Reviewed by Jason C. Baker, MD. Updated 8/5/19.
Many ex-smokers say quitting was the hardest thing they ever did.
Quitting is hard because smoking is a big part of your life. You enjoy holding cigarettes and puffing on them. You may smoke when you are stressed, bored, or angry.
After months and years of lighting up, smoking becomes part of your daily routine. You may light up without even thinking about it.
Nicotine has an addictive effect on most smokers. It makes you feel calm and satisfied. At the same time, you feel more alert and focused.
The more you smoke, the more nicotine you need to feel good. Soon, you don’t feel “normal” without nicotine. Just thinking about quitting may make you anxious. But your chances will be better if you get ready first.
Let’s walk through our step by step guide to help you kick the habit today.
Before You Start
Decide for sure that you want to quit. Promise yourself that you’ll do it. It’s okay to have mixed feelings. Don’t let that stop you. There will be times every day that you don’t feel like quitting. You will have to stick with it anyway.
Find reasons to quit that are important to you
Think of more than just health reasons. For example, think of:
- How much money you’ll save by not buying cigarettes.
- The time you’ll have for yourself instead of taking cigarette breaks, rushing out to buy a pack, or searching for a light
- Not being short of breath or coughing as much.
- Setting a better example for your children and grandchildren
Write down all the reasons why you want to quit
List ways to fight the urge to smoke, too. Keep your list where you’ll see it often.
Good places are:
- Where you keep your cigarettes
- In your wallet or purse
- In the kitchen
- In your car
When you reach for a cigarette you’ll find your list. It will remind you why you want to stop. Here are some examples of reasons to quit:
- I will feel healthier right away.
- I will have more energy and better focus.
- My senses of smell and taste will be better.
- I will have whiter teeth and fresher breath.
- I will cough less and breathe better.
- I will be healthier for the rest of my life.
- I will lower my risk for cancer, heart attacks, strokes, early death, and cataracts.
- I will make my partner, friends, and family proud of me.
- I will no longer expose others to my second-hand smoke.
- I will have more money to spend.
Keep track of when and why you smoke
Think about when you smoke and why you smoke. Do this for the next few weeks. Keep a record of every cigarette you smoke. You will find that you light up a lot without thinking about it.
And you may be tempted to skip writing down some of the cigarettes you smoke. But keeping this journal is very helpful if you do it right.
You’ll learn about your smoking triggers. And you’ll learn which cigarettes are your favorites. These facts will help you prepare to fight your urge to smoke.
Know your triggers
Certain things trigger or turn on, your need for a cigarette. They can be moods, feelings, places, or things you do. Think about what might tempt you to smoke.
Put a check next to things that tempt you to smoke:
- Feeling stressed
- Drinking liquor, like wine or beer
- Driving your car
- Finishing a meal
- Playing cards
- Taking a work break
- Being with other smokers
Meet these triggers head-on
Knowing your triggers is very important. It can help you stay away from things that tempt you to smoke. It can prepare you to fight the urge when you are tempted.
- Stay away from places where smoking is allowed.
- Sit in the non-smoking section at restaurants.
- Keep your hands busy. Hold a pencil or paper clip.
- Doodle or write a letter.
- Carry a water bottle.
- Stay away from people who smoke.
- Spend time with non-smoking friends.
- Put something else in your mouth.
- Chew sugar-free gum. Snack on a carrot or celery stick. Keep your mouth and hands busy with a toothpick or straw.
- Drink less or stay away from alcohol.
- Drinking alcohol often makes people want to smoke.
- Drink non-alcoholic, low-carbohydrate drinks instead.
- Remember: The urge to smoke will come and go. Cravings usually last for a brief period of time. Try to wait it out.
Before you quit, START by taking these five important steps:
- S = Set a quit date.
- T = Tell family, friends, and co-workers that you plan to quit.
- A = Anticipate and plan for the challenges you’ll face while quitting.
- R = Remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home, car, and work.
- T = Talk to your doctor about getting help to quit.
Set a Quit Date
Pick a date within the next two weeks to quit. That gives you enough time to get ready. But it’s not so long that you will lose your drive to quit. If you work, quit on the weekend or during a day off. That way you’ll already be cigarette-free when you return.
Tell family and friends that you plan to quit
Quitting smoking is easier with the support of others. Tell your family and friends that you plan to quit. Tell them how they can help you.
Some people like to have friends ask how things are going. Others find it nosy. Tell the people you care about exactly how they can help.
Here are some ideas:
- Ask everyone to understand your change in mood. Remind them that this won’t last long. (The worst will be over within two weeks.)
- Tell them this: “The longer I go without cigarettes, the sooner I’ll be my old self.”
- Does someone close to you smoke? Ask them to quit with you, or at least not to smoke around you.
- Do you take any medicines? Tell your doctor and pharmacist you are quitting. Nicotine changes how some drugs work. You may need to change your prescriptions after you quit.
- Get support from other people. You can try talking with others one-on-one or in a group. You can also get support on the phone. The more support you get, the better. But even a little can help.
Plan for the challenges you’ll face while quitting
Expecting challenges is an important part of getting ready to quit. Most people who go back to smoking do it within three months.
Your first three months may be hard. You may be more tempted when you are stressed or feeling down. It’s hard to be ready for these times before they happen.
But it helps to know when you need a cigarette most. If you have noted your triggers, see when you may be tempted to smoke. Plan for how to deal with the urge before it hits.
You should also expect feelings of withdrawal. Withdrawal is the discomfort of giving up nicotine. It is your body’s way of telling you it’s learning to be smoke-free. These feelings will go away in time. Keep reading for tips on handling urges and withdrawal.
Remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home, car, and work.
Talk to your doctor about getting help to quit.
Quitting “cold turkey” isn’t your only choice. Talk to your doctor about other ways to quit. Most doctors can answer your questions and give advice. They can suggest medicine to help with withdrawal. You can buy some of these medicines on your own.
For others, you need a prescription. Your doctor, dentist, or pharmacist can also point you to places to find support or toll-free quitlines.
If you cannot see your doctor, you can get some medicines without a prescription that can help you quit smoking.
Go to your local pharmacy or grocery store for over the counter medicines like the nicotine patch, nicotine gum, or nicotine lozenge. Read the instructions to see if the medicine is right for you. If you’re not sure, ask a pharmacist.
Where to Find Help
1. Your state may have a toll-free telephone quitline. Call the quitline to get one-on-one help.
2. Call the National Cancer Institute Smoking Quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848). This number works anywhere in the U.S. You can get one-on-one help quitting. Or you can ask where to get help in your state.
3. Visit the National Cancer Institute’s www.smokefree.gov. This website offers science-driven tools, information, and support that has helped smokers quit. You will find state and national resources, free materials, and quitting advice from the National Cancer Institute and its partners.
4. Your doctor may know about a quit-smoking program or support group near you. If you find you are having trouble with withdrawal or you want to use some of the over-the-counter medicines to help you quit smoking, talk to your doctor first. People with diabetes should be careful about all medicinal products as it could affect your blood sugar level or interfere with medicines you are already taking. Talk to your doctor about medicines and other alternatives that may help you.