How to Quit Smoking and Using Tobacco

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2016

Many treatments and resources can help you stop using tobacco, including medications and counseling. But the first step in quitting is to commit to quit. Then, you need to set a plan. Having a plan increases your chances of quitting successfully. A strong plan will include:

  • A quit date

  • Plans for dealing with situations that make you to want to smoke or use tobacco

  • A support network

Talk with your doctor about putting together a treatment plan to help you quit. Remember, it may take several attempts to successfully quit tobacco use. Don’t give up.


Using medication can at least double your chances of quitting smoking. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several medications to treat nicotine addiction. If you have health insurance, medications to help you quit tobacco use may be covered.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). NRT is the most widely used medication for quitting. It has mild side effects and is available over the counter and by prescription. NRT lessens the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and cravings. Your doctor will help find the best dose for you based on your current smoking habits. NRT comes in several forms:

  • Gum

  • Lozenges

  • Skin patches

  • Inhalers

  • Nasal sprays

Bupropion (Wellbutrin, Zyban). This medication can reduce withdrawal symptoms. Common side effects include dry mouth and difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

Varenicline (Chantix). This medication reduces withdrawal symptoms and keeps you from enjoying nicotine if you start smoking again. Common side effects include nausea, vivid dreams, constipation, and drowsiness.


In addition to medication, counseling can be used to help with stopping tobacco use. Counseling increases your chances of successfully quitting. Your doctor can refer you to a professionally trained counselor or mental health therapist. A counselor can help you set up a tobacco-free environment and change behaviors and identify triggers that make you want to use tobacco. It is helpful for people who:

  • Have tried several times to quit but have not been successful

  • Experience severe feelings of anxiety or depression

  • Do not have enough support from family and friends to quit

  • Are dependent on alcohol or other substances

Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers cover different types of tobacco-quitting programs and offer different coverage levels. Talk with a nurse, social worker, or other member of your health care team to learn what may be covered through your insurance policy. If you do not have insurance, these people can help you explore other options.

Mobile apps

If you want a little extra help in stopping your tobacco use, you can try using a mobile app for your smartphone, laptop, or other mobile device. Studies have shown that using app  like this can help motivate you to reach your goal. There are a lot of apps available, but only some of them offer reliable, science-based support. Some apps actively try to encourage people to smoke more! Be sure to choose apps carefully, and when in doubt, ask your health care team for guidance. A list of a few mobile apps is located in the Resources to Help You Quit section.

Electronic cigarettes and other forms of tobacco

Some people think that switching to smoking electronic cigarettes will help them quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes are also known as e-cigarettes and vapor cigarettes. E-cigarettes vaporize a nicotine fluid, which mimics the smoke that comes from burning tobacco in traditional cigarettes. This is why some people refer to using e-cigarettes as “vaping.”

E-cigarettes are a relatively new product, and the market is changing rapidly. There are thousands of e-cigarette devices and liquids available. E-cigarettes are currently not regulated by the FDA. There are also no regulations or quality controls guiding the manufacturing of the devices. The FDA does not approve their use as a way of quitting smoking. In 2015, ASCO and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) issued a joint statement on electronic nicotine delivery systems or ENDS. ASCO and AACR agree that there is not enough scientific research to say that this is a safe and effective way to quit tobacco use and do not endorse their use as a quitting aid. More research is needed to understand if e-cigarettes can harm or improve health.

In addition to e-cigarettes, some people think about going from smoking cigarettes to smoking pipes or cigars instead. This is not an effective way to stop smoking. All forms of smoking tobacco, including pipes, cigars, and cigarillos, contain carcinogens and are not safe alternatives to cigarettes. Waterpipes, or hookahs, present the same dangers as other forms of tobacco smoking, even though the smoke is first passed through water. In fact, smoking through a waterpipe can expose you to higher amounts of toxins than smoking cigarettes.

Smokeless tobaccos, such as chewing tobacco, snuff, snus, and dissolved tobacco, are also not an effective way to stop tobacco use. Many people feel that smokeless tobacco is less dangerous than smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and cigarillos. However, even smokeless tobacco products contain nicotine and other chemicals that increase the risk of cancer, particularly oral cancer.

Have realistic expectations

Different people will have different experiences with stopping tobacco use. However, it is helpful to prepare yourself for the reality of what it is like to stop using tobacco.

When you first stop, you will likely experience the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include:

  • Urges to smoke

  • Irritability

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Restlessness

  • Increased appetite

  • Anxiety

  • Feeling depressed

These symptoms are usually at their strongest in the first few days after quitting. About 1 to 2 weeks after stopping, the symptoms will usually lessen. However, if you have a strong addiction to nicotine, these symptoms may last for weeks or months. Some people have mild withdrawal symptoms, whereas others have moderate or severe symptoms. The uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal often draw people back to tobacco use. Even many years after successfully quitting tobacco use, people have gone back to a smoking habit because they’ve been exposed to other people smoking. Overcoming a nicotine addiction can be a life-long process. Do not be afraid to ask for help and support coping with the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

More Information

Your Plan to Quit

Talking With Your Doctor About Your Tobacco Use