Mayo Clinic Health Library

Quit smoking: Proven strategies to help you quit

Updated: 04-19-2011

You know that when you quit smoking, it's one of the best things you can do for your health. So now you want to get serious and quit smoking. But you also know that quitting smoking can be challenging and that it takes most smokers several tries before they succeed. So how do you quit smoking, hopefully for good? These tried-and-true strategies can help you reach your goal to quit smoking. Try one or two, or try them all until you find what works to help you quit smoking.

Action guide to dealing with triggers (PDF file requiring Adobe Reader)

Put it on paper

Consider what you don't like about smoking and why you want to quit smoking. Are you worried about health consequences, such as lung cancer and heart disease? Do you want to feel better? Set a good example for your kids? Rid yourself of that lingering smoke smell on your hair, skin and clothes? Write it all down and carry the list with you. Each time you pick up a cigarette or have the urge to, read your list and remind yourself why you want to quit smoking.

Enlist support

Get others on your side. Tell your family, friends and co-workers that you want to quit smoking. You may even ask them to remind you why it's important to quit smoking if they see you pick up a cigarette. Also, ask your friends or anyone in your household who smokes to quit smoking, too. And consider joining a support group — either in person or online — for people who've quit smoking or want to.

See a specialist

Contact a tobacco treatment specialist through your doctor, a local treatment program or a telephone-based program. Toll-free tobacco quit lines are available in every state in the United States and many countries throughout the world. One big benefit of telephone quit lines is that you can participate from your own home — you don't need transportation. The more counseling you receive when you want to quit smoking, the more likely you'll remain tobacco-free. Ask your doctor or hospital for information, or check your local phone book.

Take it slow

Most people have the best success with quitting smoking by setting a quit smoking date and then abruptly stopping on that date. If you've tried that method a few times and it hasn't worked for you, you might want to start the quit smoking process by gradually cutting back on your smoking. Ways that you can cut back gradually include delaying your first cigarette of the day, smoking only half of each cigarette, buying only one pack of cigarettes at a time, and trading one smoking break a day for physical activity. Build on each success until you've quit smoking entirely.

Avoid smoking triggers

Recognize places and situations that make you want to smoke and avoid them. Instead, visit places where smoking isn't allowed, such as a museum or movie theater. Hang out with people who don't smoke or who also want to quit smoking. At work, use the main door instead of the smoking entrance. Keep especially busy during times when boredom may tempt you to smoke. Make it inconvenient to smoke by stashing your cigarettes and lighters in the car when you're at home or work. Also, replace old behaviors with new routines that aren't associated with smoking. Chew gum while you drive, or take a new route to work to keep your interest in your environment and away from smoking. Get up from the table immediately after eating. Drink water or tea instead of coffee or alcohol. Practice saying, "No thanks, I don't smoke."

Try a stop-smoking product

Don't use withdrawal symptoms or cravings as an excuse to not quit smoking. Plenty of stop-smoking products and medications with Food and Drug Administration approval are available to help you manage. Some types of nicotine replacement therapy — including patches, gum and lozenges — are available over-the-counter. Nicotine nasal spray and the nicotine inhaler are available by prescription. Other prescription medications may also be options. Bupropion (Zyban) can help control nicotine cravings. Varenicline (Chantix) can reduce both the pleasurable effects of smoking and any nicotine withdrawal symptoms. You may be able to use a combination of stop-smoking products at the same time. Using a stop-smoking product along with counseling to achieve changes in your behavior and beliefs is the most effective way to quit smoking. Talk to your health care provider about what stop-smoking products may be best for you.

Manage your stress

Stress and anxiety can increase your urge to smoke and derail your effort to quit smoking. To keep stress and anxiety under control, prioritize your tasks. Consider what tasks you can eliminate or delegate to someone else. Take a break when you need it. Practice relaxation exercises, such as physical activity, deep breathing or meditation. Stretch or simply listen to your favorite music.

Take it one day at a time

Don't worry about next week or next month. Focus on what you can do today to quit smoking. Every hour without a cigarette can bring you one step closer to quitting for good — and freedom from an unhealthy, expensive habit.

Celebrate your successes

Made it through the day without a cigarette? Treat yourself to something special. Made it through the week? Count how much you've saved by not buying cigarettes. Use the savings for a special treat or invest the money for the future. Reward yourself for not smoking by doing something you enjoy every day, such as spending extra time with your children or grandchildren, going to a ball game, taking a walk, soaking in the tub or watching a movie. All of your small successes can help you reach your goal to quit smoking for good.

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