How to Quit Smoking

close up of hands breaking a cigarette in half

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, there have been more than 21 million deaths 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 like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It raises the risk for heart attack, stroke, blood vessel diseases, and eye diseases. Half of all smokers who keep smoking will eventually die from a smoking-related illness.

That’s why it’s so important to quit. And 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, mostly because nicotine, a drug found naturally in tobacco, is so addictive. Even so, millions of Americans have quit with help, and you can, too.

People have used many different methods to quit. Here is what the research tells us about how well they work:

Medications

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 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 of these medications are available over-the-counter at most pharmacies and can be helpful in easing the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal when used as directed.

  • Nicotine gum
  • Nicotine patches
  • Nicotine lozenges

Four other 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

Counseling combined with medication makes it even more likely than using medication alone 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 providers.
  • Telephone quitlines: 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 us at 1-800-227-2345 to get help finding a phone counseling program in your area.
  • Support groups have helped many smokers 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.
  • Smokers 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 non-smokers and ex-smokers who support your efforts. You can also suggest that those in your support system read our dos and don’ts for helping a smoker quit.

Apps

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

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 a text messaging service 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 ex-smokers 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 supposed to be sold to help quit smoking and are not regulated by the FDA. Still, many smokers view them as quit aids.

The overall safety of e-cigarettes is also unknown and is being studied. Electronic cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery devices (or ENDS) are a hot research topic.

Bottom Line

One of the most important things researchers have learned about quitting smoking is that the smoker needs to keep trying. It may take several serious attempts before a smoker can quit forever. Rather than looking at a slip back to smoking as a failure, it should be considered 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 master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, 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.


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