Quitting Smoking: the Stages

Quitting is hard.  It usually takes 2-3 attempts, sometimes more, before finally being successful; but, each time you try to quit, you can learn more about what helps you and what hurts you during the quitting process. This helps prepare you for the next time you want to quit.

Making the decision to quit can sometimes be the hardest step. Most of us are able to identify that smoking and tobacco use is harmful to our health, and we may even express our desire to quit; in fact, nearly 35 million (69%) of smokers want to quit each year. Approximately 50% of smokers attempt to quit each year; however only 1/3 of smokers who are trying to quit use counseling services or medication to help with the process. Research has shown that these resources can help double your chances of being successful! [19, 20]

Following are the stages of quitting which some of you may identify with, consider yourself to be in, or would like to start at:

Denial and Acceptance

Smokers often deny that smoking is a problem. Before you are thinking about quitting it is difficult to accept that smoking is affecting your health. This difficulty with acceptance is called “denial”. Denial may continue until you have a negative personal experience related to smoking including poor health, illness of loved ones, or other related triggers that may influence you to quit. When this happens, it is common to realize the negative impact smoking may have on your life, and this often leads to acceptance and consideration of quitting smoking.

Contemplation and Planning

When you are ready to consider quitting, you want to make a change and you see smoking as a problem. Whether it’s financially, physically, or emotionally affecting your life, you are ready to take the next steps to develop a plan to quit. Your quit plan is one of the most important steps in the process of quitting. It involves identifying your triggers and re-learning your habits without cigarettes; educating yourself on what dependence is, how it works, and identifying a possible quitting aid; lastly it is important to reach out to your support system and talk with your family and friends about your decision to quit. 

Action, Maintenance, and Relapse

The last three stages of quitting include action, maintenance, and relapse. As you are carrying out your identified quit plan, you are in the active stage. You are no longer smoking and you have officially quit.  The maintenance stage involves working to continue your quit plan while continuing not to smoke. You may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms during this stage, so managing withdrawal symptoms is one of the battles you may face during this time. Relapse, or starting to smoke again after trying to quit, is very common. Many people start smoking again to stop withdrawal symptoms that they are experiencing. This is why it is so important to be prepared and include ways to manage withdrawal symptoms as part of your quit plan. It is very common to cycle through the stages of quitting many times before succeeding with quitting. Quitting is not easy, there is no sugar coating it.

Ending the Cycle

There is no doubt that you will be tempted and have a strong desire to start smoking again during your path to quitting. We recommend that when you have a strong desire to smoke, you go back and think about why you decided to quit in the first place, including your personal reasons, and the health benefits of quitting. If you relapse, you are not alone; nearly half of the people who quit smoking go back to it within a year. We recommend that you use your past experience to improve your chances for success when you try quitting again. [10, 21]