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How to Stop Smoking Cigarettes and Tobacco Products

If you're looking to quit smoking cigarettes and tobacco products, start here. We know it’s a tough road, but there are now many research-backed tools available to help you kick the tobacco habit for good.

Cigarettes are probably the first things that come to mind when you think of tobacco products, but cigars, dip, pipes and e-cigarettes (vaping) also fall under the tobacco umbrella. (Even though there's no tobacco in vaping, there's nicotine, so it's still considered a tobacco product.)

Smoking tobacco products damages almost every organ in the body, which is why the health benefits of quitting smoking are exponential and begin the minute you extinguish your last tobacco product.

These statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlight just how prevalent smoking still is in America:

  • After decades of education on the dangers of smoking, almost 40 million adults in the United States smoke cigarettes.
  • When it comes to younger age groups, more than 3 million students in middle and high schools in America use at least one tobacco product.
  • Using tobacco products is still the top cause of preventable disease, disability and death in America.
  • Each year, nearly 500,000 Americans die prematurely of smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related serious illness.

Read on to see the health benefits of quitting cigarettes and tobacco products and a variety of evidence-based ways to finally stop smoking. Consider this your first step to a tobacco-free life.

What happens when you quit smoking?

There's a lot going on in your body after you quit smoking. According to the American Lung Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Your heart rate drops within 20 minutes of putting your last cigarette out.
  • 12 to 24 hours after quitting smoking, the carbon monoxide level in your blood decreases to a normal level, and your heart attack risk is drastically decreased as well.
  • Within 2 weeks to 3 months of quitting, your heart attack risk continues to go down, and your lungs are able to function better than before.
  • In the 1 to 9 months after quitting, you'll cough less and find that you're breathless less often.
  • After 1 to 2 years of being tobacco-free, your heart attack risk is greatly reduced.
  • In the 5 to 10 years after quitting, your stroke risk is greatly reduced. and your risk for cancers of the mouth, throat and voice box is half that of a smoker’s.
  • 10 years after quitting, your chance of dying from lung cancer is half that of a smoker's.
  • 15 years after quitting, your heart disease risk is roughly equivalent to that of a nonsmoker.
  • 20 years after quitting, your risk of mouth, throat, voice box and pancreatic cancers drops to about that of a nonsmoker and your risk for cervical cancer is halved.

Everyone in your life will also reap the benefits when you quit smoking, as it's the best way to protect loved ones from second- and third-hand smoke.

How to stop smoking cigarettes and tobacco products

It's never too late to stop smoking. The sooner you do it, the better, but even people who smoke for many years will benefit from quitting.

The first step — and it's a big one — is to really want to quit. You need to be ready and make a plan. Think about it: Why do you want to quit? It could be for your mental, physical or financial health, or for other reasons entirely.

Whatever your reasons, write them down so you can revisit them easily.

Keeping the reasons you want to quit at the top of your mind may help you stay the course when things get tough.

Then, you'll want to set a quit date. A firm end date gives you a definitive conclusion to your time smoking.

Once you've got your reasons written down and your set quit date, it’s time to take actionable steps to stop smoking. Deciding how you’re going to quit smoking in advance of your quit date can help you have a plan in place for those days when you’re craving a cigarette.

If you don't know where to start, here are 4 ways to quit smoking cigarettes and tobacco products:

Talk to a quit-smoking counselor

Free coaching is available through telephone quitlines, such as 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669), which will direct you toward state programs across the country.

Other resources include:

  • The National Cancer Institute quitline at 877-448-7848
  • The American Cancer Society quitline at 800-227-2345

There are many free online, app and text resources too, including:

You can also talk to your doctor to find out what tools may help you quit smoking and have them connect you to stop smoking programs and resources.

Tapping into these resources may help you choose the quit smoking method(s) that's right for you.

Cold turkey and tapering off

Some smokers have had success cutting back on cigarettes in advance of their quit date, while others go "cold turkey," or quitting abruptly on a set quit date. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages.

In a 2016 Annals of Internal Medicine study of about 700 adult smokers, those who went cold turkey were more likely to be successful quitters than their counterparts who cut down on cigarettes by 75% over 2 weeks. People in both groups were offered nicotine patches and a choice of short-acting nicotine replacement gum, lozenges, nasal spray, sublingual tablets, inhalers or mouth spray.

Support groups

Whether virtual or in-person, support groups may help you quit smoking and are available everywhere. These groups can help you stay accountable. You can also swap tips and vent with others, which can help you overcome the physical, mental and social aspects of your smoking addiction.

The American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking support group program has helped millions of people kick the smoking habit for good. Studies show that people who participate in this program are 6 times more likely to still be nonsmokers a year later than those who quit on their own. Up to 60% of the program participants have quit by the end of the program when they also use stop-smoking medication.

The program is made up of 8 sessions with a certified facilitator and a group of 8 to 16 people. It includes a step-by-step plan for quitting. There's no one-size-fits-all technique, which is why Freedom From Smoking highlights many strategies.

Stop smoking programs and support groups are also offered by hospitals, health departments and local community centers. Find out about programs near you by asking your healthcare provider, employer or local health department. Check in with your insurance provider to understand what's available and covered.

Medications

Several types of medications are available to help you quit smoking tobacco.

Nicotine replacement therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) includes patches, gums, nasal sprays, inhalers and lozenges.

These quit-smoking aids contain nicotine without the other dangerous chemicals. They help take the edge off when you're no longer smoking by satisfying nicotine cravings without the other harmful substances.

Research has found that using nicotine replacement therapy can nearly double the chances of successfully quitting smoking. You can start nicotine replacement therapy the minute you put out your last cigarette.

You can combine nicotine patches plus lozenges or gum for an even greater chance for success. Here's how you can start:

  • Step 1: Put on a new nicotine patch every morning for a steady dose of nicotine to keep cravings and withdrawal symptoms at bay throughout the day.
  • Step 2: Use fast-acting nicotine medicine like lozenges or gum to combat cravings quickly.

Add counseling to the mix for the best chance of quitting for good. These treatments and resources may be available for free or covered by insurance.

Varenicline (Chantix)

Varenicline (Chantix) is another medication that may help you quit smoking. It's not a nicotine replacement therapy. Instead, it helps by attaching to the parts of the brain that respond to nicotine, helping to reduce your urge to smoke and dampening your enjoyment of cigarettes.

This medication gives you the best chance of quitting smoking for good. It's available by prescription and taken twice daily. Varenicline should start a week or more before your quit date and gradually reduce how much you smoke in advance of your quit day.

To help prevent nausea (one of its side effects), this medication is best paired with food (a meal or a snack) or a full glass of water.

Possible side effects of varenicline include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sleep issues
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Mood changes

Bupropion (Zyban)

Bupropion (Zyban) is another prescription medication to help quit smoking.

Taken twice a day, bupropion is started the 2 weeks before your quit date. It doesn't contain nicotine. It's also sold under the brand name Wellbutrin® for depression. This medication could have added benefits for people who are depressed. Bupropion may be combined with nicotine patches under a healthcare provider’s care.

Side effects of bupropion include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Rash
  • Seizures
  • Nervousness
  • Trouble focusing
  • Mood or behavior changes

What to expect after you stop smoking

Quitting smoking isn't an overnight success story — consider it a marathon you need to train for, not a quick sprint. It takes time to break your addiction.

When quitting smoking cigarettes and tobacco products, you may experience certain nicotine withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Cravings to smoke
  • Mood changes
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Sleeping issues
  • Weight gain
  • Depression

Here's how to fight back against these withdrawal symptoms so you can stick to your no-smoking life.

Cravings to smoke: What to do?

Get a prescription for a quit-smoking medicine. Varenicline and bupropion are specialized drugs that may help take the edge off cravings physically and mentally.

Avoid triggers. Surround yourself with those who support your desire to quit. This may mean staying clear of your smoking buddies for a while. If consuming alcohol reduces your resolve, consider abstaining until you're over the hump. If your morning cup of coffee is a trigger, change up your a.m. routine. Remember: these changes or lifestyle restrictions won’t be forever.

Suck on a lollipop. If you miss doing something with your hands and mouth, sucking on a lollipop or chewing gum may help soothe your oral fixation.

Keep busy. Make plans so that you're busy throughout the day. Reach out to people in your support groups or others in your circle who have quit smoking for encouragement.

Reward yourself. Treat yourself to a massage or gift at each milestone. You should have some extra money in your wallet now because you're no longer buying cigarettes or other tobacco products.

Mind the danger zone. The first 7 to 10 days are usually the hardest. Most people who go back to smoking tobacco products do it in the first three months. Keep the list of reasons that you quit smoking nearby to reference when your willpower starts to weaken.

Mood changes: What to do?

It's normal to feel cranky and irritable as you cut back on nicotine. Being forewarned is being forearmed. In these moments, take a few deep breaths and focus on your reasons for quitting smoking.

Physical activity may help with feelings of anxiety. Take a walk around the block, go for a run, jump on your indoor bike or take an exercise class.

Try cutting back on caffeine too, as it may make you jumpy.

Trouble concentrating: What to do?

This is expected, so try not to dwell on it. Instead, try to choose activities and tasks that require less focus in the short term.

Sleeping issues: What to do?

It's normal to have trouble sleeping after you quit smoking. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to improve sleep quality and quantity. Practicing good sleep hygiene also helps. This includes:

  • Keeping your bedroom cool and dark
  • Avoiding caffeine after 2 p.m.
  • Not eating large meals before bed
  • Exercising regularly
  • Limiting screen time before bed (blue light from electronics has the potential to disrupt sleep)
  • If you're using a nicotine patch, remember to take it off an hour before you plan to go to bed, as sometimes nicotine may impact sleep

Weight gain: What to do?

The health risk of any weight you gain after you quit is likely far less than the health risks that are associated with cigarettes. Try to minimize any weight gain by:

  • Choosing healthy, low-calorie snacks
  • Moving more. Any physical activity may help combat weight gain. Find something you enjoy and try to do it daily.

Depression: What to do?

Keep an eye out for any symptoms of depression that may accompany quitting, especially if you're prone to depression. Bupropion, a quit-smoking medication, has added benefits for people who are depressed.

Being physically active may help boost your body's production of feel-good chemicals called endorphins, which can improve your mood naturally.

Talk to your doctor about depression treatment options.

Give yourself a break

If you have a setback and smoke one or two cigarettes, don't beat yourself up. Instead, go back to your list of reasons that you quit in the first place and hit reset.

It's not easy to quit smoking, but it's worth it, and you can do it. More than half of adults in the United States who smoked at one point have quit — join them.

References:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Smoking and Tobacco Use: Data and Statistics.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Benefits of Quitting.

American Lung Association (ALA): Benefits of Quitting.

Annals of Internal Medicine: Gradual Versus Abrupt Smoking Cessation: A Randomized, Controlled Noninferiority Trial.

U.S. National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus. Stop smoking support programs.

American Cancer Society. Nicotine Replacement Therapy to Help You Quit Tobacco.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Varenicline.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Bupropion SR.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Tips for Better Sleep.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): 7 Common Withdrawal Symptoms.

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