How to quit smoking

Quitting smoking can be really tough, it’s an addiction after all. Looking into stopping is definitely a huge move in the right direction. As much fun as having a fag with your mates can be, it can also be extremely dangerous. We’re here to talk you through sustainable ways to stop lighting up and start filling your cup (with love and memories, not booze).

A young man is staring into the distance. He is thinking about quitting smoking. This is a close-up image.

When should I try to quit smoking? 

So you want to know how to stop smoking? Well, unfortunately there’s no universal guide to quitting smoking, you just have to know your own mind and body.

Deciding when to give up smoking is different for everyone. Quit counsellor Liz Hine believes that some people decide on the spur of the moment, while others need time to plan. “Sometimes stressful events, such as exams, can be looming, so it might be worth waiting. Just be careful not to keep making excuses” she warns.

She offers this advice on getting the timing right and preparing to quit:

  • Get help and advice in advance. Ringing helplines and getting support from a stop smoking service will help you think about how you want to give up, giving you a better chance of success.
  • Keep a diary. Write down the details of every cigarette you smoke for a week before you quit. This will help you notice your weak points, such as after dinner, and prepare ways to distract yourself at these times.
  • Remove the temptation. Get rid of ashtrays, lighters and, of course, cigarettes, in advance.

Keep in mind, you might need to go through the process of quitting smoking even if you’re just a ‘social smoker’. To find out more, click here.

Stop smoking methods and products 

If you look up ‘How to give up smoking’ online, you’ll be bombarded by a bunch of different products and methods claiming to be the best way to give up smoking. Not to mention, literally everyone seems to have tips to quit smoking.  It can be pretty overwhelming, especially since you’re going through so much already. So we’re here to break it down.

Research shows nicotine replacement products, such as patches and gum, can decrease your urge to smoke, but they don’t work for everyone. “It’s best to pick what you want to use yourself, that way you’re more likely to continue using it,” says Liz. Another method to consider might be therapy.

You have to try a method for quite a while before deciding if it’s right for you in the long term. According to stop smoking advisor, Vishnee Sauntoo. “Often what happens is that people aren’t using the products properly,” she explains. “For example, nicotine gum requires you to chew aggressively for a few seconds and then park the gum in your mouth, which sounds quite odd.”

What happens when you quit smoking

One of the after effects of smoking is cravings. They usually last strongly for three to five minutes, so the best way to cope is to do something to take your mind off it. “Physical activities are a great distraction, but other things, like listening to your favourite song or phoning a friend, can work,” suggests Liz. “Make a list of things you like doing that take a few minutes to build up a set of your own distractions.” 

There could also be other withdrawal symptoms such as putting on weight. We know that the drive to continue quitting smoking can dip when you notice some less-than-desired side effects. But just try to remember all the health benefits that come with not going to smoke a cigarette every 15 minutes. You won’t have to constantly look up ‘How does smoking affect your lungs’ or ‘why smoking is bad’ and feel guilty about the habit. Instead, try researching ‘what happens to your skin when you stop smoking’ to see what lies in your future.

Get support to quit smoking

Even though you’re the only one who can make the decision to stop smoking, there are lots of ways that other people can help:

  • Ask friends and family to be supportive. If there’s someone close to you who wants to quit, consider quitting together for extra moral support.
  • Contact an NHS stop smoking service, which can involve group sessions and one-to-one support. One in two people who do this aren’t smoking four weeks later.
  • Contact a helpline to talk things through with a trained advisor. Try the numbers listed in the Next Steps box.
  • Join a forum, such as the ones on The Mix’s community, and talk online to other people who are quitting.

If you’re the person supporting a quitter, read our article here.

Be positive 

We know it’s easier said than done. Especially when you’re feeling stressed, coping with another craving and just wanna scream. But focusing on the positives of giving up is an important part of accepting you’re now smoke free.

Before you quit, make a list of reasons why you want to quit and have it to hand at all times. Once you’ve stopped, take note every time you feel one of the benefits of quitting smoking, such as feeling fitter, and add it to your list. Soon you’ll have 100 lists of reasons not to go back to your old smoking self.

Make it fun to quit smoking

Remember that giving up smoking is difficult, so even getting past one craving should be celebrated. Set yourself targets and promise yourself a reward when you reach it. You could tie this in to the money you’re saving and buy yourself a treat when you’ve saved a set figure. 

Dealing with relapses 

Most smokers take several attempts  to quit completely, so try not to beat yourself up if you have a relapse. One way to avoid a relapse is to steer clear of smoking triggers, such as stress. But even if you do, a relapse is still possible, and actually normal.

Vishnee believes the most important thing is not to give up. “It’s OK to have a relapse – sometimes the cravings get to us all, but the best thing to do is to keep going with your quit attempt,” she advises. “One cigarette isn’t going to harm you, but if you say ‘OK I’m a smoker again’, you’re going to have more and more – and that’s not good.”

Next Steps

  • Use the NHS smoking calculator to see how much your habit is costing you.
  • NHS Smokefree offers all sorts of advice and support to help you quit smoking.
  • Counselling Directory is a leading support network in the UK and has over 10,000 qualified counsellors listed on the website.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 29-Sep-2015