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What It’s Like to Quit Smoking

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Each Quit Attempt Is a Step Forward

If you or a loved one are among the 34 million U.S. adults who smoke cigarettes in this country,1 and want to quit smoking, either for the first time or to make another attempt, do not give up, and know that you are not alone. 

Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, accounting for 480,000 premature deaths per year.2 While knowledge of the negative health effects of tobacco use can be helpful on the path to quitting smoking, it’s also important to be aware that many people who smoke do not quit for good on their first attempt and need several tries before they succeed. 

What keeps people smoking even when they know cigarettes are harmful to their health? Nicotine, the highly addictive drug present in tobacco products. Cigarettes are designed to deliver nicotine quickly to the brain and is the main reason that people continue to use tobacco even when they want to quit.3 

Woman breaking a cigarette

In 2015, nearly 70 percent of current adult smokers in the United States said they wanted to quit.4 In 2018, about 55 percent of adult smokers had made a quit attempt in the past year, but only about 8 percent were successful in quitting for 6-12 months.5

While it may take several attempts to quit for good, remember that even small successes are wins. For instance, you may find that the next time you try to quit, you are able to go longer without a cigarette than the last time; or you might discover exercise helps to stave off your cravings. Each time you make a quit attempt, you learn new techniques to implement and move one step closer to being able to call yourself a “former smoker.”

The First Couple Days After Quitting

It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about your quit plan as they may have advice on how to quit smoking that’s best for your situation. However, here’s a couple of things to keep in mind during the first few days after quitting smoking. 

When you first quit smoking, you may feel some discomfort as the nicotine leaves your system. Having an awareness of the symptoms you could experience will help you to know what to expect and plan for ways you might handle them. After quitting smoking, you may experience temporary depression; disrupted sleep patterns; irritability; anxiety; difficulty concentrating; increased appetite.6 While uncomfortable, these symptoms should only last a few weeks. 

One other thing to be aware of as you begin your quit journey is that many people who used to smoke find that certain places, occasions, and behaviors—such as drinking coffee, going out with friends, or particularly stressful events—can bring up an urge to smoke even after withdrawal symptoms have ended.7 Noticing these situations and making a plan to divert your urge to smoke can help you on your way to living a completely smoke-free life.

Quitting is possible. Each quit attempt is not in vain, but rather, can be thought of as practice for quitting for good. With every attempt, you learn more about yourself,8 including what techniques work for you to help you stave off cravings. Each of these practice tries gets you that much closer to quitting cigarettes forever.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy

When talking with your doctor, they may mention something called nicotine replacement therapy, also referred to as NRT. You may know them better as the FDA-approved therapies such as nicotine skin patches, gum, and lozenges that can help you through the initial part of quitting, by relieving cravings and lessening withdrawal symptoms. 

When you use NRTs, you receive measured amounts of nicotine without the toxic chemicals from cigarette smoke. When used properly, NRTs are safe and effective cessation methods and can double the chances of quitting cigarettes successfully.9

woman with nicotine patch on arm

Even if you’ve attempted to quit smoking with NRTs before, you may consider trying again because experimenting with different NRT options could help in finding what works for you. NRTs are considered safe enough that multiple methods10—for instance the patch and the gum—can be used at the same time. You may start using NRT prior to quitting cigarettes,11 which could help you avoid some of the initial symptoms that sometimes occur when first quitting. 

NRTs are available both by prescription and over-the-counter for adults age 18 and over, and include:

  • Skin patches that deliver nicotine through the skin
  • Nicotine gum that releases nicotine as you chew it
  • Nicotine lozenges that dissolve in your mouth

Telephone quit line counseling is another effective strategy, and combining counseling with NRTs can be more successful for quitting smoking than nicotine replacement therapy alone.12

You’re a Step Closer Already

Hopefully this information provided you with a point to start or continue on your path to quitting smoking or helping out a loved one. Know that there are resources to help you on your journey to living a smoke-free life. 

Audience: Public Health Professionals, Healthcare Providers, Educators, Family & Advocates

Topics: Cessation, Cigarettes, Science & Research