How to Quit Smoking

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on April 21, 2021

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 successful method. Only about 5% to 7% are able to quit on their own.

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. There are several types, including nicotine gum, patches, inhalers, sprays, and lozenges. 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 you use it 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 and varenicline (Chantix) are prescription medicines that can help with your cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

5. Combo treatments. You might be more likely to quit for good if you use a mix of different methods. For example, using both a nicotine patch and gum may be better than a patch alone. Other helpful combinations include behavioral therapy and nicotine replacement therapy; prescription medication with a nicotine replacement therapy patch; and a nicotine replacement therapy patch and nicotine spray. The FDA hasn’t approved using two 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 a 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 to 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 the things that make you want to reach for a cigarette and how you can manage each situation. And avoid people, places, or routines 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 urge to have a cigarette in your mouth or hands with something else, like chewing gum or playing a game on your phone.

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 success more likely.

5. Reward yourself. What you are 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, 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 a day
  • If your friends and family members smoke
  • Why you smoke

Focus on the benefits. Within hours of stopping cigarettes, 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 -- return to healthier levels.

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

No doubt about it: Quitting helps your whole 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 a lot of people go through it before they kick the habit for good. It’s also very normal in strong addictions like smoking. If it happens, 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



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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