Quitting Smoking: What You Need to Know

Medically Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo, MD on November 27, 2022
4 min read

There's no one way to quit smoking, but to quit, you must be ready both emotionally and mentally. You must also want to quit smoking for yourself, not to please your friends or family. It helps to plan ahead. This guide will help you get started.

Your first days of not smoking will be the hardest. You should pick a date to quit smoking and then stick to it. Write down your reasons for quitting before your quit day and read the list every day before and after you quit.

You should also come up with a quit plan. It will help you stay focused and motivated. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Write down when you smoke, why you smoke, and what you are doing when you smoke. These are your smoking triggers. You need to avoid these as often as possible going forward.
  • Stop smoking in certain situations (such as during your work break or after dinner) before actually quitting.
  • Make a list of activities you can do instead of smoking, like taking a brisk walk or chewing a piece of gum. You have to be ready to do something else when you want to smoke.
  • Ask your doctor about using nicotine replacement therapy gum or patches. Some people find these helpful in curbing cravings.
  • Join a smoking cessation support group or program. Call your local chapter of the American Lung Association to find groups near you.
  • Tell your friends and family about your quit smoking plan, and let them know how they can support you.

Blame nicotine, the main drug in tobacco, for your smoking addiction. Your brain quickly adapts to it and craves more and more to feel the way you used to feel after smoking just one cigarette.

Over time, your brain learns to predict when you're going to smoke a cigarette. You feel down and tired, so you think, "I need a cigarette," and the cycle starts again.

But it's not just about brain chemistry. Certain situations make you want to smoke. Everyone's triggers are different. Yours might include the smell of cigarette smoke, seeing a carton of cigarettes at the store, eating certain foods, or drinking your morning coffee. Sometimes just the way you feel (sad or happy) is a trigger. One of the biggest keys to quitting smoking is spotting the triggers that make you crave smoking and trying to avoid them.

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. 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.

Slipping is a common part of quitting. For most people trying to quit, even “just one puff” counts. And if you “have just one,” it makes it that much harder to go completely smoke free.

But slipping does not mean you go back to smoking regularly. Use your slip up to focus on your triggers and learn how to better deal with cravings. And to avoid further slip ups and relapses, try the following:

  • If you live with a smoker, ask them not to smoke around you.
  • When you get the urge to smoke, take a deep breath. Hold it for 10 seconds and release it slowly. Repeat this several times until the urge is gone.
  • Keep your hands busy. Doodle, play with a pencil or straw, or work on a computer.
  • Change activities that were connected to smoking. Take a walk or read a book instead of taking a cigarette break.
  • Hang out with nonsmokers or go to places that don't allow smoking, such as the movies, museums, shops, or libraries.
  • Don't substitute food or sugar-based products for cigarettes.
  • Exercise. Exercising will help you relax.
  • Get support for quitting, especially from family and friends.
  • Work with your doctor to develop a plan using over-the-counter or prescription nicotine replacement aids.

When you quit smoking, you will have both physical and mental withdrawals. You may crave cigarettes, feel irritable and hungry, cough often, get headaches, or have difficulty concentrating. You have these symptoms of withdrawal because your body is used to nicotine.

When withdrawal symptoms occur within the first 2 weeks after quitting, stay in control. Think about your reasons for quitting. Remind yourself that these are signs that your body is healing and getting used to being without nicotine.

The withdrawal symptoms are only temporary. They are strongest when you first quit but will go away within 10 to 14 days. Remember that withdrawal symptoms are easier to treat than the major diseases that smoking can cause.

You may still have the desire to smoke, since there are many strong associations with smoking. The best way to overcome these associations is to enjoy them without smoking.

If you relapse and smoke again, don’t lose hope. Seventy-five percent of those who quit smoke again. Most smokers quit 3 or more times before they are successful. Plan ahead and think about what you will do the next time you get the urge to smoke.