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How to quit smoking?

Published 6 June 2006. Updated 2 November 2010.

How to live without smoking? Smoking is often thought of as a physical addiction, but it also involves psychological and social needs. The phenomenon could also be seen from the point of view of behaviour and of being human. The habit of smoking has been given personal meanings in the routines of everyday life. It is easier to grasp the concept if you consciously think about the routines connected to smoking. In addition, certain situations are known to arise just after you have quit smoking.

Quitting smoking is a time-consuming process. The more thoroughly you prepare, the greater your chance of successfully becoming smoke-free. Your own motivation is your most important tool in quitting smoking. You can prepare for quitting by changing your routines. If you have always used a lighter, make things a bit more difficult by switching to matches. Limit the amount of cigarettes you carry with you or smoke only half of them. Even cutting down on the number of cigarettes you smoke is beneficial for your health, as the amounts of toxic substances and carbon monoxide you are exposed to are decreased. When preparing for the difficulties you may face after quitting, it is a good idea to take the nicotine addiction test (in Finnish only).

It is not common to succeed in quitting smoking without preparations or withdrawal symptoms. Facing daily life without this one constant habit is a big change. It takes some getting used to. Smoking may have played a great part in many important experiences and situations in your life. The same situations without cigarettes will be different. Think about the pluses and minuses smoking means for you, and what sort of expectations you have about living smoke-free. Also think about what kinds of situations in which you most commonly smoke. This will help you to identify risks in advance and plan ways to avoid temptation. If you have tried unsuccessfully to quit smoking in the past, this would be a good time to think about what went wrong and what lessons you could learn. You can turn your difficulties from last time to your advantage using this approach. It’s worth writing down your reasons for quitting smoking on a piece of paper to reinforce them in your mind.

Every year, almost a third of daily smokers in Finland try to quit, so you are not alone. Do you know any ex-smokers? Ask them to tell about their experiences. Find peer support from other quitters, for example from a support group or online. Tell your friends and family that you are quitting – make a conscious decision to let social pressure help you stick with your decision. A health care worker or a pharmacy staff member can also assist you. Find out about nicotine replacement therapies and prescription drugs for reducing the craving to smoke.

Be realistic about the time and effort needed. Sometimes it will feel easy, at other times it will be tough. You usually go through the risk phases during the first year. You could compare quitting smoking to a journey or long-distance running. One often becomes a smoker without consciously deciding to do so: over time, you just begin to smoke more cigarettes more often. You are more likely to succeed if you quit smoking once and for all, rather than go on a “smoking strike” and leave yourself a psychological backdoor for starting again.

Set a date for yourself when you intend to quit smoking, but don’t put off the decision longer than a month. Choose a time when you won’t have other additional stresses in your life like a heavy stretch at work, exams or other events that will test your nerves. Tell your family, your friends and your colleagues that you intend to quit smoking on that date. If you want, you can draw up a written contract with yourself that states your quitting date. It is vitally important to receive support in quitting, so think about what kind of support you will need and where you can get it from. Talk it over with your spouse or partner. Together, go over practical things that affect your decision: free time activities, any withdrawal symptoms, the need for discussion and encouragement, and the ground rules if your other half smokes and wants to continue. On the night before your quitting day, get rid of all your smoking accessories. Don’t leave yourself a back door.

Some of the reasons for starting smoking are social. Could you use some similar reasons, for example the health of those around you, as a conscious motivation for quitting? You could think about how smoking has been a part of your life. Has it been part of concentrating and thinking or perhaps dating? Perhaps your relationship with cigarettes has changed over the years. Do you recognise smoking as a way of dealing with new or difficult situations, stress or negative feelings? A habit like smoking is often used to bring structure to one’s days. It makes time management more predictable and helps to deal with those moments when you have nothing much to do. Which habit could have similar functions in the future? Smoking can be part of your identity. It may even “look good”. How will you feel about yourself when you quit smoking? Will you initially become more tense, as you are used to controlling your feelings by smoking? Life is changing and it’s good to be prepared for it.

In addition to the large-scale benefits for quality of life and health, you should find more immediate, short-term benefits for quitting. Different things may motivate you at different stages of the quitting process. Kicking a long-term habit, saving money and feeling good may encourage you, but your level of motivation may also vary according to your mood and external factors. Support from your loved ones is most helpful at the early stages. That is why you should find reasons for quitting that are truly important to you. You can for example list pros and cons of smoking and grade them at different stages of the quitting process: when you make the decision to quit, when you stop smoking, and every month after that.

After the initial struggles, your everyday life continues. You will continue to run into smoking as a phenomenon, in the messages in your environment and through values. You may need to revise your own opinions. You will probably hit some rough spots. Will you reach into your pocket and pull out the piece of paper on which you wrote down all the negative things related to smoking? It is good to be prepared for moments of temptation. Are you most likely to crave a cigarette after a sauna, at the cash desk, in a restaurant, or when you are alone and relaxing? Even the strongest craving will only last for a moment or two. Think of ways to fill the empty moments in your day. Keep other interests on hand. Buy some chewing gum. Keep a book with you. Call a friend. Relive the most disgusting memory you have involving cigarettes. Setting yourself in motion may help curb the craving: drink a glass of water or take a short walk. Quitting is, after all, a question of rejecting one cigarette at a time.

Kirsi Utoslahti
Communications officer,
A-Clinic Foundation

Updated 2 November 2010:
Juha Sedergren,

References & information and support for quitting smoking

Kristiina Patja, Karin Iivonen Eija Aatela: Pystyt kyllä – eroon tupakasta. (You can do it – quitting smoking) Kustannus Oy Duodecim 2005.


Information and support for quitting smoking:


Stumppi – a free helpline for smoking quitters 0800 148 484 (Mon-Tue 10–18, Thur 13–16), groups for quitters – support for quitting smoking