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How to Quit Smoking

A mature couple walk through a woodland area smiling and laughing while they walk their dalmatian dog

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. Since the release of the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health in 1964, more than 20 million people have died due to tobacco.

Cigarette smoking increases the risk of cancers of the mouth and throat, lung, esophagus, pancreas, cervix, kidney, bladder, stomach, colon, rectum, and liver, as well as acute myeloid leukemia. Some studies also link smoking to breast cancer and advanced-stage prostate cancer.

Smoking also greatly increases the risk of debilitating, long-term lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It raises the risk for heart attack, stroke, blood vessel diseases, and eye diseases. Half of all Americans who keep smoking will eventually die from a smoking-related illness.

That’s why it’s so important to quit. No matter how old you are or how long you’ve smoked, quitting can help you live longer and be healthier. But quitting is hard because tobacco products contain nicotine, which is a highly addictive, naturally occurring chemical in tobacco. Even so, millions of Americans have quit with help, and you can, too.

There are many different methods you can use to quit. Here is what the research tells us about how well they work:


Research shows that using a medication to help you quit smoking can increase your chances of being successful.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved 7 types of smoking cessation medications to safely and effectively help people quit smoking. Choosing which one to use is often a matter of personal choice and should be discussed with your pharmacist or health care provider.

Three types of medications are available over-the-counter at most pharmacies and can help ease the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal when used as directed.

  • Nicotine gum
  • Nicotine patches
  • Nicotine lozenges

Four types of medications are available by prescription.

  • Nicotine inhalers
  • Nicotine nasal sprays
  • Zyban (bupropion) – an antidepressant
  • Chantix (varenicline) – a drug that blocks the effects of nicotine in the brain


Counseling combined with medication makes it even more likely that you can quit smoking and stay away from tobacco for good. Counseling comes in many forms.

  • In-person counseling is available from a doctor, nurse practitioner, pharmacist, or other health care provider.
  • Telephone quit-lines: All 50 states and the District of Columbia offer some type of free telephone-based program that links callers with trained counselors. People who use telephone counseling have twice the success rate in quitting smoking as those who don’t get this type of help. Call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to get help finding a phone counseling program in your area.
  • Support groups have helped many people who smoke quit. Check with your employer, health insurance company, or local hospital to find a support group that fits your needs. Or call us at 1-800-227-2345.
  • People who want to quit can also increase their chances of success by enlisting the help and support of family, friends, and co-workers. Tell your friends about your plans to quit. Try to spend time with people who don't smoke and have quit who support your efforts. You can also suggest that those in your support system read our How To Help Someone Quit Smoking.


Help to quit smoking is as close as your smartphone. But it’s important to choose a program that’s based on recommendations that research has proven to work.

The National Cancer Institute has a quit-smoking app that allows users to set quit dates, track financial goals, schedule reminders, and more. It also offers text messaging that provides round-the-clock encouragement and advice to people trying to quit. You can sign up by texting “QUIT” to iQUIT (47848) and entering the date of your Quit Day – the day you will stop smoking.

Cold Turkey

Going cold turkey means that you stop smoking all at once. Even though people often say they quit cold turkey, usually they had thought about stopping before they actually did it. You have a better chance of success if you make a plan and prepare for nicotine withdrawal. Gradually smoking fewer cigarettes each day can help reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms and make it easier for some people to quit.

Electronic Cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are not approved by the FDA as aids to help quit smoking. This is because research findings about vaping have been mixed.

The long-term effects of e-cigarette use are not yet known. However, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are currently investigating an outbreak of lung illness and death among adults who used some types of e-cigarettes. Symptoms have included shortness of breath, coughing, or chest pain. Some patients reported nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or other stomach problems, as well as fever or fatigue. The CDC recommends the following:

  • If you use e-cigarette or vaping products, do not buy them “off the street” and do not change anything or add anything to the products you buy.
  • If you are concerned about these health risks, consider not using any e-cigarette or vaping products.
  • If you are an adult who used e-cigarette or vaping products containing nicotine to quit cigarette smoking, do not return to smoking cigarettes. See a healthcare provider right away if you experience any of the symptoms listed above.

Bottom Line

One of the most important things researchers have learned about quitting smoking is that the person who smokes needs to keep trying. It may take several serious attempts before a person who smokes can quit forever. Rather than looking at a slip back to smoking as a failure, consider it an opportunity to learn from experience and be better prepared to quit the next time.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Quitting is important, but it isn’t easy. Join us on November 16 for the American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout® event, and harness the energy of millions of people taking steps to kick the habit.