How to quit smoking

There are loads of ways to improve your chances of giving up smoking - here are some top tips to get you started.

someone snapping a cigarette in half

How to break the habit

When should I try to quit smoking?

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 as there’s always something coming up,” 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 or before lectures, and you can prepare ways to distract yourself at these times.
  • Remove the evidence. Get rid of ashtrays, lighters and, of course, cigarettes, in advance.

Stop smoking methods and products

The array of products, methods and alternative therapies claiming to help you give up smoking can be overwhelming, so where do you start? Research shows nicotine replacement products, such as patches and gum, can increase your chances of success, but these 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.

You have to try a method for quite a while before deciding if it’s right for you, according to stop smoking advisor Vishnee Sauntoo. “Often what happens is that people aren’t using the products properly,” she explains. “For example, the chewing gum requires you to chew aggressively for a few seconds and then park the gum in your mouth, which sounds quite odd. It’s not the way you’d normally use a chewing gum, so all these tips are best coming from a health professional.”

Coping with cravings and withdrawal

Cravings 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.”

Get support to quit

Although you’re the only person who can decide whether or not you light a cigarette again, 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 one on the No Smoking Day website, and talk online to other people who are quitting.

Be positive

Not always easy when you’re coping with another craving and feel like you could scream, but focusing on the positives of giving up is an important part of accepting you’re now a non-smoker.

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 a benefit, such as feeling fitter or smelling better, and add it to your list. Soon you’ll have too many reasons not to go back to your old smoking self.

Reward yourself

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. Use this nifty calculator to keep a running total.

Dealing with relapses

Most smokers take several attempts – even months – to quit completely, so try not to beat yourself up if you have a relapse.

According to Vishnee, 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’s not 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.”

Photo of snapped cigarette by Shutterstock

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.


Updated on 29-Sep-2015