Smoking Cessation: Tips for Quitting Smoking

Medically Reviewed By Alan Carter, Pharm.D.
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Smoking cessation, or quitting smoking, describes the combination of medications and aids, changes in personal habits, and emotional support that help people quit smoking. Quitting smoking can have immediate health benefits, like lower blood pressure and better lung function. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 30.8 million adults in the United States smoked cigarettes in 2020. In 2018, 22.5 million adults who smoke reported attempting to quit in the past year, while 2.9 million succeeded.

The CDC estimates that 2.55 million children and teens use tobacco products. In 2021, about 60.2% of that group reported trying to quit.

Read on to learn more about smoking cessation methods and the benefits of quitting smoking.

What is smoking cessation?

A hand putting out a cigarette
Juan Moyano/Stocksy United

Smoking cessation is the process of quitting smoking, which usually requires medications, lifestyle changes, and support programs.

If you have tried quitting smoking before without success, you may feel unsure about whether you can quit for good. You are in good company. It is common for people to make multiple attempts to become completely smoke-free—all the more reason to get started now!

You may also wonder how to prepare for such a big change. Start by learning everything you can about the health risks of smoking and the available resources to end this deadly habit.

How do I build a smoking cessation plan?

Smoking cessation can be difficult, and building a quit plan can help keep you on track.

The National Cancer Institute’s Smokefree initiative lays out the six steps you can follow to create your quit plan:

  • Step 1: Set a quit date. Give yourself time to prepare first, then pick a day to quit. Let people around you know you are planning to quit.
  • Step 2: Calculate your savings. Figure out how much money you spend on cigarettes, so you know how much you will save by quitting.
  • Step 3: Figure out why you want to quit. Your reasons for quitting will help keep you motivated when things get tough.
  • Step 4: Know your smoking triggers. Figure out what makes you more likely to smoke, and develop strategies to avoid or resolve those triggers.
  • Step 5: Figure out how to deal with cravings. Changing what you are doing or where you are will help distract you when you get cravings.
  • Step 6: Choose the tools that will help you quit. These may include over-the-counter or prescription medications, counseling, and support from your friends and family.

Who can help with smoking cessation?

Almost any healthcare professional can help you quit smoking. If they do not have the expertise themselves, they can help you find resources for how to quit smoking. Your primary care doctor is a good place to start. They can also help you learn about the risks of smoking and the methods and products for quitting.

There are also other resources you can use to get support while you quit: 

  • Attend in-person programs and classes, including one-on-one and group sessions.
  • Call 1-800-QUITNOW (1-800-784-8669), a quitline that provides free, confidential quit coaching.
  • Use free online resources like the quitSTART app at Smokefree.gov and CDC.gov/quit.
  • Sign up for SmokeFreeTXT by texting QUIT to 47848, which will provide you with daily text messages to help you quit.

What are the methods for smoking cessation?

Smoking cessation is difficult, but there are several proven methods for quitting. 

Nicotine replacement therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is a treatment that involves using products that give you decreasing amounts of nicotine to help wean you off it. These products include:

  • Gum: You alternate between chewing and holding nicotine gum in the mouth. It comes in either a 2-gram or a 4-gram dose, and the number of doses per day will decrease over time to reduce your nicotine dependence.
  • Patches: Nicotine patches deliver steady doses of nicotine through your skin. They come in many doses to make it easier to gradually decrease your nicotine intake.
  • Inhalers: Nicotine oral inhalers deliver nicotine while keeping the “hand-to-mouth” movement aspect of smoking.
  • Nasal sprays: Nicotine nasal sprays deliver nicotine through your nasal passages.
  • Lozenges: Nicotine lozenges are medicinal tablets that dissolve in your mouth. They are a good alternative for people who may not be able to chew gum.
  • Tablets: Nicotine tablets rest under the tongue, where they dissolve and deliver doses of nicotine.

NRT gives you nicotine without exposing you to the other harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke. This treatment can help increase the chances of quitting successfully by 50–70%. 

Prescription medications

Two non-nicotine medications can also help you quit smoking.

Bupropion (Zyban) is a pill that you can combine with nicotine patches to increase the chances of quitting.

Varenicline (Chantix) is a pill that acts on parts of the brain affected by nicotine. It cuts the pleasurable effects of smoking and reduces withdrawal symptoms.

Counseling and therapy

Individual counseling and support programs can play an important part in quitting smoking. Quit-smoking programs that work best combine medication with counseling and support.

Counselors can help you make and stick to a quit plan and manage the stress of quitting.

What are the benefits of smoking cessation?

Regardless of how long you have been smoking, smoking cessation will yield many health benefits.

Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ in your body. It also increases your risk for disease, disability, and death. Smoking-related illnesses cause nearly one in every five deaths per year in the U.S.

Exposure to secondhand smoke can be just as harmful as smoking. The toxins in the exhaled smoke contribute to lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke. By quitting, you will improve your quality of life and the quality of life of the people around you.

Smoking cessation will reduce your risk of developing serious health conditions in almost every area of your body.

Lung benefits

Your lungs will greatly benefit from smoking cessation:

Heart benefits

Your heart and blood vessels will benefit in many ways from smoking cessation, including:

Pregnancy benefits

Smoking cessation will reduce potential pregnancy and delivery risks:

  • The risk for pre-term deliveries will decrease.
  • The risk for low-weight births will decrease.
  • If smoking cessation occurs early in the pregnancy, you can avoid the negative effects on fetal growth caused by smoking.

Cancer-related benefits

Smoking cessation will reduce your risk of developing many cancers:

Immediate benefits

In addition to the long-term decreasing risks of serious conditions and diseases, smoking cessation has immediate benefits.

In the minutes and days after you stop smoking:

  • Your heart rate will decrease.
  • The level of carbon monoxide in your blood will return to the level of a person who does not smoke.
  • The nicotine in your blood will disappear.

If you smoke, stopping is the most important step you can take to increase the length and improve the quality of your life. 

What are the potential side effects of smoking cessation?

Smoking cessation can be difficult due to the addictive nature of nicotine. Your body and brain get used to having a certain nicotine level, and quitting smoking will induce nicotine withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be very uncomfortable.

Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal

Common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include:

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are usually worst during the first week after smoking cessation. They will gradually drop over time, although at different rates for different people. 

What if I start smoking again?

Smoking cessation can be extremely challenging, and it is common for many people to slip when trying to quit. A slip is a term in smoking cessation for having a cigarette or maybe two while trying to quit. Many people even count having a puff or two as a slip. 

Slips are temporary setbacks, not failures. Do not beat yourself up over a slip. There are many things you can do to get yourself back on track:

  • Think of the methods you have used in the past to help yourself deal with cravings and avoid triggers.
  • Take advantage of the many resources available — like counseling, text programs, and medications — to help you quit for good.
  • Talk with your family and friends about helping you quit.
  • Restart your efforts to quit smoking right away. 

FAQ

How long does it take to quit smoking?

Everyone is different, so it is impossible to predict how long smoking cessation will take for individuals. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are most severe during the first week, and they will gradually decrease with time as your body adjusts to not having nicotine. After 1 month, many people no longer feel withdrawal symptoms. For some, the symptoms continue for a few months.

Are nicotine lozenges safe?

Nicotine lozenges, like all smoking cessation medications, are safer than smoking. The dangers of smoking come from the thousands of toxins released in cigarette smoke, not the nicotine. Using quit-smoking medications will not expose you to those toxins and will help control your withdrawal symptoms, making it much more likely that you will be able to quit smoking for good.

Summary

In the end, smoking cessation is hard. Building a smoking cessation plan, using quit-smoking medications, and being aware of the many benefits of smoking cessation can help you quit for good.

Quitting is possible. Talk with your doctor about smoking cessation resources and medications.

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Medical Reviewer: Alan Carter, Pharm.D.
Last Review Date: 2022 Apr 25
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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