Yes, you can quit smoking for good
Cigarettes are bad for your health — but kicking the habit can be hard. Read our expert advice on how to be a successful quitter.
Ready to quit smoking? That’s great news. We probably don’t need to tell you that quitting smoking can save your life. Smoking cigarettes is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. It causes lung cancer, oral cancer, lung disease and many other illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Unfortunately, giving up tobacco can be hard. Case in point: Fewer than 1 in 10 smokers succeed in quitting each year, per the CDC.
But don’t despair. There are many strategies you can use to kick nicotine for good. “Nicotine is a very difficult substance to discontinue,” says Jared Heathman, MD. He’s a psychiatrist in Houston, Texas who specializes in anxiety and substance abuse. Many people will try several options before they figure out what works best for them, he notes.
Read on for tips about how you can say goodbye to cigarettes for life.
Try nicotine replacement therapy
This is a great place to start if you want to quit. Studies have found that nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can nearly double your odds of quitting smoking successfully. There are 5 approved forms of NRT. You can buy 3 of them over the counter and 2 by prescription only:
- Over the counter:
- By prescription:
- Nasal spray
You can get over-the-counter nicotine replacement products or schedule a virtual visit at the Optum Store — all from the comfort of home. Start exploring.
How exactly does NRT work? “Nicotine replacement therapy gives you a low dose of nicotine without the tar, carbon monoxide and other harmful substances found in cigarette smoke,” says Chaye McIntosh. She is the clinical director at ChoicePoint addiction treatment center in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. This helps reduce cravings and control withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, irritability and headaches.
One drawback is that you can’t use NRT while you’re still using tobacco. So if you’ve cut back on cigarettes but you’re not smoke-free yet, you should try another method. This option is best for people who are ready and determined to quit.
It may also be important to speak with your doctor before using NRT, McIntosh says. She advises that you ask your physician about NRT if you have any of the following conditions:
- Central nervous system disorder
- Gastrointestinal system disorder
Talk to your doctor about prescription smoking-cessation medications
There are prescription medications that can help you quit smoking. Popular options include:
- Varenicline (Chantix®)
- Bupropion (Wellbutrin®)
These medications work by interfering with the brain’s nicotine receptors. They change your brain chemicals in a way that makes smoking less enjoyable, McIntosh explains.
You often need to start taking prescription smoking cessation medications at least 1 week before you plan to quit smoking. Some of these medications can even be used along with NRT patches, gum or lozenges.
People with severe nicotine dependence should consider NRT and/or prescription medications, according to the American Cancer Society. Signs that you have severe nicotine dependence include smoking:
- More than 1 pack a day
- Early in the morning and waking up at night to smoke
- Even when you’re sick
- To ease the symptoms of withdrawal
These medications can be powerful tools in helping you quit. Talk to your doctor if you’re interested in using them.
Build a support network
“It’s always beneficial to involve family, relatives and friends if you’re trying to quit smoking,” McIntosh says. Your support network can help you stay on track when you’re tempted to smoke (such as at parties or when you’re stressed out).
Joining an official support group can also help. Support groups are made up of people who have quit smoking (or who are also trying to quit). You might be connected with a sponsor, or a person in the group whom you can turn to for support. “Sharing experiences and challenges in safe spaces with a sponsor will keep you motivated,” McIntosh says. “This can help you move forward on the path to recovery.”
To find a support group:
- Contact your local health department
- Ask friends and family for connections
- Search online for support groups in your area
- Call a free counseling helpline, such as 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669)
Other tips to quit smoking
To increase your odds of success, pair medications and social support with these quit-smoking strategies.
Avoid triggers. The urge to smoke is likely strongest at certain times or in certain places. For example, you may be tempted to smoke when you’re stressed, relaxed or distracted. Figure out what your triggers are and how to avoid them. Or come up with a way to deal with your triggers without turning to cigarettes. So if you usually light up while you’re having your morning coffee, try munching on a granola bar instead.
Chew. Give your mouth something to do besides smoke a cigarette. Stock up on sugarless gum or hard candy, or snack on raw vegetables, nuts or seeds.
Distract. If you’re itching to smoke, do something to take your mind off the craving. Go for a walk or a jog, wipe down your kitchen counters, write in your journal or do some deep breathing to relax.
Health risks: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). “Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking”
Quit smoking: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). “Smoking Cessation: Fast Facts”
Replace nicotine: American Cancer Society (2021). “Nicotine Replacement Therapy to Help you Quit Tobacco”
Cravings: Mayo Clinic (2022). “Quitting Smoking: 10 Ways to Resist Tobacco Cravings”