How to Quit Smoking

Want to kick the habit for good? Check out this expert guide on managing withdrawals, curbing cravings, and seeking help.

Last updated: May 16th, 2022
How to Quit Smoking

If you're among the 30.8 million smokers in the United States, you've probably considered (or tried) quitting more than once. It’s challenging to quit smoking, but it isn't impossible. You’re not alone in the struggle, and many Americans have successfully quit and now enjoy healthier, happier lives as a result.

We put together this guide to help you successfully quit smoking once and for all. Find out expert-backed ways to stop smoking, manage withdrawals, avoid weight gain, and get the help you need.

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Reasons to quit smoking

The reality is that there are far more reasons to stop the habit than to continue, including:


Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease, killing more than 480,000 Americans yearly. That number is the equivalent of one-fifth of all annual deaths. It is estimated that one-third of young smokers will die from a smoking-related illness.


On an individual level, the cost of smoking is exorbitant. One pack-a-day smoker spends an average of $2,000-$3,000 a year purchasing tobacco products — but the price we pay for smoking goes beyond the checkout line. The US spends more than $300 billion each year on smoking-related illnesses and loses $156 billion in lost productivity.

Health and fitness

Even if you’re relatively young and have not yet incurred any major health setbacks due to smoking, you’re likely still experiencing adverse effects from the habit. Have you ever gone on a hike or a jog with a non-smoker? If so, you’ve no doubt struggled to keep up, found yourself out of breath, or had to take more frequent breaks than your partner. Smoking decreases lung strength, leading to sedentary activities and further depleting our overall physical health.

Sexual performance

Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects 20% of the male population and up to 52% of males aged 40-70. Research indicates that there are correlations between smoking and cardiovascular function, which can ultimately contribute to sexual dysfunction as well. The likelihood of ED doubles among younger heavy smokers than those who smoke less than a pack a day, and the longer you smoke, the more those numbers rise. Cigarette smoking can impact female sexual health as well, leading to an increased risk for female sexual dysfunction (FSD).

Taste and smell

Did you know that smokers are more likely than non-smokers to have a poor sense of smell? According to a 2017 review of studies from 1980-2014, smokers may experience olfactory and gustatory changes, with increased tobacco use correlating with decreased ability to smell and taste.

Physical appearance

Smoking does a number on our physical appearance over time. A few of the negative impacts of smoking on appearance are skin dehydration and dullness, increased wrinkles, tooth discoloration, and the risk of gum disease. In short, the longer you smoke, the quicker you age.


If you care about the environment, quitting smoking is just one step you can take to reduce its destruction. Around 766,571 metric tons of cigarette butts make their way to the environment each year and comprise the most frequently littered waste found on US beaches and waterways.

Quitting smoking can genuinely change your life and the lives of those around you. By leaving this costly habit behind, you will take the first step in reversing tobacco's negative impacts, making you healthier and more vibrant. Is it easy? No. But it is something you can accomplish if you put your mind to it and incorporate some of the tips and tools in this guide.

Why it's hard to quit

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that, when inhaled, releases dopamine in the brain within seconds, creating a pleasurable sensation. Quitting smoking is difficult because it involves both the physical addiction to nicotine and psychological dependence as well. The action of smoking becomes intertwined in daily life and a go-to in times of stress.

Smokers tend to associate tobacco with daily rituals, so you're often forced to overhaul your daily habits when you quit. This is not an impossible task, but it takes focus, time, and effort. Instead of waking up to a cup of coffee alongside that usual morning cigarette, you'll need to adapt to new routines and counter old habits with new and healthier ones.

Developing a strategy

To quit smoking for good, it's essential to assess your smoking habits and set out a game plan to counter them. This process involves examining key details about when and where you smoke, what triggers make you want to smoke the most, how long you've smoked, and how deeply ingrained the habit is in your everyday life.

Questions to ask yourself

Answering the following questions helps you identify what type of smoker you are and the best strategies and tips to overcome your addiction.

  • How much do you smoke every day?
  • When do you smoke?
  • Do you often smoke after meals?
  • Do you smoke more when you're alone or in social situations?
  • Do specific settings make you want to smoke?
  • How often do you smoke as a result of stress or depression?
  • How does boredom factor into your smoking habits?
  • Do you associate smoking with drinking or other addictive behaviors?
  • Would you consider talking with a therapist or counselor about your smoking?
  • Would you consider treatment options like acupuncture or hypnosis?
  • Do you enjoy physical activities like walking, jogging, or biking?
  • Do you fear gaining weight if you stop smoking?

Establishing the START plan

Beginning your nicotine-free journey is not easy, but following the START plan can help you establish your goals and steer you toward success. This plan also enables you to establish accountability and support as you go forward.

S: Set a date to quit

Setting a quit date is the first step toward accountability. You should select a date within the next two weeks that gives you time to prepare while keeping the motivation going. Your quit date should be a day where you're not facing ongoing obligations or temptations. For instance, if you primarily smoke socially, you'll want to choose a day when you're not socially engaged. If smoking is a regular part of your workday, choose a day on the weekend to give yourself time away from the temptation to get the ball rolling.

T: Tell the people around you

Quitting smoking is not easy, and having a support system during this process can make all the difference. It also solidifies your commitment and goals. Tell your friends, family, and coworkers about your decision to quit and ask for their encouragement. If you have a friend or acquaintance who is also focused on quitting, doing so together can be helpful and give you another cheerleader in times of weakness.

A: Anticipate and plan for challenges along the way

If this is your first attempt at quitting, you should know and prepare for the most common issues you will face when you stamp out that last cigarette. If you're a heavy smoker, nicotine withdrawal can be a significant struggle. It is also more manageable with resources like nicotine patches, gum, medications, and therapy. Plan what method you will use and stock up on whatever products you may need, or set an appointment with your doctor to discuss possible medication to assist you on your journey.

R: Remove all temptations

In the days leading up to your quit date, you should eliminate all temptations from your home and work environments. Get rid of ashtrays, cigarettes, and lighters — essentially, anything that reminds you of smoking. Additionally, you'll want to rid your home and clothing of the smell of smoke. Trust us; when you quit, you'll be thankful. Do not hold onto an emergency pack of cigarettes, and if your social circle or family members smoke, try taking a step away for a few days while you acclimate to changes.

T: Talk to your doctor

If you're currently a smoker, your physician has likely already suggested quitting. Now is the time to turn to your doctor for help. Several prescription medications can assist with withdrawal symptoms and help reduce cravings. Many of these drugs require that you start dosage weeks before you quit, so you'll want to talk to your doctor ahead of time. Over-the-counter products like patches and gum are generally not recommended until you're no longer using nicotine products.

Knowing your triggers

Closely examining the triggers that underlie your smoking habits will help you establish new patterns in the future. We can't avoid every trigger we face, but we can change our coping methods with stress and temptation. The following practices will help you identify triggers and prepare for them.

Keep a smoking journal

Once you've established your quit date, you should begin tracking your smoking habits: when, where, and why. Writing this information in a journal will help you prepare for the triggers that arise once you quit. They'll also help you avoid particularly triggering situations, especially in the initial phases of your cessation journey.

Whenever you smoke, record the following information to help you identify your patterns:

  • At what time did you smoke?
  • How intense were your cravings when you smoked?
  • What were you doing just before you smoked?
  • Who were you with when you smoked?
  • What were your emotions like at this time?
  • How did the action of smoking affect your emotions?

Find ways to cope

One of the top reasons people relapse in their smoking cessation efforts is emotional stress. Feelings like anxiety, depression, loneliness, boredom, and fear are often instant triggers to propel us into harmful habits. The same applies to other addictions, including drinking and drug use.

Establishing new coping mechanisms will go a long way in helping you stay committed to quitting. Therapists can be an immense help in this regard, and they can help you uncover more profound issues that may contribute to smoking.

If therapy is out of the question, consider alternatives like meditation, exercise, deep breathing practices, and sensory relaxation techniques. Before your quit date, you should take time to begin practicing new coping methods and consider how you'll handle triggers after you've tossed the last pack of smokes.

Dealing with three common triggers

Alcohol, mealtimes, and other smokers can trigger you to smoke. Let’s look at some ways of handling these situations after your quit date.


Drinking and smoking often go hand in hand, but it's easier to break the smoking habit in today's world because most bars in the US do not allow smoking on the premises. One tip on dealing with alcohol as a trigger is to avoid drinking altogether. If that's not an option, it's best to drink in settings that prohibit cigarette smoking and avoid stepping outside with other smokers. Other helpful tips include nibbling on nuts, ice, or even a cocktail straw.

After meals

End-of-meal cigarettes are a common go-to for smokers. To avoid the temptation of lighting up, replace this activity with something new. Try ending your meals with a healthy dessert, like fruit, chewing gum, or taking a short stroll.

Other smokers

If your work, social, or family circles are full of smokers, quitting can be twice as difficult. However, letting those around you know about your commitment to quitting is helpful and allows them to offer support. Refrain from going on smoke breaks with coworkers, and ask that friends and family refrain from smoking in your presence as you work through your withdrawals.

Coping with withdrawal

Nicotine withdrawal causes physical and psychological symptoms, beginning about 30 minutes after your last cigarette. After 2-3 days of smoking cessation, these symptoms will reach a climax, although they will likely continue for days or weeks, depending on your history of use.

Some of the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include:

  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Increased appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Frequent coughing
  • Stomach upset
  • Headaches
  • Cigarette cravings

Knowing what to expect makes the process easier, and knowing that these symptoms don’t last forever is critical. Once you make it over the hump of withdrawal, you’ll find greener pastures.

It’s also important to note that some symptoms, such as increased coughing, are part of your body expelling toxins from your system. As you go through this process, let your friends and family know that you’re not in your usual state of mind. They may help get your mind off the symptoms by going for a walk or talking with you.

Below, we’ve outlined some tips for common triggers as you experience nicotine withdrawal.

Stomach upset, including gas, diarrhea, or discomfort1-2 weeksEat a nutritious, high-fiber diet. Exercise. Drink adequate fluids.
Coughing and sinus issuesSeveral weeksDrink plenty of fluids. Consider trying nasal sprays and cough drops.
Lack of focus and concentration2-3 weeksAvoid stressful situations and reduce your workload when possible. Maintain checklists to keep your mind on track.
Cigarette cravings1 week-several monthsDistract yourself by taking a walk, exercising, nibbling on sunflower seeds, or talking to friends. Consider using nicotine gum.
Irritation, anger, and lack of patience2-4 weeksPractice deep breathing exercises, soak in a warm bath, meditate, and avoid stimulants like caffeine.
Fatigue2-4 weeksGet enough sleep at night and nap as needed.
Insomnia2-4 weeksAvoid caffeine after morning hours, practice meditation and other stress relief exercises, and maintain a daily fitness regimen. Shut down electronic devices 30 minutes before bedtime.
Hunger and food cravingsSeveral weeks-several monthsSnack on healthy, low-calorie foods like nuts, fruit, etc. Drink plenty of fluids.

Managing cravings

While avoiding triggers helps with smoking cessation, cravings will occur and can be intense. Knowing how to handle them in the moment gives you better peace of mind and allows you to avoid relapse.

Consider the tips below as additional tools for overcoming intense cravings.

Distract yourself

Get your mind off smoking by distracting yourself with other activities. Call a friend, do some housework, or immerse yourself in a hobby. What you do doesn’t matter as much as simply keeping yourself occupied and your mind away from the vice.

Keep your mind busy

Sometimes, our minds can genuinely haunt us, and the best way to escape is to give them something else to focus on. Playing a video game, doing a crossword or sudoku puzzle, or reading a book or magazine can help engage a frazzled brain.

Escape tempting situations

If you find yourself in a tempting situation, the best option is often to step into another setting. Simply walking into another room can help you reset your mind and regain focus.

Remind yourself why you quit

Now is an excellent time to break out that list of reasons why you wanted to stop in the first place. Consider factors like your appearance, self-esteem, and health to keep you focused on why you're ditching the habit. And always keep in mind that once you make it through withdrawal, you won't have to do this again.

Reward yourself

Overcoming cravings is hard work at times, and giving yourself rewards for accomplishing this feat is an incentive to keep going.

Oral substitutes

Smoking is associated with other oral fixations, and replacing that harmful activity with a healthier one can help overcome cravings when they hit. Common replacements include hard candies, sunflower seeds (in the shell, especially), mints, and gum.

Keep your hands busy

Replacing the action of cigarette smoking is another method of helping you overcome cravings. Try stress balls, spinner gadgets, and even fiddling with pens or pencils to provide tactile stimulation.


Practice relaxation techniques like meditation, deep-breathing exercises, guided visualizations, or book reading to refocus your mind and get your body relaxed.

Get active

When cravings hit hard, sometimes it's best to hit back by taking a brief run, doing some jumping jacks, or cycling to get your mind off the temptation.

Drink water

Drinking plenty of fluids will help you quell cravings and avoid overeating when going through nicotine withdrawal. When a craving hits, try slowly drinking a large glass of water to shift your focus elsewhere

Brush your teeth

Cigarettes do a number on our teeth, staining them with tar and nicotine. Brush your teeth during cravings to remind yourself that quitting smoking is also beneficial to your dental health.

Light something else

Try lighting incense or a candle to practice aromatherapy and encourage relaxation.

Online communities and apps

Today, many online communities and apps are available for those quitting smoking. These resources provide incomparable support from fellow former smokers and can distract your mind from cravings.

Preventing weight gain

Gaining weight is not inevitable when you quit smoking, but it’s common enough to prevent many people from quitting. It’s important to remember that while most people who quit do gain weight during the first six months of cessation, the gain is generally minor, at around five pounds on average.

You gain weight when you quit smoking because the appetite suppression and reduced smell and taste properties of nicotine disappear. When you take those effects away, food becomes more compelling.

In addition, we often attempt to replace the oral gratification of smoking with eating. If you choose to nibble on high-calorie or high-sugar snacks, you’ll inevitably increase your caloric intake and add a few pounds.

The following tips will help you avoid or address any weight gain you may encounter on your smoking cessation journey.

Nurture yourself

We often smoke when stressed. Finding new methods of coping with stress will help you both mentally and physically. Consider engaging more in stress-relieving activities described above, like taking a hot bath, meditating, or practicing relaxation techniques.

Eat healthy

Eating a varied and nutritious diet helps your body rid itself of toxins from smoking and boosts your energy and immunity. Try for a diet high in fiber, including fruits and vegetables, and low in processed sugars and fats. Another tip for avoiding excessive weight gain is staying away from sugary sodas, junk food, and alcohol.

Drink plenty of fluids

Drinking plenty of water is a pro tip for avoiding weight gain. You should aim for 6-8 glasses of water per day, but you can also fulfill some of that with unsweetened tea, coffee, and healthy beverages like kombucha.


Walking during your smoking cessation journey benefits you in multiple ways. It helps you burn excess calories and enjoy breaks from focus-based tasks. It can also help you burn off steam when you’re stressed and avoid gaining weight.

Eat low-calorie snacks

Snacks give you oral gratification and tactile stimulation, reenacting the hand-to-mouth action of smoking. However, you want to stick to healthy snacks with low calories to avoid weight gain. Consider celery and carrot sticks, sunflower seeds, and sugar-free candies or gum.

Medications and therapy

Quitting smoking cold turkey is a viable option for many people, but others may require additional assistance. And there's nothing wrong with that. Medication and therapy can go a long way in helping you achieve success with smoking cessation. There are many different options for these resources, including:

  • Online support groups and apps
  • One-on-one therapists
  • In-person group therapy
  • Nicotine replacement therapy
  • Non-nicotine medications
  • Hypnosis
  • Acupuncture

Everyone is unique, and there is no one way to overcome nicotine addiction. You should take advantage of whatever resources work for you and, most importantly, stay focused on your goals.

Nicotine replacement therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy is among the most common approaches many people take to smoking cessation. Nicotine patches and gum are widely available over-the-counter in pharmacies, big box stores, and online.

These products deliver a steady stream of nicotine to your body to assist with cravings while you tackle psychological addiction. Over time, you gradually taper off the amount of nicotine you absorb until you eventually cease all nicotine products.

Non-nicotine medications

Prescription medications for smoking cessation can significantly increase your success, especially if you're a long-term, heavy smoker. In the chart below, you'll see the three most popular non-nicotine medications available.

Varenicline (Chantix)Bupropion (Zyban, Wellbutrin, or Aplenzin)Nortriptyline
When to start dosage1 month before quit day1-2 weeks before quit day10-28 days before quit day
EffectsReduces symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, lessens pleasure from smokingExtended-release actions reduce cravings and withdrawal symptomsAntidepressant that may assist with withdrawal symptoms
Estimated duration for treatment12 weeks12 weeksVariable
Side effectsNausea, vomiting, headache, sleep disturbances, rashes, seizures, behavioral or mood changes, etc.Interacts with alcohol use, seizure conditions, cirrhosis, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, etc. Can cause dry mouth, headaches, seizures, and mood changes.Fast heart rate, blurry vision, trouble urinating, weight fluctuations, constipation, dry mouth, etc.

Therapy options

Nicotine addiction is often psychologically rooted, and getting support through any of these therapy options may considerably aid you as you practice cessation.


Acupuncture involves an age-old medical technique of using fine needles to stimulate the body into relaxation. It has proven to be an effective method for managing smoking withdrawal symptoms for many people.

Behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy focuses on changing your habits and behaviors. This form of treatment can help you address some of the underlying stressors in your life that led to smoking from the beginning.


Hypnosis involves seeing a therapist who guides you into a deeply relaxed state and provides suggestions to solidify your cessation efforts.

Motivational and support therapies

Motivational therapies include self-help books and online resources for quitting smoking. There are apps for calculating your savings after cessation, daily motivational messages, and chat rooms for those in the depths of cravings or those who just need a distraction.

Vaping, dipping, and chewing

Nicotine is a harmful, carcinogenic drug that is not safe for human consumption in any form. For this reason, cessation products like patches and gum are meant to be tapered down and eventually discontinued over time.

Other methods of nicotine consumption, such as vaping, dipping, and chewing, carry many of the same cancer risks as smoking and should not be considered an alternative to cigarettes.

Despite this, there's no denying the incredible rise in vaping over the past decade, especially among young people. The CDC reports that vaping increased from just 1.5% of US high school students in 2011 to nearly 21% in 2018. That's almost 3 million more students vaping in under ten years. In September 2019, both the FDA and the CDC issued warnings about the dangers of vaping.

What is vaping?

Vapes and e-cigarettes were originally intended to help people quit smoking, but no such device is approved for that use by the FDA. Vapes all essentially do the same thing: they heat up and aerosolize a liquid for you to inhale. And that liquid is where nicotine and other dangerous chemicals reside. One of the most dangerous among them is formaldehyde — a known carcinogen customarily used to preserve dead bodies. Scientists have identified formaldehyde in vape smoke.

Vape pens are also popular for THC consumption. And even though THC vape products don't contain nicotine, they are equally dangerous, especially when so many unregulated providers sell THC liquids that may contain other significantly harmful chemicals. In June and July of 2019, hundreds of patients reporting respiratory distress were diagnosed with EVALI, or "e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated with lung injury." Of nearly 600 patients that gave information about their use, more than 75% said they primarily used THC products in their vape pens.

What can vaping do to the body?

We've all seen images of lungs that have been chronically exposed to tobacco smoke for decades on end. The argument in favor of vaping was that it did away with the smoke and tar associated with traditional tobacco products. While we may not have a lot of data on the long-term effects of vaping, we do have plenty of data on short-term effects. One of the most immediate effects is inflammation of the lungs and paralysis of the cilia — the short, hair-like structures that filter debris in the lungs. The other big short-term risks are lipoid and chemical pneumonia.

But vaping's effects don't stop at the lungs. The nicotine in vape products causes significant damage to the entire cardiovascular system, particularly in the heart. Nicotine has long been associated with cholesterol problems and high blood pressure. Still, there appear to be additional dangers when that nicotine enters the body through the liquid in a vape pen. This appears even more true when those liquids are flavored.

Between 2010 and 2019, there have been 35 documented cases in which young people experienced seizures not long after using e-cigarettes. That may not seem like a lot against the background of three million active users in US high schools, but there are likely many more such cases that go unreported. And the number was high enough for the FDA to issue a statement.

The bottom line is that vaping is not a safer alternative to smoking. There are enough examples of people who have never smoked a cigarette but suffer significant consequences from vaping. If you need help quitting, vape pens and e-cigarettes are not the answer.

How to deal with relapses

Failures are learning experiences. Don't give up if you cave into cravings. Your journey is not over. Make the most of this setback by closely examining what triggered you and developing a new tactic for dealing with it the next time.

A slip is a minor setback where you might smoke a single cigarette or two. A relapse involves consciously returning to the habit. If you make one mistake, that doesn't condemn you to a lifetime of addiction. If you relapse and return regularly to smoking, you now have an opportunity to assess your situation, remind yourself why you wanted to quit, and restart the process.

Recognize your progress, and know that you can do this if you stay committed. If your method of quitting was unsuccessful, consider trying some of the other therapies or medications above to make your next quit date the final one.



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