How can I quit smoking?

There is no single “best” way to stop smoking. Every person is different and what works for one person may not work for another. The key is to recognize that it would be best to stop smoking and then to formulate a plan to do it. Many options are available including nicotine replacement, medications that reduce cigarette craving, hypnosis, and others. Finding the one that works best for you requires that you think about yourself honestly and find what works for you. Talk with your doctor, your family, and your friends.

Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Administration Specialist

Quitting smoking is probably the best thing we can do for our health and the health of those around us. Nearly three out of every four smokers want to quit, but it usually takes several attempts to be successful. Try not to get discouraged by temporary relapses. There are many different and effective ways for women to stop smoking.

You have the best chance to quit if you use a combination:

  • Quitting on your own (cold turkey)
  • Using self-help materials available on the Internet
  • Attending classes or support groups
  • Calling quit lines
  • Receiving counseling from health care providers or other trained counselors
  • Taking medication, such as nicotine replacement (patch, gum, or lozenge, all available over-the-counter) or a prescription nasal inhaler or spray, or an antidepressant.

The most important thing to know about quitting smoking is that there is no right or wrong method, though using some form of assistance increases the chance of success. Women seem to do best with a combination of methods, including social support, counseling, and medication. These treatments are available through public programs; telephone quit lines, clinics, and hospitals and will double or triple the chances of quitting permanently. If you menstruate, it may be easier to quit during the first half of your menstrual cycle. You may also want to try quitting during a time when you are not feeling overly stressed.

There are many resources to help you stop smoking. Look for them at your workplace, your health care provider, community organizations such as the American Lung Association, and on the Internet.

A national program called Circle of Friends helps women quit smoking and empowers nonsmokers to support women who choose to quit.

Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era

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There are several steps you can take to begin quitting smoking.

  • Make a personal commitment, and take a pledge to stop smoking.
  • Set a quit date. If you're starting today, count ahead 31 days, and make day 32 your quit date. Put it on the calendar. Put it on all your calendars.
  • Think of three reasons you want to quit smoking. Write them on a card carry that card with you as a reminder.
  • Start walking. Walking 30 minutes a day, every day, can help you quit. It will prove you have the discipline to stick with a plan; it will help keep weight off when you do stop smoking; and it will help curb cravings.
  • See if your insurance plan covers quit-smoking efforts. More and more insurance plans are offering some level of coverage for quit-smoking efforts. Find out what questions to ask your insurance company.
  • Schedule a checkup. Quitting smoking is physically and mentally stressful, so make sure you have no conditions that might interfere with the tools, techniques, and medications suggested by doctors.
  • Talk to your doctor about prescriptions that may help you stop smoking.

Take the RealAge Test!

More than 43 million North Americans smoke, but I know you can quit! Start walking (10,000 steps) every day, even before you quit. After 28 days, get a prescription for anti-craving pills, such as buproprion. Find a buddy and quit together or enlist a coach. Also start using a nicotine patch.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a quit-smoking campaign. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to receive a free two-week supply of nicotine patches and free access to a live phone coach and recorded messages, including ones about how to quit smoking; medications; weight control after quitting; nicotine withdrawal; staying tobacco-free; quitting smoking during pregnancy, and more.

Make a plan, get a patch, and call that number!

Smokers who want to quit can choose from a variety of tools that double or triple their chances of succeeding. The best approach uses medication to quell cravings for nicotine along with some sort of support or counseling to break the patterns that make a smoker reach for a cigarette. In the meantime, a few tips may help:
  • Know the enemy. List all the hazards of smoking. Then write down why you want to quit.
  • Make a date. Pick a date to quit and prepare yourself by figuring out how you will deal with cravings. The day before, throw away all cigarettes, ashtrays, and lighters -- anything that may tempt you.
  • Talk with your doctor. Smoking changes the way your body processes some medications, so talk with your doctor about how to manage doses. Ask about nicotine replacement (available as patches, gum, and inhalers) and bupropion (Wellbutrin, Zyban) to ease cravings. In May 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved varenicline (Chantix) for smoking cessation. Varenicline packs a one-two punch: by binding to the same receptors in the brain as nicotine, it can help ease withdrawal symptoms and also make smoking less pleasurable if you do slip up and resume smoking.
  • Avoid temptation. Avoid smoke-filled bars and social situations that may tempt you until you feel stronger in your resolve.
  • Find alternatives. Start exercising or find ways to relax.
  • Keep trying. If you don't succeed on your first try, try again. It usually takes several attempts to quit smoking completely.

There are a number of ways to quit smoking, including quitting on your own, joining a smoking cessation group, or using a nicotine-substitution product. Although these heavily promoted products—which include nicotine patches, gums, and nasal sprays—can help to allay the physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, they sustain the body's dependence on nicotine. In fact, most people who quit successfully do so without such products.

If you are struggling with nicotine cravings, you may want to ask your doctor about bupropion, an antidepressant, which at low doses can help override the urge to smoke. In addition to the physical addiction to nicotine, the psychological addiction can be even more challenging to overcome. So behavior modification techniques, counseling, and support groups can be important tools in ensuring your success. If you don't succeed at first, try again. It usually takes several attempts to quit smoking for good.

There's no right or wrong way to quit smoking. The point is to pick a method -- or combination of methods -- that you think will work for you, and then stick with it. Some things to think about:
  • Your personality: Are you deliberate and methodical, or more of an all-or-nothing person? Do you get support from talking to people, or do you prefer to work things out on your own? What has helped you reach other goals in the past?
  • Physical addiction and psychological dependency: Most tobacco users have some level of physical addiction to nicotine -- and can expect some withdrawal symptoms like irritability, fatigue, hunger, and sleep problems. The symptoms can come from psychological dependency, too. Breaking a habit is always unsettling at first.
Review the options below to build your own best approach:
  • Medication. Prescription drugs like Chantix (varenicline) and Zyban (bupropion) have helped many people quit for good. These drugs help block nicotine's effect on the brain, which can reduce your craving and help you stay the course.
  • Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). NRT helps ease nicotine withdrawal by giving your body a steady supply of nicotine in gradually decreasing doses. It comes in the form of nicotine chewing gum, skin patches, inhalers, nose sprays, and lozenges. Some types of NRTs are available over the counter, while others require a prescription.
  • Tobacco cessation programs. Being part of a structured program can be very encouraging. Contact your healthcare provider for a list of tobacco cessation programs near you.
  • Tapering off. Feel the need to ease into a tobacco-free life? You can gradually cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke (or times you dip or chew) each day until you hit zero. You can do this by postponing the time of your first cigarette a little each day or by eliminating the places you allow yourself to use tobacco (never in the car, for example). This tapering method can reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, but it also lengthens the time you have to deal with them.
  • Quitting "cold turkey." Some people find it best to just make up their minds to quit and do it. The major drawback to this strategy is that the withdrawal symptoms can be intense.
William Lee Dubois

Nicotine gum and patches, as well as other medications, can help. But in reality, it's not the body that gives us the hard time when it comes to kicking the habit. It only takes a couple of days for your body to free itself from nicotine. It's the old habits that die hard. A drink just isn't right without a smoke. What the hell are you supposed to do after finishing a meal? The morning just can't start right without that first drag.

I'll bet you're lighting up right now, just from the stress of thinking about thinking about quitting. So here's my secret weapon, how I've been able to go 20 years without smoking a cigarette. I'm not now, nor will I ever be, an ex-smoker. I'm a smoker who for two decades has chosen not to smoke. Does that sound like semantics to you? Maybe so. But it's worked for me. Back when I was a pack-a-day guy, the thought of never, ever, ever smoking again was simply too much to bear. So finally I set my mind like this: I'm stopping (not quitting) for now only. I fully reserve the right to start smoking again at any time in the future. Well, for me anyway, that didn't seem too bad. I wasn't committing myself to something forever. And so I went a week. And then another week. Soon it was a month. Then a year. Then three years. Then five. Then a decade. And so on. It made it easier for me. I hope it might work for you, too.

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Quitting smoking may be one of the hardest things to do, but it may have just gotten easier. In this video, Dr. Robin Miller reveals the promising results of a study linking text messaging with smoking cessation.

Following are 10 tips to stop smoking:

  1. Make a list of your own personal reasons for quitting.
  2. Set a date to quit in the near future and stick to it. Choose a "low stress" time to quit.
  3. Build a support network. Ask for the help of your dentist, physician, family, friends and co-workers.
  4. Ask your dentist or physician about nicotine replacement therapy to help you quit smoking. There are medicines that can help your body get used to life without nicotine. Using these medicines can double your chances of quitting for good.
  5. Exercise. It's hard to smoke while you're biking, playing basketball, or taking a swim.
  6. Chew sugarless gum or brush your teeth to stop cravings.
  7. Keep your hands busy. Do crossword puzzles or needlework or write a letter. Paint. Do woodworking, gardening, or household chores.
  8. Seek tobacco-free environments, such as gyms, movie theatres, libraries, and nonsmoking restaurants. Plan activities that leave no chance for tobacco use.
  9. Remove tobacco and tobacco accessories from your home, office and car.
  10. When you crave a cigarette, think about the 4 D's:
    Delay -- the craving will pass in 5-10 minutes.
    Drink water -- it gives you something to hold in your hands and put in your mouth.
    Do something else -- distract yourself by being active.
    Deep breathing -- deep inhalations and exhalations relax you.

Don't let setbacks get you down. Keep trying!

Juliet Wilkinson
Oncology Nursing Specialist

Today you have plenty of smoking cessation options. Choose the option that fits your personality best and be sure that you are really ready to quit before moving forward. Talk to your doctor to start. He or she may provide some excellent local resources in the form of therapy, hypnosis or even prescribe a cessation-assisting medication. You could try nicotine patches or gum; essentially these products replace the nicotine in your system so you are not dealing with breaking the physical habit while you are trying to stop the emotional one. You could just toss the pack, buy a bag of hard candy and go cold-turkey. A word to the wise -- regardless of which method you use to quit, be sure to have plenty of hard candy, gum or low-calorie foods on hand to help break the oral habit.

Start by talking to your healthcare provider about quitting. You may have the most success by combining behavioral techniques with medication.

Set a quit date. If you are using medications like Varenicline or Bupropion, these will need to be started at least one week before your quit date. Generally, people have better success quiting cold turkey than they do with cutting back the number of cigarettes smoked your quit date should be the day you stop completely. Share your quit date with friends, family, and coworkers. Peer pressure and encouragement from them may be very helpful both before and after you quit.

Change your typical smoking behaviors. This means avoiding places or situations where you most often smoke or may be tempted to smoke.  This may also mean avoiding spending time with other people who smoke, especially soon after your quit date. Start exercising. This can help reduce stress and prevent weight gain that sometimes accompanies smoking cessation. Keep gum, carrot sticks, sunflower seeds, or other healthy snacks in your pocket or purse. These may help when you feel cravings for cigarettes.

Find out about group counseling or support groups. You don't have to quit alone!

Dr. Joanne M. Foody, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

The most effective plan to quit smoking is one that is personally tailored to your specific unique needs. An easy 6 step approach can help you to START your stop smoking plan.

S = Set a quit date. Let everyone you know what that date is and stick to it!

T = Tell family, friends, and co-workers that you plan to quit. It is much easier to quit with a large support group.

A = Anticipate and plan for the challenges you'll face while quitting. Take time to understand why and when you smoke, what your triggers are for smoking and how much you smoke. Many people smoke with meals, alcohol or socially with friends. Try to anticipate these settings and have an alternative plan that does not involve cigarettes.

R = Remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home, car, and work. Try replacing these products with a list of all the reasons why you are quitting whether it be for your own health, the health of others, or just to have whiter teeth!

T = Talk to your health care provider about getting help to quit. There are a large number of resources and treatment approaches to aid you in your stop smoking plan.

The good news is that it’s never too late to START your stop smoking plan. If you stop smoking, you’ll improve your health and reduce your long-term risks – and you’ll see immediate benefits, some within just a few hours! And the benefits don’t stop there - Within several years your stroke and heart disease risk can equal that of a non-smoker’s and your risk of cancer will be dramatically reduced as well.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

You know smoking is bad for your health, but you find it hard to quit. Watch the video for tips on getting smoke-free for life.

Talk to your VA health care provider about help with quitting smoking, including getting medication to improve your chances of quitting and a referral to a VA smoking cessation clinic. You may be prescribed nicotine replacement therapy, such as the nicotine patch or gum, or other medications to help reduce your cravings.

Smoking is a primary risk factors for cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, quit now. Check with your doctor, health plan, a local hospital or clinic to find a program to help you quit. Or check out resources on the Internet for guidance and support. In general, smokers increase their ability to quit for good if they follow these steps:

  • Step 1. Get ready to quit. • Set a quit date and mark it on your calendar. •Throw away all of your cigarettes and ashtrays. •Write down your reasons for quitting and keep your list where visible. • Think about what did and did not work when you tried to quit before.
  • Step 2. Round up support. • Ask your family, friends and coworkers for support, and ask them not to smoke around you or leave cigarettes out. •Tell your doctor about your decision and ask for help. • Get counseling. Studies show that the more counseling, the better the success when trying to quit.
  • Step 3: Learn new skills and behaviors. • Break the pattern. Over the first few weeks after you quit, change your normal routines. • If you feel the urge to light up, distract yourself by taking a walk, playing cards or doing something with your hands. •Reduce stress. Relax in a hot bath. Take a nap. Read a book. • Drink plenty of water.
  • Step 4: Check out medicines to help you quit. Talk with your health care provider about whether you should try medicines designed to help smokers quit and handle cravings. (It is important to check with your doctor because not all products are safe for everyone.) Among the products are: • Gum, hard candies, patches and other products containing a small amount of nicotine •Products with nicotine, such as nicotine inhalers and nasal sprays •Medications that do not contain nicotine but work to reduce cravings for it
  • Step 5: Avoid tempting situations. •Steer clear of places where others are smoking. •Avoid beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks. •Do not worry if you gain weight. Eat a healthy diet, stay active, and keeping your focus on quitting smoking. •If you feel down or depressed, do something good for YOU. Take time to treat yourself. Many people succumb to temptation and have a cigarette during the first months after quitting. Do not be too hard on yourself if you slip. Keep your eye on the goal to quit and start back at Step 1.

The health benefits of quitting smoking begin immediately and are significant over time. Talk with your doctor about a plan that will work for you and prepare ahead of time to deal with emotional and physical cravings. Nicotine causes both physical and psychological dependence, which may result in withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, difficulty concentrating or sleeping, increased appetite and even depression. Even if you have tried to quit many times in the past, you are twice as likely to be successful if you participate in a two-step program of behavior modification to break the smoking habit (such as stress reduction and identifying the emotional "triggers" that cause you to smoke), in combination with nicotine replacement therapy to manage your cravings. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there is "strong and consistent" evidence that programs combining behavior modification, counseling and nicotine replacement therapy can help people successfully quit smoking, regardless of age or how much you smoked in the past. It also helps to get plenty of rest, reduce stress, exercise, drink plenty of water, eat a balanced diet and enlist friends and family for support.

Smokers often say, "Don't tell me why to quit, tell me how." There is no one right way to quit, but there are some key elements in quitting with success. These 4 factors are key:

  • Making the decision to quit
  • Setting a quit date and choosing a quit plan
  • Dealing with withdrawal
  • Staying quit (maintenance)
Dr. Bonnie Lynn Wright, PhD
Geriatrics Nursing Specialist
Dr. Bond has given an excellent answer to this question. I would like to add that, regardless of the method you choose to stop smoking, failure is a common outcome and you should not be discouraged by it. Smoking is both a physical and psychological addiction. It is not easy to quit. You may have to practice quitting several times before you finally give it up for good. If you can reduce the amount you smoke each time you practice quitting, that is still a success. Eventually, you will stop. Don't be discouraged if it doesn't work the first time. 
Dr. Donna Bond, DNP
Nursing Specialist

Every individual is different and their reasons for smoking are different. Research has shown that people who smoke over 10 cigarettes a day have more success with nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). Some people do well when they have a plan to quit based on why they smoke. For example, think about why you are smoking each cigarette. Do you smoke to calm yourself? Does the need to smoke wake you up? Do you smoke to be one of the gang? After you determine why you smoke, you need to think about a substitute for each cigarette. For example if you smoke when you feel stress, you might find other stress-reducing activities helpful, such as writing in a journal, taking slow deep breaths, or taking a walk. There are several websites to assist you in designing a personal plan for stopping the use of tobacco products. 

Dr. Frank T. Leone, MD
Pulmonary Disease Specialist

The best way to stop smoking is through a comprehensive tobacco cessation program that can address the physical as well as emotional needs of people who use tobacco. Nicotine addiction is complex. People who are addicted to nicotine know it’s bad for them, yet they can’t stop. And those who aren’t addicted to nicotine can’t understand why they just can’t quit. Even family members and friends have a hard time understanding nicotine addiction. At Penn, the program is based on the belief that smokers deserve to quit comfortably, so the treatment tends to be aggressive with medications in a way that helps keep that “devil inside” quiet. Most of all, the team respects the problem for what it is. And they respect the people struggling to find a way out from under it.

Smokers can and do quit smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, today there are more former smokers than current smokers.

1. If you’re reading this, you’ve already taken the first step, the single most important step that you can make to extend your life. Congratulate yourself on this first step.
2. Set a date to quit in the near future and stick to it.
3. Prepare for your Quit Day. Will you quit cold turkey, taper down before the day, start with nicotine replacement therapy?
4. Get rid of all ashtrays and cigarettes in your house, car and at work.
5. Only 3 percent of smokers succeed by willpower alone. Stopping smoking works best when you are part of a program.
6. Develop a personalized quit program. This may include help from a doctor, support groups, telephone counseling, behavioral therapy, individual counseling sessions, exercise and hypnosis.
7. Establish a self-reward program (stickers, small gifts or treats).
8. Use positive self-talk: “I know I can do it," “ This is hard but I’m strong," “ I can’t wait to feel better." Practice saying, “No thank you, I don’t smoke.”
9. Tell your family and friends about your plan to quit. Set up a support system of people you can call on.
10. Discuss use of stop-smoking medications with your health care provider. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and other medicines have been proven to double your chances of quitting.
11. According to the American Cancer Society, filters that reduce tar and nicotine do not work. In fact, studies have shown that smokers who use filters tend to smoke more.
12. Develop strategies to deal with the side effects of cessation.

  • Nicotine is an appetite suppressant and can boost metabolism. Therefore, your weight may fluctuate.
  • Exercise will help not only with the possibility of weight gain, but will also reduce your craving for cigarettes.
  • Avoid triggers -- people, places and things that remind you of smoking. Example: If you always had a cigarette with your morning coffee, try sitting in a different room, using a different mug and reading a magazine (keeps your hands busy).
  • Stay strong -- the beginning is the most difficult, but the cravings will pass.
  • Avoid alcohol. Drinking lowers your chance of success.

13. Develop a plan to handle any slips. Don’t despair if you have a cigarette. It can take a few attempts to succeed.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.