The Process of Quitting Tobacco

Posted November 12, 2010

“Don't tell me why to quit, tell me how to quit.”

Although there is no one-size-fits-all way to quit smoking, medical science has yielded important evidence in understanding the critical components associated with successful tobacco cessation. There are four components in the process:

  1. making the decision to quit
  2. choosing a quit strategy
  3. attaining maximum support
  4. setting a quit date

I. Making the decision to quit

The decision to quit tobacco use is one that only you can make. Others may rant and try to push you to quit, but the motivation and commitment must come from you.

Research shows that you will be more likely to quit tobacco if:

  • you are tired of organizing your life around your addiction
  • you believe that your tobacco use is harming your family
  • you believe that you could get a life-threatening disease
  • you believe that the benefits of stopping are worthwhile and valuable
  • you believe that your family and friends will support you in the process

II. Choosing a quit strategy

There are many reputable tobacco cessation programs. The American Heart Association and The American Lung Association offer programs. Ask your doctor about treatment. If he is not experienced in tobacco cessation, ask him for a referral. The best available evidence shows that combination therapy under medical supervision offers the best chance for success. Components of therapy include nicotine replacement, Zyban® (medication only available by prescription) and supportive therapy with a behavioral health professional. 

Zyban® is a prescription medication that helps reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms and the urge to smoke. Nicotine-replacement products deliver small, steady doses of nicotine into the body, which helps to relieve the withdrawal symptoms. Nicotine-replacement products are available in patches, gum, nasal sprays, lozenges and inhalers and appear to be equally effective.

In a study, Zyban® helped 49 percent of smokers quit for at least a month. In the same study, 36 percent of nicotine patch users were able to quit for a month. When both methods were used, 58 percent of smokers were able to remain smoke-free for more than a month.

III. Attaining maximum support

Invite a family member, trusted friend or co-workers to take this journey with you. You will need them because cravings for nicotine can be overwhelming. It is best to have at least two to three people you can count on, especially when you feel vulnerable. Be sure to describe how they can support you and how often they should call or meet with you.

IV. Setting a quit date

Picking a quit date is a very important step. It shows commitment. Don’t choose a date too far in the future because it may give you time to change your mind. But do give yourself enough time to adequately prepare. Some people choose a date that has a special meaning such as a birthday or anniversary. If you are under medical supervision, your doctor can assist in this decision. Circle the date on your calendar, tell your loved ones and don’t look back.

If you have made the decision to quit but are still confused about the process, contact your doctor. He or she can be a great resource in walking you through the process and in finding a program and qualified professionals in your community.


American Cancer Society
(800) ACS-2345

American Heart Association
(800) 242-1793 (call center) or (800) 242-1793

American Lung Association
(800) 586-4872 or (212) 315-8700

National Cancer Institute
Cancer Information Service
(800) 4-CANCER or (800) 422-6237


By Drew Edwards, EdD, MS
© 2005-2010 Achieve Solutions

Sources: Gold, M.S., Edwards, D.W. (2000). Treating cigarette smokers in 2000. Your Patient & Fitness, 14 (4) 6-11; “The Health Benefits of Smoking Cessation: A Report of the Surgeon General,” 1990.