What is quitting smoking and tobacco?

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Quitting tobacco: Overview

People who use tobacco crave the nicotine in tobacco. Giving it up is much harder than simply changing a habit. Your body has to stop craving the nicotine. It is hard to quit, but you can do it. There are many tools that people use to quit. You may find that combining tools works best for you.

There are several steps to quitting. Your doctor will help you set up the plan that best meets your needs. You may want to attend a tobacco-cessation program to help you quit. When you choose a program, look for one that has proven success. Ask your doctor for ideas. You will greatly increase your chances of success if you take medicine as well as get counseling or join a cessation program.

Some of the changes you feel when you first quit tobacco are uncomfortable. Your body will miss the nicotine at first, and you may feel short-tempered and grumpy. You may have trouble sleeping or concentrating. Medicine can help you deal with these symptoms. You may struggle with changing your habits. And the urge to use tobacco may continue for a time.

This may be a lot to deal with, but keep at it. You will feel better.

How can you care for yourself when you quit using tobacco?

  • Get support. You have a better chance of quitting if you have help and support.
    • Ask your family, friends, and coworkers for support.
    • Join a support group, such as Nicotine Anonymous, for people who are trying to quit using tobacco.
    • Consider signing up for a tobacco cessation program, such as the American Lung Association's Freedom from Smoking program.
    • Get text messaging support. Go to the website at www.smokefree.gov to sign up for the SmokefreeTXT program.
  • After you quit, do not use tobacco again, not even once. Get rid of all tobacco products and anything that reminds you of tobacco, like ashtrays, spit cups, and lighters. If you smoke, clean your house and your clothes to get rid of the smell.
  • Learn how to live without tobacco. Think about ways you can avoid those things that make you reach for tobacco.
    • Avoid situations that put you at greatest risk. For some people, it's hard to have a drink with friends or a coffee break with coworkers without using tobacco.
    • Change your daily routine. Take a different route to work, or eat a meal in a different place.
  • Try to cut down on stress. Calm yourself or release tension by doing an activity you enjoy, such as reading a book, taking a hot bath, or gardening.
  • Learn about treatments that can help you quit.
    • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about nicotine replacement therapy. Nicotine replacement products help you slowly reduce the amount of nicotine you need. They can help you deal with cravings and withdrawal symptoms. These products include nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, nasal spray, and inhalers. Most are available without a prescription.
    • Ask your doctor about varenicline (Chantix) or bupropion SR. These prescription medicines can help reduce withdrawal symptoms. They don't contain nicotine.
  • Eat a healthy diet, and get regular exercise. Having healthy habits will help your body move past its craving for nicotine.
  • Be prepared to keep trying. Most people aren't successful the first few times they try to quit. Don't give up if you use tobacco again. Make a list of things you learned, and think about when you want to try again.

How would quitting smoking help others in your life?


Their heart, lung, and cancer risks may drop, much like yours. They will also be sick less.


If you are or will be pregnant someday, quitting smoking means a healthier newborn.

See Yourself as a Nonsmoker

Why track your smoking?

When you track your smoking, you can identify when or where you will be most likely to relapse. Think about whether you can avoid these situations. If you cannot avoid them, you can make a plan that lists what you will do instead of smoking when you find yourself in those situations.

How can you support someone who is quitting tobacco?

Ask how you can help. You may be able to offer support and tips. Remember that only the person who's decided to quit can follow through with the decision. If they start using tobacco again, don't be disappointed or make them feel guilty. Most people don't succeed the first time they quit.

Avoiding tobacco when you crave nicotine

The cravings for nicotine can be intense for the first few days when you quit using tobacco, but they will get better with time. Here are some tips on how to cope.

  • Try using over-the-counter nicotine replacement products, such as gum, lozenges, or patches.

    Ask your doctor about quit-tobacco medicine or nicotine replacement products that require a prescription, like the inhaler or nasal spray.

  • Distract yourself.

    Stop what you're doing, and do something else:

    • Suck on a piece of hard candy.
    • Listen to music.
    • Chew on a toothpick or a piece of gum.
    • Call a friend.
    • Do a puzzle or some other activity that uses your hands.
    • Take on a household task.
    • Drink a glass of water.
  • Try to stay away from others who use tobacco.

    This is important when you first quit. Seeing others use tobacco can often make cravings worse or trigger you to want tobacco.

  • Get active.

    Go for a walk, a bike ride, or a swim.

  • Relax.
    • Try deep-breathing exercises or yoga.
    • Take a hot bath or shower.
  • Occupy your hands.

    Try knitting, reading, or working a puzzle.

  • Give yourself time to let the urge pass.

    Tell yourself you'll wait awhile and see if the urge is still there.

  • Call a friend to get support.
  • Think about your tobacco use and your goals.
    • Remind yourself how hard it was to quit in the first place and all the effort you have put in so far.
    • Think about the benefits of not using tobacco, such as health, pride, and cleanliness.
    • Think about the negative effects of tobacco use, such as shortness of breath, harm to your family, and yellow teeth.
    • Remind yourself that you really don't want to use tobacco and that you only need to avoid it one day at a time.
    • Imagine yourself celebrating your first full year without smoking.

These are just a few ideas you can try to see what might work for you. Maybe they will help you think of other things you can do to help when you have cravings.

Quitting Tobacco: It May Take Many Tries

What are some ways you will feel better if you quit smoking today?

When you quit smoking, you'll feel real benefits over time. That includes having more energy, an improved sense of smell and taste, and more money in your pocket. And if you keep track of the ways that quitting has helped you over the hours, days, months, and years, it can help you quit for good. Here are a few good things to watch for.

The first hours or days

  • Soon after you stop smoking, your blood pressure and heart rate will go down. That means there's less stress on your heart and blood vessels.
  • Within days, you may notice that you have more energy as the level of carbon monoxide in your blood drops back to normal, making room for more oxygen.

Within weeks

  • You may find yourself spending more time with family and friends, since you don't have to keep going outside for a smoke.
  • Most of the symptoms of quitting, including cravings, anxiety, and insomnia, should begin to ease.

Within months

  • When your lungs begin to clear, you cough less and breathe deeper, so it may be easier to be active.
  • Your sense of taste and smell may improve. That means you may enjoy food more than you have since you started smoking.
  • Your clothes, car, and home will smell less like smoke.

Over the years

  • After 1 year, you could save a lot of money, depending on where you live and how much you used to smoke.
  • Over the years, your risks of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke are lower.
  • After 10 years, your risk of lung cancer is cut by about half. And your risk for many other types of cancer is lower too.

If any of these benefits sound good to you, today is a great time to take the first step to quit smoking. Your body will thank you in just a few hours.

What is a good day or time to quit tobacco?

Your attempt to quit is more likely to succeed if you pick a good time. Anytime that you can focus your energy and attention on your goal of quitting tobacco is a good time to quit. This could include:

  • Today, if you're motivated.
  • On the American Cancer Society's "Great American Smoke-Out," which is the Thursday before Thanksgiving.
  • On a special day, such as your birthday, New Year's Day, or the first day of a vacation.
  • When you are ill or having a troublesome tobacco-related symptom.
  • When a friend or relative is quitting.

Harder times to quit may include:

  • High-stress times.
  • Times when you feel low or depressed.
  • After a serious loss or difficult life change, such as the death of someone close or a stressful move.

If your life is hectic, you may feel that there will never be a good time to quit. In that case, pick a time to quit. Then do what you can to make your life less stressful or busy than it usually is. Be aware that if you wait for a "perfect" time to quit, you may keep putting off the decision for years.

Why is it hard to quit using tobacco?

Quitting is hard because your body craves the nicotine in tobacco. Nicotine is addictive. So giving it up is more than just kicking a bad habit. Your body has to stop craving the nicotine.

It's also hard to quit because using tobacco becomes part of your life. Many things can trigger the desire to use tobacco. These triggers can become rituals, things you do without thinking about them. For example, you may reach for tobacco when you:

  • Finish a meal.
  • Drink coffee.
  • Talk on the telephone.
  • Drive.
  • Meet in the breakroom with others who use tobacco.
  • Have a drink.

These rituals are comforting. And it can be very hard to give them up.

How can others support you when you quit using tobacco?

One important part of quitting tobacco is getting help from people around you. This may include:

  • Your doctor. They can prescribe medicines to help you quit and can help you plan the best way to use them. They can also refer you to counseling programs.
  • Family and friends. They can provide a shoulder to lean on and help distract you when you want to use tobacco.
  • Social networking. Many quit-tobacco apps for smartphones or tablets allow you to share your progress with friends and family. It's a way to get extra support and encouragement.
  • Professional help. People who use telephone, group, one-on-one, or online counseling are much more likely to quit. You can try:
    • The national tobacco quitline: 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).
    • Professional help from a doctor, nurse, or therapist.
    • Quit-tobacco programs, such as the Freedom from Smoking program (www.freedomfromsmoking.org) from the American Lung Association (www.lung.org).

Setting goals to help you quit using tobacco

You've made up your mind that you want to quit using tobacco. You might be nervous or not sure you can quit.

To achieve a long-term goal like this, you may find it helpful to break the task into smaller goals. Every time you reach a goal, you feel a sense of pride along the path to becoming tobacco-free.

  • Set your goals clearly.

    Write down your goals, or tell someone what you are trying to do. It's important to include "by when" or "how long" as well as "what." For example: "I will track my tobacco use for 1 week, starting tomorrow." Or "I will cut back from 20 cigarettes a day to 15 by this time next week."

  • Pace yourself.

    You may want or need to quit slowly by reducing the number of times you use tobacco each day over the course of several weeks. Set a comfortable pace. Certain activities won't be temptation-free for many months after you quit.

  • Be realistic.

    You may feel very excited and positive about your plan for change. Be sure to set realistic goals—including a timeline for quitting—that you can meet. For example, your goal could be to cut the number of times you use tobacco each day by half.

Linda's story: Quitting smoking lowers my risk

Linda, 56
Her friend's heart attack inspired Linda to quit smoking for good.
"Terri's heart attack scared me to death. I decided that this time, I'm doing the whole package. I'm quitting smoking for good."

Linda's best friend had just had a heart attack.

Linda, 56, and Terri, 52, work together in the records section of their city's police department. They had also been working on getting healthier together. They both had high cholesterol and were overweight. They both smoked. But they'd been going to aerobics class and had sworn off fast food.

"Terri's heart attack scared me to death," says Linda. "I decided that this time, I'm doing the whole package. I'm quitting smoking for good."

Recipe for success

Linda talked to her doctor, read up on quitting tactics, and made a plan. She told everyone she knows about her plan to quit. "It helps keep me honest," she admits.

Linda planned ahead for moments of weakness. "I wrote out a list of things that make me crave a cigarette. Next to each one, I wrote a substitute. Like when I get in the car, I can chew gum instead of lighting up. When I'm upset, I can call a friend or go for a hike. I keep that list with me."

Linda has also found that using nicotine gum has made the cravings easier to bear. "I was a bit cynical when my doctor first suggested it," she recalls. "It seemed like a crutch. But those cravings are just too powerful without the little shot of nicotine."

The rewards

Being smoke-free is Linda's long-term, lifetime goal. She has also set herself short-term goals, like "be smoke-free today" and "be smoke-free this week."

Each time she meets a goal, she rewards herself. "At first, one smoke-free day was cause for celebration," she says. "Now, I'm adding up a few goals toward a larger reward. I've saved enough would-be cigarette money that I can afford a little trip soon."

And how does it feel to be smoke-free? "It's been 16 weeks now, and I already feel so much healthier."

This story is based on information gathered from many people facing this health issue.

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