Most people who smoke decide to quit at some point. But putting this plan into action isn’t that easy. You usually need to try a few times before you succeed. Preparing well – for instance by making use of self-help materials, websites, telephone services and courses to quit smoking – can help.
Most smokers who try to quit do it without seeking help. They want to succeed through sheer willpower. And most of them manage to quit at some point. Accepting help isn’t a sign of weakness, though. Quitting smoking is always a remarkable achievement, regardless of how you do it.
Personal motivation is a key factor in the decision to quit smoking and stick to it. Various types of support such as telephone counseling or courses to quit smoking can help to put the decision into practice.
How you feel about quitting is important too: Someone who finds it liberating because they can now get by without cigarettes will have an easier time than someone who sees it as having to give something up.
What can motivate you to quit smoking?
Smokers have a lot of different reasons for quitting smoking. Many wish to do something for their health and physical appearance. The fear of becoming seriously ill from smoking is usually the number one factor. Wanting to become more physically fit and look healthier is another common reason.
Some would like to quit because they don't want to be dependent on an addictive substance and see their habit as a personal weakness. Anyone who starts feeling restless and nervous without their cigarettes knows how unpleasant nicotine cravings can be.
Others are motivated by their family: They want to quit to avoid harming the health of their family members, or because they want to be a role model to their children or grandchildren.
Other reasons are more practical – for example, nowadays smoking involves having to go outside more than it used to. Also, fewer people smoke and cigarettes in general have lost some of their allure.
Last but not least, quitting can help you save money – our calculator can show you how much.
How can you prepare to quit smoking?
Once you have made the decision to quit, it is a good idea to carefully prepare. This can help you to resist temptation. You might want to try
- setting a date to stop smoking: A good time is one to two weeks after making the decision. This allows enough time to get used to the idea of quitting smoking.
- telling family, friends or coworkers about your decision: Then they'll probably be more understanding if they notice that you're more irritable than usual or don’t join them for a cigarette break. If others know about your plans, that may help you stick to them. Plus, you will no longer be offered any cigarettes.
- getting rid of all of your cigarettes: It's advisable to get rid of all of the cigarettes you have at home, at work, or lying around in your office or car. Keeping "emergency" cigarettes on hand isn’t a very good idea because easy access to cigarettes increases the odds that you will smoke them.
- setting milestones and rewarding yourself: If you've managed to – for instance – go one month without smoking, you could treat yourself to something nice, like going out to eat or buying new clothes.
- thinking up strategies to overcome obstacles: for example, when coping with withdrawal symptoms or with typical situations when you would have smoked.
It can also be helpful to learn from failed attempts: Why didn't my last attempt work? What else can I try to help me quit for good this time?
What can you do when you feel the urge to smoke?
When you start quitting, you will soon feel the urge to have a cigarette. This is because your body doesn’t get its usual dose of nicotine, and it’s also hard to break habits like smoking. A number of things can help you cope better, including the following:
- Be aware that the urge will pass.
- Find an alternative activity, like chewing gum.
- Avoid situations where you would usually have smoked – or make a conscious effort to do something else in those situations.
- Realize that quitting doesn't mean you're missing out on something, but that you're now free.
What’s more, withdrawal symptoms can be reduced by using nicotine replacement therapy or medicine for quitting smoking. People who use these are more likely to quit smoking.
Some people also try sports or relaxation techniques. These can help to distract or calm you, and can help prevent possible weight gain. But there hasn't been enough research on whether they can increase your chances of quitting.
What types of support are available?
Many people seek support once they have made the decision to quit smoking. Their family doctor is often their first stop, and can answer questions about quitting. Other possible sources of support include the following:
In Germany, free (German-language) self-help materials designed to help people quit smoking are available from the Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA). They include things like information leaflets with tips and tricks, and a motivational calendar. You can order these materials from their website www.rauchfrei-info.de.
Online or telephone support
BZgA also offers a free online program designed to make it easier to quit. There you can find out things like what can help you to stay away from cigarettes once you have quit. They also offer help over the telephone free of charge. To enhance your motivation and support, you can request that an advisor call you back several times. Information on these offers is also available at www.rauchfrei-info.de.
Courses to help people quit smoking
Group courses for people who want to quit smoking are another option. In cooperation with BZgA, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) has created a database that you can search to find these sorts of courses near you. It is available at www.anbieter-raucherberatung.de (in German). Some health insurers cover part of the costs of such courses.
What can be expected of treatments like acupuncture?
Some people prefer traditional Chinese medicine approaches such as acupuncture, herbal medicines like St. John's wort or psychological approaches such as hypnosis. There isn’t much good research on most of these treatments, though.
A recent analysis of 38 studies on conventional acupuncture with needles, acupressure, as well as laser and electro acupuncture produced contradictory results. So it remains unclear whether any of these interventions increases the chances of successfully quitting smoking in the long term.
St. John's wort has only been tested in two good-quality studies. There it didn't increase the likelihood of successfully quitting smoking. Hypnosis hasn’t been shown to be effective in any studies so far, either. Overall, more high-quality research is needed in order to better assess the effectiveness of these treatment options.
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Cahill K, Lindson-Hawley N, Thomas KH, Fanshawe TR, Lancaster T. Nicotine receptor partial agonists for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2016; (5): CD006103.
Edwards SA, Bondy SJ, Callaghan RC, Mann RE. Prevalence of unassisted quit attempts in population-based studies: a systematic review of the literature. Addict Behav 2014; 39(3): 512-519.
Hughes JR, Stead LF, Hartmann-Boyce J, Cahill K, Lancaster T. Antidepressants for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2014; (1): CD000031.
Patnode CD, Henderson JT, Thompson JH, Senger CA, Fortmann SP, Whitlock EP. Behavioral Counseling and Pharmacotherapy Interventions for Tobacco Cessation in Adults, Including Pregnant Women: A Review of Reviews for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. September 2015. (AHRQ Evidence Syntheses; Volume 134).
Smith AL, Carter SM, Dunlop SM, Freeman B, Chapman S. The views and experiences of smokers who quit smoking unassisted. A systematic review of the qualitative evidence. PLoS One 2015; 10(5): e0127144.
Stead LF, Perera R, Bullen C, Mant D, Hartmann-Boyce J, Cahill K et al. Nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012; (11): CD000146.
White AR, Rampes H, Liu JP, Stead LF, Campbell J. Acupuncture and related interventions for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2014; (1): CD000009.
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