Quitting Smoking - Planning Your Strategy to Quit

Learn what works for you.

When it comes to quitting smoking, some people find it helpful to plan ahead. Others don't. Do what works for you. If you are ready to quit right now, see the section Ready to Quit Today?

If you prefer to plan ahead, start by asking yourself some questions. Are you a goal-setter? How confident do you feel that you will succeed at giving up smoking? Asking yourself these questions is one way to prepare yourself for quitting.

Know your reasons

Your reason for wanting to quit is important. Maybe you want to protect your heart and your health and live longer. Or maybe you want to spend your money on something besides cigarettes. If your reason comes from you-and not someone else-it will be easier for you to try to quit for good.

After you know your reasons for wanting to quit, use the U.S. Surgeon General's five keys to quitting: get ready, get support, learn new skills and behaviors, get and use medicine, and be prepared for relapse.

1. Get ready

Contact your doctor or local health department to learn about medicines and to find out what kinds of help are available in your area for people who want to quit smoking. Telephone helplines operated by your state can also help you find information and support for quitting smoking.

Check with your insurance provider to find out if medicines and counseling are covered under your health plan. Your employer may also help pay the cost of a quit-smoking program or provide help to pay for medicines, even over-the-counter ones.

Free smartphone and tablet apps may be another helpful way to plan your quit. Apps such as the National Cancer Institute's QuitPal can help you set goals, track your progress, and share your struggles and successes with family and friends. QuitPal can also support you with text reminders.

Here are some other ways to get ready to quit smoking:

  • Set your goals. To achieve a long-term goal like quitting smoking, you may find it helpful to break the task into smaller goals. Every time you reach a goal, you feel a sense of pride along the path to becoming tobacco-free. A personal action plan(What is a PDF document?) can help you reach your goals.
    • Set your goals clearly. Write down your goals, or tell someone what you are trying to do. Goals should include "by when" or "how long" as well as "what." For example: "I will track my smoking for 1 week, starting tomorrow." Or "I will cut back from 20 cigarettes a day to 15 by this time next week."
    • Set a quit date, and stick to it. This is an important step. Choosing a good time to quit can greatly improve your chances of success. Avoid setting your quit date on high-stress days, such as holidays.
    • Reward yourself for meeting your goals. Quitting smoking is a difficult process, and each small success deserves credit. If you don't meet a goal, don't punish yourself. Instead, hold back on a reward until you achieve your goal. For example, give yourself something special if you succeed.
    • Pace yourself. You may want or need to quit slowly by reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke each day over the course of several weeks. Set a comfortable pace. Certain activities won't be temptation-free for many months after you quit.
    • Be realistic. You may feel very excited and positive about your plan for change. Be sure to set realistic goals-including a timeline for quitting-that you can meet. For example, your goal could be to cut back from 20 cigarettes a day to 10.
  • Make some changes. Get rid of all cigarettes, ashtrays, and lighters after your last cigarette. Throw away pipes or cans of snuff. Also, get rid of the smell of smoke and other reminders of smoking by cleaning your clothes and your house, including curtains, upholstery, and walls. Don't let people smoke in your home. Take the lighter out of your car. Try some methods to reduce smoking, such as gradually increasing the time between cigarettes, before your official quit date. A smoking tracker can help you keep track of what triggers urge you to use tobacco. This gives you important information on when it's toughest for you to resist.
  • If you have tried to quit in the past, review those past attempts. Think of the three most important things that helped in those attempts, and plan to use those strategies again this time. Think of things that hindered your success, and plan ways to deal with or avoid them. Write this down as a plan.


2. Get support

You will have a better chance of quitting successfully if you have help and support from your family, friends, and coworkers. Others sources of support include:

  • Your doctor. He or she can help you put together a plan of medicines and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) that works for you. This could be Chantix or the nicotine patch, or maybe the nicotine patch along with gum for those times you need something more.
  • Phone support (1-800-QUIT NOW). Telephone counselors can help you with practical ideas. Often they are people who have quit smoking themselves.
  • Social networking. Many smartphone or tablet quit-smoking apps allow you to share your progress with your friends and family. This is a way you can get the extra support and encouragement you need when you're having a hard time or when you want to celebrate a new smoke-free milestone.
  • Talk to a friend who used to smoke, and ask him or her to be a support person you can call when the going gets rough.
  • Try a quit smoking program on the Internet. These often have chat rooms. People who use telephone, group, one-on-one, or Internet counseling are much more likely to stop smoking than people who try to quit on their own.
Quitting Smoking: Getting Support

If a partner or friend is quitting, you can help.

Quitting Smoking: Helping Someone Quit

3. Learn new skills and behaviors

Since you won't be smoking, decide what you are going to do instead. Make a plan to:

  • Identify and think about ways you can avoid those things that make you reach for a cigarette (smoking triggers), at least at first. Try to change your smoking habits and rituals. Think about situations in which you will be at greatest risk for smoking. Make a plan for how you will deal with each situation.
  • Change your daily routine. Take a different route to work, or eat a meal in a different place. Every day, do something that you enjoy.
  • Cut down on stress. Calm yourself or release tension by reading a book, taking a hot bath, or digging in your garden. See the topic Stress Management for ways to reduce stress in your life.
  • Spend time with nonsmokers and people who have stopped smoking.
  • Start seeing yourself as a person who is making healthy choices.


4. Get and use medicine

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several medicines to help people quit smoking. You will double your chances of quitting even if medicine is the only treatment you use to quit. Your odds get even better when you combine medicine and other quit strategies, such as counseling.1

You won't have to take medicines forever-just for as long as it takes to help you quit. Your employer or health plan may help pay the cost of a quit-smoking program or provide help to pay for medicines. And remember that no matter how much it costs to buy medicines to help you stop smoking, it's still less than the cost of smoking.

The first-choice medicines are:2

  • Nicotine replacement therapy. This includes nicotine gum, patches, lozenges, and inhalers. You can buy gum, patches, and lozenges without a prescription.
  • Bupropion SR (Zyban). This is a non-nicotine prescription medicine that reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
  • Varenicline (Chantix). This prescription medicine helps withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and it reduces the pleasure you feel from smoking.
Quitting Smoking: Should I Use Medicine?

Remember, taking medicines and using telephone or in-person counseling or a quit-smoking program at the same time greatly increases your chances of success.

5. Be prepared for relapse

Most people are not successful the first few times they try to quit smoking. If you start smoking again, don't feel bad about yourself. A slip or relapse is just a sign that you need to change your approach to quitting.

A slip of just one or two cigarettes can lead back to regular smoking, but many smokers can get back to not smoking by changing their plan. For example, they may add counseling or a medicine. Or they may talk to a friend who used to smoke. Make a list of things you learned. And think about when you want to try again, such as next week, next month, or next spring. Or you don't have to wait. If you're still motivated to quit, you can try again as soon as you want.

You might get some ideas for things you can do differently by looking at "Prepare for roadblocks" in the Thinking About Quitting? section. Maybe you can try something new next time, such as a new medicine or type of counseling. You might try combining tools, such as counseling and medicine. Keep trying, and don't be fooled into thinking that smoking "light" cigarettes will help. They do not make smoking safer.


If you slip

If you slip or smoke a little, don't give up. Talk to someone who has quit smoking, or to a counselor, to get ideas of what to do. If you are taking medicine or using nicotine replacement, keep doing so unless you go back to regular smoking.

Quitting smoking is hard, but it can be done. To stay motivated, keep reminding yourself why you want to quit smoking. Make a list of your reasons to quit and the benefits you expect from quitting. Put your list of reasons on your bedroom dresser, in your wallet, or on the refrigerator. Review it whenever you are struggling with the quitting process. Add to your list whenever another reason or benefit occurs to you.

See the topic Quick Tips: What to Do When You Crave Nicotine.

If you have tried to quit smoking before, remember that most people try to quit many times before they are successful. Don't give up.


One Woman's Story:

Nancy hit upon a key that helped her quit for good. "Finally what woke me up-after 3 years of failure-was the realization of what happened when I relapsed. ... I quit drinking not because alcohol scares me, but because when I drink, I want to smoke."-Nancy, 54

Read more about Nancy and how she quit smoking.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
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