What You Need to Know If You Want to Quit Smoking

Man Using Nicotine Gum To Quit Smoking. Nicotine Replacement Therapy

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Deciding to quit smoking and taking the steps to start the cessation process can be very difficult. However, it is arguably one of the best decisions you can make for your health. In addition to causing symptoms such as a chronic cough and high blood pressure, smoking increases your risk of heart problems, cancer, respiratory diseases, and more. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

Smoking cessation can cause symptoms such as a strong, overwhelming urge to smoke, irritability, and anxiety, among others. But if you’re trying to quit, help is available. Smoking cessation programs, counseling, and prescription medications can all support this process. Here’s what you need to know if you want to stop.

Benefits of Quitting Smoking

Quitting smoking improves your health, both in the long- and short-term. The benefits of cessation include:

  • Reduced cardiovascular risk: Quitting lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, reducing the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and other cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) issues.
  • Better blood clotting: Smoking thins your blood, making it more difficult for blood to clot to stop bleeding.
  • Reduced cancer risk: Quitting smoking lowers your risk of developing lung cancer and other types of cancer.
  • Healthier lungs: Quitting allows lung tissue to heal and cilia (hair-like projections in the lungs) to regrow, which improves breathing and helps protect you from disease.
  • Longer lifespan: Stopping smoking raises your life expectancy by up to 10 years while also reducing your risk of premature death.
  • Reduced lung disease risk: Smoking can lead to emphysema and other types of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); quitting prevents these and leaves you better able to fight off lung infections.   
  • Stronger immunity: Exposing your body to the tar and nicotine from cigarettes weakens your immune system; quitting boosts white blood cell levels, improving immunity.
  • Safer pregnancy: Smoking raises the chance of miscarriage and complications during pregnancy.
  • Increased chances of pregnancy: If you’re trying to get pregnant, quitting helps because smoking affects your estrogen levels.
  • Better sexual function: Quitting smoking reduces the odds you develop erectile dysfunction (an inability to achieve or maintain an erection).
  • Healthier bones: Smoking also impacts the health of your bones and raises your risk of fracture.
  • Better hearing: Smoking and breathing in someone else’s smoke (secondhand smoke) raise your risk of developing hearing loss.
  • Healthier eyes: Quitting tobacco can improve how well you see in the dark and lowers your risk of other vision problems.
  • Healthier teeth and gums: Tobacco use raises the risk of cavities, gum disease, and other dental problems.
  • More strength: Quitting boosts the oxygen levels in your blood, making for healthier and stronger muscles.  
  • Clearer skin: Smoking also damages your skin; stopping helps prevent blemishes, wrinkles, and other signs of aging.
  • Financial savings: Quitting can also lower your medical bills and minimize the financial impact of related illnesses; you also save money by not buying cigarettes.

Why It’s Hard To Quit

There’s no denying that quitting smoking is a challenge, and you may not succeed the first time you try. That’s normal; researchers found it takes smokers in the U.S. anywhere from eight to 30 attempts before succeeding. Just remember that it’s OK if early attempts don’t work out, and don’t give up.

But what makes quitting so hard? Put simply: the nicotine in tobacco is highly addictive. If you smoke, your body acclimates to this substance, affecting everything from your metabolism and hormone levels to heart and brain function; stopping impacts you both physically and mentally.

While it only takes 24 hours without smoking for nicotine to clear from your bloodstream, withdrawal symptoms last up to one month or more. They are more severe during the first week after stopping, peaking in intensity within the first three days.

Nicotine withdrawal can cause physical, emotional, and mental health effects, including:

  • Tobacco cravings
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia (inability to get to or stay asleep)

More severe cases of withdrawal can cause additional symptoms, such as:

Tobacco Triggers

Triggers add to the challenge of quitting. Triggers are situations that you associate with smoking that cause you to experience cravings. There are three types:

  • Social: Social triggers include being around others who are smoking, such as at a public event.
  • Emotional: Some people smoke to relieve stress, anxiety, boredom, or grief, making these emotional states especially triggering when you're trying not to smoke.
  • Pattern: Pattern or activity triggers are situations or events that you associate with smoking, like cravings in the morning, when drinking coffee, or after a meal or alcoholic drink.

What Are Smoking Cessation Programs?

Among the many tools available to help you stop are smoking cessation programs. These are individually-tailored treatment plans designed to help you quit.  

There are several different types of programs: telephone-based hotlines for support, classes and coaching with trained counselors, and self-paced online courses. These approaches focus on:

  • Identifying your triggers and addictive patterns
  • Addressing the physical and emotional challenges of withdrawal
  • Identifying and addressing social factors surrounding smoking
  • Learning strategies to prevent relapse
  • Connecting you to support groups or other resources

What Is Smoking Cessation Counseling?

The emotional and psychological toll of quitting can be severe, lasting even after the physical effects of withdrawal have subsided. For some, individual or group sessions with a counselor trained in nicotine or drug cessation play a critical role. This typically involves regular sessions of behavioral (talk) therapy, among other techniques.

Like smoking cessation programs, counseling for nicotine use focuses on identifying strategies to keep you off tobacco products and prevent relapse. You’ll learn how to identify and cope with the patterns of your substance use as well as the mental health impact of quitting.

Products That Can Help

Currently, many products and medications can help with the physical symptoms of withdrawal. These can be divided into products that deliver nicotine to help with cravings—called nicotine replacement therapy—and prescribed medications that reduce your brain’s positive response to smoking.  

Nicotine Replacement Therapy

With nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) you use products that provide nicotine to your body without the health impacts that come with smoking. Researchers have found these approaches to raise the chances of successfully quitting by 50 to 60%.

You can try NRT the moment you quit, though be sure to use the products only as indicated. There are several types:

  • Gum
  • Transdermal (worn on the skin) patches
  • Lozenges
  • Inhalers
  • Nasal sprays
  • Nasal patches

There are many NRT options, available both over the counter or with a prescription. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best choice for you.


Prescribed medications can also stop cravings and other physical symptoms. These work by blocking the nicotine from binding to receptors in your brain. This triggers the release of dopamine—the brain chemical associated with pleasure—to reduce cravings. It also reduces the dopamine released in your body if you do smoke, making it less pleasurable.

There are currently two such prescription medications on the U.S. market: Zyban (bupropion SR) and Chantix (varenicline). Dosages of these drugs are tailored to the individual, with treatment regimens lasting up to 12 weeks. Though they are generally effective, they may not be appropriate for everyone and can cause side effects like liver damage, depression, agitation, suicidal thoughts, anger, and behavioral changes.

Complementary Therapies

Some people try complementary and alternative medicine methods to help with quitting, such as mindfulness training and yoga. The evidence for efficacy is often mixed and, overall, more research is needed.

Editor’s Note: This article informs you about possible observed health changes related to the use of complementary or alternative medicine based on limited available research. Not all complementary and alternative medicines have been evaluated for safety and efficacy in clinical trials. You should consult a licensed healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment for any health conditions and inform them about any change you make to your regimen.


Mindfulness encompasses talk therapies, breathing exercises, and meditation exercises. This type of therapy focuses on shifting your thoughts and feelings around your behavior and promoting relaxation to ease anxiety.

In a 2022 review studying data from 21 studies related to mindfulness and smoking cessation, the authors found no clear benefit in terms of quit rates. However, they noted that more research is needed and that mindfulness may help with the mental health impacts of quitting.


Acupuncture is a complementary treatment that has origins in traditional Chinese medicine. It involves inserting fine needles into specific points in the body to stimulate nerves and other organs. For smoking, these acupuncture points are found in the ears. You can also try acupressure, which relies on physical pressure or specialized weighted balls. It’s thought these methods stimulate the nervous system and suppress cravings.

As with mindfulness, there’s a lack of conclusive evidence regarding how well acupuncture works. A review of data from 3,984 participants in 24 studies found some evidence of efficacy compared to no treatment, though little difference between acupuncture and sham treatments.


Yoga involves guided sessions of stretching, breathing, and meditation to promote relaxation and ease anxiety. Initial studies have found positive results for smoking cessation, though more research is needed.

A 2018 study of 227 smokers found that participating in regular yoga sessions increased their chances of successfully quitting. That said, there were no significant differences in quit rates when yoga was compared to general wellness classes at three and six months.


With hypnotherapy, you work with a certified hypnotherapist to induce a heightened state of concentration and attention. It’s thought this makes you receptive to suggestions and positive changes in your life.

More research is needed to conclude whether hypnotherapy works for smoking. A 2019 review looked at 14 studies that tested hypnotherapy and smoking cessation. They found that there was little evidence to prove efficacy, and existing evidence was small at most.

Resisting Cravings

The craving to smoke can not only make it difficult to avoid smoking, but it can interfere with your daily life. Thankfully, there’s actually a great deal you can do to both prevent and manage these urges.

Ways to prevent cravings include:

  • Spending time in public places that don’t allow smoking, such as museums, libraries, malls, or other businesses.
  • Avoiding drinking alcohol, coffee, or other drinks you associate with smoking.
  • Holding a coin, pen, or something else, especially if you miss having something in your hand.
  • Steering clear of the activities or people that you associate with smoking.
  • Exercising and ensuring you’re getting enough sleep and fluids.
  • Creating new habits and making sure your space is smoke-free.
  • Eating four to six smaller meals a day, rather than the standard two to three.
  • Engage in relaxing activities or meditation to cope with stress and anxiety.
  • Asking smokers not to smoke around you.

And if you get a craving, try the following:

  • Chew on cinnamon sticks, sugarless gum or lollipops, or a stick of celery.
  • Have healthy snacks, such as apples, carrots, or raisins.
  • Do some deep breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques.
  • Try light to moderate physical activity, such as taking a walk.
  • Remind yourself that the craving will pass in about 10 minutes.

Other Considerations and Resources

You’re far from alone if you’ve tried to quit in the past and failed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year, less than one in 10 Americans who try to quit succeed. It typically takes multiple tries, but every one is worth it. With support and the right resources, your odds can improve dramatically.

If you’re having trouble quitting, your healthcare provider may be able to help you assemble a smoking cessation plan. Most private insurance plans, Medicare, and Medicaid cover smoking cessation treatments. In addition, you may be able to access free support services in your city and state. Also, the National Cancer Institute has a national helpline that provides free telephone counseling.

There are many resources available for those trying to quit smoking. These include telephone counseling services (or “quitlines”), support groups, advocacy organizations, and governmental programs. You can get help from:

A Quick Review

Though quitting smoking is difficult, it’s potentially the most important health decision you can make. Stopping this habit helps prevent numerous diseases and boosts your overall health, among other benefits.

Smoking cessation may involve multiple techniques, including using nicotine gum or patches, medications for cravings, as well as group or individual counseling. For most people, it takes multiple attempts to succeed; however, there are many resources available if you’re trying.

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16 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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