How to successfully stop smoking?


Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health. Smoking harms nearly every organ in your body and increases your risk of serious health problems like heart disease, lung cancer, emphysema and stroke. The good news is that your body begins to heal itself soon after you quit smoking. Here are some proven tips to help you successfully stop smoking for good.

How to successfully stop smoking?

Understanding Nicotine Addiction

The reason quitting smoking is so difficult is because tobacco contains the highly addictive chemical nicotine. When you smoke a cigarette, nicotine is absorbed into your bloodstream and travels to your brain. Nicotine stimulates receptors in your brain to release dopamine, which gives you feelings of pleasure and reward.

Over time, your brain gets used to having extra dopamine released when you smoke. So when you try to quit, you experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms like irritability, anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, increased appetite and powerful cravings to smoke. This makes it very hard to resist the urge to light up another cigarette.

Understanding how the nicotine in cigarettes affects your brain can help you be better prepared to cope with the challenges of quitting.

Setting a Quit Date

Once you make the decision to quit smoking, set a quit date about 2-3 weeks out. This gives you enough time to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the big day. Avoid setting your quit date during an extremely stressful period. Try to pick a relatively calm time in your life to improve your chances of being successful.

Inform your family and friends that you're quitting smoking and ask for their support. Get rid of all the cigarettes and ashtrays in your home, car and workplace. Stock up on oral substitutes like sugarless gum, carrot sticks, hard candy or straws. Download a quit smoking app to track your progress.

Setting a quit date builds your commitment and helps you take an active step towards becoming smoke-free.

Using Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) provides you with nicotine without the harmful effects of tobacco smoke. This helps reduce the intensity of nicotine withdrawal symptoms. NRT comes in several forms:

  • Nicotine patch: Worn on the skin and delivers a steady dose of nicotine throughout the day.
  • Nicotine gum: Chewed when you have cravings. The nicotine is absorbed through the lining of your mouth.
  • Nicotine lozenge: Works like nicotine gum to relieve cravings.
  • Nicotine inhaler: Mimics the action of smoking by delivering nicotine vapor into your mouth.
  • Nicotine nasal spray: Nicotine is absorbed quickly through the nasal membranes.
  • Nicotine mouth spray: Sprayed under the tongue for faster nicotine absorption.

Using NRT doubles your chances of successfully quitting smoking. It's safe to use NRT along with other quit smoking medications like Chantix and Zyban. Start using NRT on your quit date, following the package directions. The gradual decline in nicotine helps weaken your addiction to tobacco.

Trying Prescription Medications

In addition to NRT, there are two non-nicotine prescription medications approved by the FDA to help people quit smoking:

Bupropion (Zyban)

  • Taken as a pill twice a day
  • Reduces nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms
  • Can be used along with nicotine replacement therapies
  • Common side effects include insomnia, dry mouth and headache

Varenicline (Chantix)

  • Taken as a pill twice a day
  • Prevents nicotine from binding to receptors in your brain
  • Reduces cravings and blocks the rewarding effects of smoking
  • Possible side effects include nausea, vivid dreams, constipation, gas, vomiting and headache

Talk to your doctor to see if Zyban, Chantix or a combination drug therapy is right for you. Many health insurance plans cover these medications.

Managing Nicotine Withdrawal

No matter what quitting aids you use, you will still experience nicotine withdrawal to some degree. Common symptoms usually peak within the first 1-2 weeks after your quit date and can last for 2-4 weeks. Here are some tips for dealing with nicotine withdrawal:

Drink Lots of Water

Drinking water helps flush toxins from your body and prevents dehydration from nicotine loss. Carry a water bottle with you and take frequent sips.

Avoid Triggers

Steer clear of people, places and activities associated with your smoking habit, at least for the first few weeks. Avoid alcohol as well, since drinking lowers your inhibitions.

Distract Yourself

Keep your hands busy with a stress ball, knitting, a Rubik's cube or other activities. Take up a hobby, exercise more, read, socialize or take short walks to distract yourself from cravings.

Manage Stress

Try yoga, meditation, deep breathing, listening to music or other relaxing techniques to control mood swings and anxiety. Get a massage to help your body relax.

Chew Gum or Suck on Candy

This provides oral stimulation and keeps your mouth busy. Cinnamon, mint and fruit flavors help curb nicotine cravings.

Hang Out With Other Quitters

Surround yourself with positive social support. Join a stop smoking program or talk to a counselor trained in smoking cessation for help.

With persistence and patience, you can push through withdrawal symptoms, reclaim your health and break free from tobacco addiction for good. The short-term discomfort is well worth the long-term pay off.

Coping With Smoking Relapse

Most ex-smokers experience at least one smoking lapse or relapse during their quit attempt. A lapse is a one-time slip up, while a relapse is going back to regular smoking. Don't be too hard on yourself - slip ups are a normal part of the quitting process. Here are some healthy ways to cope if you have a smoking lapse or relapse:

  • Reflect on the positive progress you made during your smoke-free period. Even one smoke-free day is beneficial.
  • Identify the trigger that caused the setback and develop a plan to deal with it differently next time. Learn from the experience.
  • Talk to a support person who can encourage you to get back on track. Avoid people who enable your smoking.
  • Renew your commitment to quitting. Set a new quit date and try again.
  • Consider switching up your quit approach by trying new nicotine replacements, medications or counseling.
  • Review the benefits to your health, family, finances and quality of life that you'll gain as an ex-smoker.
  • Remind yourself that the urge to smoke will pass in just a few minutes, whether you have a cigarette or not.

It often takes 4-5 quit attempts before being successful long-term. So don't give up - persist with quitting until it sticks. The health advantages are well worth it.

Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking

One of the biggest motivators for quitting smoking is to achieve better health. The benefits start almost immediately after your last cigarette. Here is a timeline of some of the positive effects of quitting:

In 20 minutes:

  • Your heart rate and blood pressure drop to more normal levels.

In 12 hours:

  • The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
  • Your oxygen levels increase to normal.

In 2 weeks to 3 months:

  • Your risk of heart attack begins to drop.
  • Your lung function increases by up to 30%.

In 1 to 9 months:

  • You experience less coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Your lung function can increase up to 10%.
  • Tiny hair-like structures called cilia in your lungs regain normal function, improving mucus clearance and reducing infection risk.

In 1 year:

  • Your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker's.

In 5 years:

  • Your risk of stroke falls to the same level as a non-smoker.
  • Your risk of getting cancer of the mouth, throat or esophagus is cut in half.

In 10 years:

  • Your lung cancer death rate is about half that of a continuing smoker.
  • Your risk of dying from lung cancer is cut in half.
  • Your risk of getting bladder cancer is halved.
  • Your risk of getting coronary heart disease is the same as someone who never smoked.

In 15 years:

  • Your risk of coronary heart disease is now that of a non-smoker.

Quitting smoking reduces your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, cancer, lung disease, cataracts and other smoke-related diseases. So the sooner you quit, the more you can reduce your likelihood of suffering from these harmful health conditions.

Lifestyle Changes

Along with using nicotine replacements and medications, making certain lifestyle adjustments can boost your chances of successfully transitioning to a smoke-free life. Try incorporating some of these changes:

Get Active

  • Start walking briskly for 20-30 minutes a day or try other cardio exercise you enjoy.
  • Strength train 2-3 times a week to build muscle.
  • Exercise helps relieve stress and pent-up nervous energy.
  • It also improves circulation, lung function and your overall fitness.

Improve Your Diet

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats like olive oil.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day.
  • Avoid sugary beverages and limit alcohol intake.
  • Managing your weight, blood sugar and inflammation promotes good health.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

  • Try yoga, deep breathing, meditation, visualization, massage or listening to calming music.
  • Keeping your stress levels in check helps avoid triggers.
  • Relaxation promotes mental calm and focus.

Get More Restful Sleep

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet.
  • Avoid screen time before bed.
  • Address any sleep disorders like insomnia or apnea.
  • Adequate restful sleep improves mood and overall well-being.

Consider Counseling

  • Joining a stop smoking support group provides encouragement.
  • Talk to a therapist or psychologist for help changing habits.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy helps build positive coping strategies.

Avoid Other Tobacco Products

  • Don't switch to e-cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chew, dip, or snuff.
  • These still contain nicotine and are unhealthy.

Sticking with these lifestyle changes beyond the initial quit period helps ensure your success down the road.

Effective Stop Smoking Plans

Here are some research-backed, comprehensive stop smoking programs that offer proven strategies, support and tools to help you quit:

The American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking

  • An 8-week online program with step-by-step guide
  • Uses cognitive behavioral techniques, peer support and skills training
  • Teaches medication use and relapse prevention strategies
  • Offered in online, group, phone and self-help formats

The American Cancer Society's Quit For Life

  • Web and phone-based smoking cessation program
  • Provides personalized quit plan, text messaging support, quitting guide and support calls
  • Allows you to set your own quit date
  • Features tobacco quitting counselors for advice and guidance

National Cancer Institute's

  • Information, tools, apps and research to aid quitting
  • Allows you to build your own quit plan
  • Offers text messaging programs
  • Features quitting advice from experts and successful former smokers

Truth Initiative's

  • Social network of tobacco users trying to quit
  • Online community support and quit smoking resources
  • Allows you to track smoking triggers, cravings and motivation
  • Interactive guides and videos on how to quit

Talk to your doctor to find a stop smoking plan that's personalized for your needs and preferences. Many health insurance plans also cover counseling and medications to help you quit.

Maintaining Success Long-Term

Quitting smoking is just the first step. Maintaining your success long-term and avoiding relapse are also crucial. Here are some tips to help you sustain smoke-free living after you quit:

  • Remind yourself daily why quitting is important by reviewing your reasons and benefits list.
  • Identify new rewards to replace smoking, like massages, vacations, hobbies, social outings or money savings.
  • Note milestones such as smoke-free anniversaries or health accomplishments to track your progress.
  • Treat slip ups as learning experiences rather than failures. Review what triggered it and adjust your plan.
  • Have a support person you can call if an emergency temptation to smoke arises.
  • Avoid people, places or activities involving smoking that provide temptation.
  • If a smoking urge occurs, delay acting by talking to a friend, going for a walk or other distraction.
  • Drink water and take deep breaths when you feel a craving. The urge will pass.
  • Keep oral substitutes handy to meet the physical habit of smoking.
  • Celebrate your accomplishments with rewards to reinforce your smoke-free identity.

Adopting new smoke-free habits, switching your routine, preparation and continued support helps sustain the benefits you've gained long after your quit date.


Quitting smoking and leading a tobacco-free life offers immense rewards, despite the challenges of breaking nicotine addiction. By understanding your smoking triggers, using quitting aids, managing withdrawal symptoms, adopting healthy lifestyle changes and following an evidence-based stop smoking program, you can take control and successfully stop smoking - without relapsing - for good. With the right motivation, mindset, support and techniques, your chances of becoming smoke-free are within reach. The investment you make in quitting smoking now will pay lifelong dividends through better health.

Resources used to write this article

American Cancer Society. (2022). Quit For Life Program.

American Lung Association. (2022). Freedom From Smoking.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking Over Time.

Mayo Clinic. (2022). Quitting smoking: 10 ways to resist tobacco cravings.

National Cancer Institute. (2022).

Truth Initiative. (2022). BecomeAnEX Quit Smoking Plan.

American Lung Association. (2020). How to Quit Smoking or Vaping.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Smoking Cessation: Fast Facts.

Cleveland Clinic. (2021). Quit Smoking: Strategies to Help You Stop for Good.

MedlinePlus. (2022). Smoking Cessation.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2021). How to Quit Smoking.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2022). MedlinePlus: Smoking Cessation.

American Cancer Society. (2021). Nicotine Replacement Therapy.

American Lung Association. (2022). Freedom From Smoking.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Quit Smoking.

Mayo Clinic. (2021). Stop smoking aids: Can they help you quit?

National Cancer Institute. (2021). Quitting Smoking: Help for Cravings and Tough Situations.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2021). How to Quit Smoking.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2022). MedlinePlus: Smoking Cessation.

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