How to Quit Smoking

Smoking is one of the hardest habits to break. About half of all people who have ever smoked have been able to quit. Most people who still smoke want to quit. Here are some of the best ways to stop smoking.

Quit smoking

Keep trying

Most smokers make many attempts at quitting before they are successful. It’s important not to give up.

Go cold turkey

Most former smokers quit cold turkey (all at once). Trying to cut back gradually doesn't seem to work as well, perhaps because it continues the smoking habit. Also, it is possible to inhale more while smoking fewer cigarettes. This results in the same amount of nicotine in your body.

Get support

Support programs can be a big help, especially for heavy smokers. These groups offer lectures, ways to change behavior, and peer support. Here are some ways to find a support program:

  • Free national quitline: 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669).

  • Hospital quit-smoking programs.

  • American Lung Association: (800-586-4872).

  • American Cancer Society (800-227-2345).

Support at home is important too. Nonsmokers can offer praise and encouragement. If the smoker in your life finds it hard to quit, encourage them to keep trying.

Over-the-counter medicines

Nicotine replacement therapy may make quitting easier. Certain aids, such as the nicotine patch, gum, and lozenges, are available without a prescription. It is best to use these under a doctor’s care, though. The skin patch provides a steady supply of nicotine. Nicotine gum and lozenges give temporary bursts of low levels of nicotine. Both methods reduce the craving for cigarettes. Warning: If you have nausea, vomiting, dizziness, weakness, or a fast heartbeat, stop using these products and see your doctor.

Prescription medicines

After reviewing your smoking patterns and past attempts to quit, your doctor may offer a prescription medicine such as bupropion, varenicline, a nicotine inhaler, or nasal spray. Each has advantages and side effects. Your doctor can review these with you.

Health benefits of quitting

The benefits of quitting start right away and keep improving the longer you go without smoking. These benefits occur at any age.  So whether you are 17 or 70, quitting is a good decision. Some of the benefits include:

  • 20 minutes: Blood pressure and pulse return to normal.

  • 8 hours: Oxygen levels return to normal.

  • 2 days: Ability to smell and taste begin to improve as damaged nerves regrow.

  • 2 to 3 weeks: Circulation and lung function improve.

  • 1 to 9 months: Coughing, congestion, and shortness of breath decrease; tiredness decreases.

  • 1 year: Risk of heart attack decreases by half.

  • 5 years: Risk of lung cancer decreases by half; risk of stroke becomes the same as a nonsmoker’s.

For more on how to quit smoking, try these online resources: 


  • "Clearing the Air" booklet from the National Cancer Institute:

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