm your body over time. They damage your heart and lungs. They also make it harder for you to taste and smell things and fight infections.

But the thought of giving up cigarettes may still bring a lot of questions to mind. Here are answers to some common ones.

Why Is It So Hard to Quit?

Many people who kicked the habit say it was the hardest thing they ever did. Do you feel hooked on cigarettes? You're probably addicted to nicotine.

This chemical is in all tobacco products. It temporarily makes you feel calm and satisfied. At the same time, you feel more alert and focused.

The more you smoke, the more nicotine you need to feel good. Soon, you don't feel "normal" without it.

It takes time to break free from nicotine addiction. It may take more than one try to quit for good. So if you’ve tried before, don’t give up. You will feel good again.

Quitting is also hard because smoking is a big part of your life. You enjoy it. You may smoke when you are stressed, bored, or angry. It's part of your daily routine. You may do it without even thinking about it.

For example, you may light up when you:

  • Drink coffee, wine, or beer
  • Talk on the phone
  • Drive
  • Are with other people who smoke

You may even feel uncomfortable not smoking at times or in places where you usually have a cigarette. These times and places are "triggers" that turn on your cigarette cravings. Breaking these habits is the hardest part of quitting for some people. But you can do it, even if it takes a while.

Why Should I Quit?

There are so many reasons. When you quit, you’ll feel better and cut your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, or cancer. It’s worth it, even if you’ve smoked for a long time.

The people you live with, especially children, will be healthier if you quit smoking. If you’re pregnant, you will improve your chances of having a healthy baby. And you will have extra money to spend on things other than cigarettes.

What Are the Risks of Smoking?

There are a lot of them. Smoking is life-threatening because it makes you much more likely to get many diseases, like heart disease and cancers of the lungs, stomach, pancreas, kidney, colon, rectum, bladder, esophagus, mouth, throat, and larynx. It also makes you more likely to get acute myeloid leukemia (a blood cancer) and pneumonia.

If you're pregnant, smoking makes miscarriage or low birth weight more likely. It’s also linked to a bigger chance of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) after you have a baby.

What’s the First Step to Quitting?

You should set a quit date -- the day when you will quit smoking and start to break free of your tobacco addiction.

Then, consider visiting your doctor before the quit date. They can give you practical advice and let you know if any tobacco replacement or medication would help.

What if I’ve Tried Before?

It’s still possible. Most people try to quit smoking at least two or three times before they are successful.

Think about your past attempts to quit. What worked? What didn’t? What might you do differently this time?

Remember that millions of people have quit smoking for good. You can be one of them!

What Steps Can I Take to Help Me Quit Smoking for Good?

Get ready for your quit date. Get rid of all cigarettes and ashtrays in your home, car, and at work, and don't let people smoke around you.

Get support and encouragement. Studies show that you have a better chance of succeeding if you have help. Tell your family, friends, and co-workers that you are going to quit smoking and want their support. Ask them not to smoke around you or leave cigarettes out where you can see them. There are also support groups and quit-smoking hotlines, apps, and websites. One-on-one counseling may also help.

What Medicines Help?

The FDA has approved seven drugs to help you quit smoking:

  1. Bupropion SR (Zyban) -- available by prescription
  2. Nicotine gum -- available "over the counter," which means you don't need a prescription
  3. Nicotine inhaler -- available by prescription
  4. Nicotine nasal spray -- available by prescription
  5. Nicotine patch -- available over the counter
  6. Nicotine lozenge -- available over the counter
  7. Varenicline (Chantix) -- available by prescription

The gum, lozenges, and patches are available at your local pharmacy, or you can ask your doctor to write you a prescription for one of the other medications. The good news is that all seven drugs work in helping people who are motivated to quit.

Will I Gain Weight?

Not everyone does. When people do gain weight when they give up smoking, it’s usually less than 10 pounds.

Eat a healthy diet, stay active, and try not to let any weight gain distract you from your main goal of quitting. Some of the medications to help you quit smoking may delay weight gain.

What if My Friends and Family Smoke?

Tell them that you are quitting, and ask them to help you. Specifically, ask them not to smoke or leave cigarettes around you. They might even join you!

What Can I Do When I Feel the Urge to Smoke?

These urges usually don’t last very long, so you’ll want to distract yourself until they pass.

Talk with someone, go for a walk, drink water, or give yourself a task to work on.

If stress is a trigger, find healthy ways to calm down, such as exercise, reading a book, or meditating. If you're not active now, check in with your doctor before you start working out.

I Smoke First Thing in the Morning. Now What?

When you first try to quit smoking, change your routine. Eat breakfast in a different place, and drink tea instead of coffee. Take another route to work. The idea is to shake up your habits so they won’t trigger you into smoking again.

I Smoke When I Drink. Do I Have to Give Up Alcohol?

It’s best to drink less or avoid drinking alcohol for the first 3 months after you quit. Booze is a common trigger for smoking, so drinking makes you less likely to stick to your new, smoke-free life. It helps to drink a lot of water and other nonalcoholic drinks when you try to quit.

What Should I Do if I Need More Help to Quit Smoking?

Get one-on-one, group, or telephone counseling to help you quit smoking. There are also apps, websites, and text message programs that can help you stay on track. Check with hospitals or health centers to see if they have quit-smoking programs. Your doctor can also encourage you to keep going.