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How to Walk Away from Tobacco

Image  of used cigarettes.
U.S. Army photo by Rachel Larue

Quitting tobacco is hard. In fact, it’s common for people to relapse several times before kicking the habit completely. Whether your preference is lighting a cigarette or using a smokeless variety, tobacco can be difficult to part with.

As bad habits go, smoking is pretty common: More than 15 percent of Americans use cigarettes.

Quitting can have huge benefits for your health. Those who stop smoking experience lower blood pressure, reduce coughing and phlegm, and decrease their risk of cancer and heart disease.

"After several years of quitting smoking, the risk of cancer and heart disease is lowered as compared to if the individual continued to smoke," said Dr. Briana Todd, a clinical psychologist for the Deployment Health Clinical Center (DHCC). "There are some health factors that can 'begin to return to normal' like blood pressure and heart rate after quitting smoking."

Smoking is not only unhealthy, it’s expensive. According to a report by the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, tobacco use costs $300 million in medical expenses and $150 million in lost productivity on a national level. Smoking a pack of cigarettes a week can cost about $345 annually and smoking a pack a day can cost $2,423 a year.

“For some who are maybe thinking about quitting it can be helpful to think about what else you can use that money for,” said Todd.

The Path to Quitting

Even if you’re well aware of the benefits that come with quitting, you may still struggle with the idea of not smoking, Todd recommended a multi-step approach to quitting tobacco:

  • Motivate yourself. Consider your motivation for quitting, including the negative effects tobacco use has had on you, how quitting will benefit you, and what obstacles you will face as you try to quit.
  • Prepare.
    • Pick a date and time to quit. Setting a start date can help you get over procrastination about quitting.
    • Visit your health care provider. A provider may help you plan out a course for quitting, or prescribe medications to help you quit.
    • Decide how you’ll quit. One of the most common approaches is to gradually reduce your tobacco use. You can try lowering the frequency of your smoking or reducing the amount you smoke at one time. You may eventually reach a point where you can stop entirely.
    • Consider your past attempts to quit. What did you learn about quitting that can help you this time?
    • Identify how tobacco use affects you emotionally. What other methods could you use to manage your emotions? For example, if you smoke to relax, Breathe2Relax is a mobile app that teaches you breathing skills to manage stressful emotions.
  • Take Action. A variety of resources and strategies are available to you when you quit.
    • Identify alternatives to smoking. When the urge to smoke arises, replace it with another activity, such as taking a mint, stretching or doing a puzzle.
    • Alter your environment. Identify places, foods and people that may trigger your desire to smoke, and then distance yourself from those situations.
    • Tell people you’ve quit. This can reinforce your efforts by keeping you accountable. Having a network of support and encouragement can help you get through the urges.
    • The StayQuit app from the National Center for Telehealth & Technology is a good resource, as is the national quit line: 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
    • Online resources such as UCanQuit2 have useful tips and tools for easing out of your tobacco habit.
  • Prevent Relapse.
    • Think like a non-smoker. Have activities other than tobacco in mind for when you feel tempted. Re-enforce your commitment to stop smoking with statements such as, “I don’t actually need tobacco.”
    • Be prepared for nicotine relapse symptoms. Reactions to a reduction in nicotine may include weight gain, fatigue, frustration and anxiety, among other symptoms. Be prepared to face some unpleasant effects, such as irritability, cravings, having trouble concentrating, after you’ve stopped smoking.
    • Review why you quit. Remind yourself how quitting has benefitted you. What successes have you had?

If you do relapse, don’t give up. On average, it takes four to six attempts to successfully quit tobacco. Failing once doesn’t mean you won’t succeed next time. 

“It takes multiple times for most individuals to be successful in quitting tobacco. That is normal and that is OK,” Todd said.

The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury has more blog posts for those interested in quitting tobacco use.

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This page was last updated on: September 14, 2017.