How to Quit Smoking

So you're ready to kick the habit. That's great! Making that commitment is half the battle. It’s not going to be easy. But choosing the best way to quit is a good first step to ensure you stick with it.

Have a Plan

As you probably know, there are many different ways to quit smoking. Some work better than others. The best plan is the one you can stick with. Consider which of these might work for you:

  1. Cold turkey (no outside help). About 90% of people who try to quit smoking do it without outside support -- no aids, therapy, or medicine. Although most people try to quit this way, it's not the most effective or successful method. Only between 4% and 7% are able to quit by doing it alone.
  2. Behavioral therapy. This involves working with a counselor to find ways not to smoke. Together, you'll find your triggers (such as emotions or situations that make you want to smoke) and make a plan to get through the cravings.
  3. Nicotine replacement therapy. Nicotine gum, patches, inhalers, sprays, and lozenges are nicotine replacement therapies. They work by giving you nicotine without the use of tobacco. You may be more likely to quit with nicotine replacement therapy, but it works best when combined with behavioral therapy and lots of support from friends and family. And remember that the goal is to end your addiction to nicotine, not simply to quit using tobacco.
  4. Medication. Bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix) are prescription medications that can help with your cravings and symptoms from withdrawals.
  5. Combo treatments. Using a combination of treatment methods might increase your chances of quitting. For example, using both a nicotine patch and gum may be better than a patch alone. Other combination treatments that are helpful include behavioral therapy and nicotine replacement therapy; prescription medication used together a nicotine replacement therapy patch; and a nicotine replacement therapy patch and nicotine spray.The FDA hasn’t approved using 2 types of nicotine replacement therapies at the same time, so be sure to talk with your doctor first to see if this is the right approach for you.

No matter which method you choose, an important part of quitting is to build the quit plan that works for you. Pick a quit date that gives you time to prepare without losing your motivation. Tell friends and family that you are quitting. Get rid of all cigarettes and ashtrays from your home, work, and car. Figure out your smoking triggers, and decide how you’re going to deal with them.


How to Stay on Track

There will be days when all you want to do is give in to your cravings. Don’t do it. Quitting will be the best thing you ever do for yourself, but you have stick with your plan.

Follow these steps to stay on track to a smoke-free life:

  1. Know your triggers and avoid them early on. Write down your triggers and how you can manage each situation. And avoid situations that normally make you want to smoke, especially during the first 3 months. This is when you're most likely to start smoking again.
  2. Know that the first few days are the toughest. You'll probably feel irritable, depressed, slow, and tired, especially if you're quitting cold turkey. Have a quit-smoking support group available. It can be a good friend or a quit line you can call. Once you get past those first days, you'll begin to feel more normal (though you’ll still have cigarette cravings).
  3. Don't give in to your cravings. Every time you don't smoke when you have a craving, your chances of quitting go up. Change your habits; replace the oral fixation with something else like eating carrot sticks or sunflower seeds.
  4. Try a new hobby with friends who don't smoke. Do something that keeps your hands active and reduces stress, like walking your dog. It will make your success more likely.
  5. Reward yourself. What you’re doing isn’t easy. When you hit milestones, treat yourself with something you want or enjoy.

When smoking is no longer something you do, it can change how you see yourself. As much as you want to quit smoking, you may be surprised to feel sad or miss it. That's normal. Just don’t let that feeling make you want to smoke.


How Hard Will It Be to Quit?

Everyone is different, and how tough it will be for you depends on:

  • How many cigarettes you smoke daily
  • If your friends and family members smoke
  • Why you smoke

Focus on the benefits. Within hours of quitting, your body starts to recover from the effects of nicotine and additives. Your blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature -- all of which are higher than they should be because of the nicotine in cigarettes -- return to healthier levels.

You can breathe easier. The level of poisonous carbon monoxide in your blood drops, so your blood can carry more oxygen.

No doubt about it: Quitting helps your entire body. It can even improve your looks: You'll be less likely to get wrinkles when you're still young. And you'll save money, too.

What if I Start Smoking Again?

It's called a relapse, and it happens to a lot of people before they kick the habit for good. It’s also very normal in strong addictions like smoking. If you do relapse, try to smoke as little as possible until you're ready to quit again. Stopping permanently is a process that might take some time. But it's worth it.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on November 25, 2016



Annual Review of Public Health: “Impact of Nicotine Replacement Therapy on Smoking Behavior.”

American Family Physician: “Interventions to Facilitate Smoking Cessation.” 

National Institute on Drug Abuse: InfoFacts, July 2006. 

National Cancer Institute: "Quitting Tobacco: Short-term and Long-term Health Benefits."

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “The Health Benefits of Smoking Cessation."

American Cancer Society: "A word about success rates for quitting smoking." "Guide to Quitting Smoking."

CDC: "Quitting Smoking." "Have You Built a Quit Plan?" 

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