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Quit Smoking Successfully

First, you have to decide that you really want to quit.
Understand what drives you to keep smoking.  One of the main reasons people continue to smoke is because they are addicted to nicotine. One quick test of your level of addiction is to look at how long you wait when you get up in the morning before you smoke. If you smoke during the night or you get up and immediately reach for a cigarette, you are very addicted.

Other reasons can be just as powerful and are the reasons people go back to smoking even when the nicotine has left their bodies.  These include:

  1. Social pressure.  If many of your friends and family smoke, it can be difficult to quit. 
  2. Boredom.  You smoke when you have nothing else to do.
  3. Stress or anger.  If you see smoking as a way to calm you down, then you smoke to cope with emotions.

You can find out what triggers smoking by writing down when you smoke, why you decided to smoke and how you felt before smoking i.e. happy, angry or bored.

Identify what you fear about quitting.  Writing down your concerns can be helpful.  Common concerns are:

  1. “I am afraid I will fail.”  Remember most people must try to quit several times before being successful. If you fail, look at what made you pick up the cigarette. Then make a plan for the next time.
  2. “I really enjoy smoking and I am afraid I will have nothing to look forward to.”  Write down the things you don’t like about smoking – for example, the cost, the way your breath tastes, the way your clothes smell, the way you get short of breath easily.  Plan rewards with the money you will save.
  3. “I am afraid I will gain weight.”  Instead of picking up foods that are full of fat and sugar, have fruits and vegetables around that you can snack on. Chew sugarless gum. During the times you would be smoking, try exercise instead. Talk to your physician about what type of exercise is best for you.


Take steps to decrease smoking.
Most people smoke without even thinking about why they pick up the cigarette. By changing your smoking patterns on purpose, you can start to decrease smoking and learn about why you smoke. Start out by trying one or two of these ideas and then try more when you feel surer of yourself.

  1. Set a smoking area outside where you must go to smoke.
  2. Do not smoke when you are doing anything else like talking on the phone, drinking alcohol or coffee, reading or watching TV. (This helps break the links you have between smoking and these activities.)
  3. Keep your cigarettes and lighting materials separate and in a place you have to go to get them. (This will make you think about it before you go smoke. Ask yourself if you really want this cigarette or if there is something else you can do.)
  4. Stop all smoking in the car and house. Have the car cleaned so the smell of old smoke does not trigger you to smoke.
  5. Get a quit buddy and encourage those around you to join you.
  6. Buy one pack at a time - and at a new store at least two miles from your home.
  7. Do something else during at least one smoking break at work. For example, take a walk.
  8. Every time you want a cigarette, tell yourself you will wait ten minutes and then smoke. Increase the time as you go. (You will often find you go longer if you do something else.)
  9. If you are smoking a pack a day (20 cigarettes), take 5 cigarettes out and try to make the pack last all day. Then take out 10 the next day, then 15, etc.
  10. Find things to occupy your time so you don’t get bored. Things you can do with your hands like puzzles, crafts and household projects can help you.  Make a list of things that interest you or things you need to do.
  11. If you feel stressed, try taking ten deep breaths and leaving the area or person that is causing you stress.


Get help from your doctor.
Ask your doctor about nicotine replacement or drugs that can help decrease your desire for nicotine. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Using nicotine replacement instead of smoking helps to decrease the withdrawal symptoms. Nicotine is the safest thing in cigarette smoke, but it is the addictive chemical. Even if you have to rely on nicotine replacement for a while, it is better than smoking. Nicotine replacement by gum, patch or lozenge is available without prescription. To get nicotine nasal spray or inhalers, you will need a prescription. 

Set a smoke-free day and make a plan.  To prepare:

  1. Follow the steps above to help decrease the nicotine in your body.
  2. Review your reasons for quitting smoking every day.
  3. Make a plan for staying away from triggers that will make you want to smoke.
  4. Plan for how to handle being around people who smoke or how you will handle the first time you get angry or stressed. 
  5. Write the plan down and keep it with you.

Remember, it is never too late to quit smoking.  Our bodies start to undo many of the effects of smoking right away. Quitting smoking is not easy. But it can be much easier if you know what keeps you from quitting and you make and follow a plan. 


Reviewed: May 26, 2005
Revised: June 2008

© 2018 American Association for Respiratory Care