How to Quit Smoking Cigarettes for Free

We’ve all heard of that rare beast who decides one day to quit smoking and immediately does so cold turkey and successfully. If that’s you, congratulations!
For the rest of us mere mortals, it can be a little more complicated.  Here’s a “How to Quit Smoking for Free” guide for us regular people.

10 Steps to Prepare to Quit Smoking

Preparing to quit smoking is the foundation of a successful quit plan, and this period of preparation will drastically increase your chances of success.

(1) Set a quit date for two to four weeks away. Choose a firm and specific date, and if it is a meaningful date (a birthday or holiday), all the better, but try to choose a date no more than six weeks away. Preparation is a crucial component of a successful quit plan, and this period of preparation will drastically increase your chances of success.

(2) Learn about nicotine dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Check out this excellent nicotine withdrawal timeline and the Mayo Clinic’s overview of nicotine dependence for a start.

(3) Adjust your expectations. Are you expecting yourself to be perfect? What if you relapse? If you are not an immediate success–if you slip up–you have not failed. You can learn from each relapse, and remind yourself that it is all part of the process.

(4) Develop awareness of your smoking behavior and triggers. When and where do you always smoke? Before or after what events do you smoke? Who do you often smoke with? What emotions cause you to smoke? You can work through some of these questions here.

(5) Identify and gather your social supports. Who will cheer you on and encourage you? Who will be proud of you? Consider joining a support group, online or offline to increase your personal support in your journey to quit smoking. Also consider supportive locations, non-smoking places where you enjoy spending time, like the movies, bookstores, or a friend’s house.

(6) Start practicing breathing and relaxation exercises. Some of the best places to start are Harvard’s mini-relaxation exercises, this 3-minute mindful breathing meditation and this belly breathing video. (Keep an eye out for a future article here with more on breathing and relaxation exercises and techniques.)

(7) Evaluate your thoughts and challenge any unhelpful thinking patterns. Watch for negative thoughts like “I’ll never be able to quit smoking” or “It will be too hard” and form responses to these thoughts. Then practice them until they become almost automatic. Pay particular attention to thoughts that cause you to feel fear or ambivalence about quitting smoking. I strongly encourage you to use a CBT workbook like Mind Over Mood for this step and throughout your quitting process.

(8) Prepare a “rescue kit” with bottled water, hard candy, dental floss, gum, a copy of this article, and any other resources you might find helpful. (See the “Other Resources” section at the end of this article.)

(9) Plan strategies to minimize and cope with triggers and cravings. Read the following section of this article for coping strategies for quitting smoking and make note of those you connect with the most.

(10) The night before your quit date, remove all ashtrays, lighters, cigarettes, and other items you strongly associate with smoking. Bathe, put fresh sheets on the bed, and make sure you have plenty of clean laundry. It’s a fresh, clean start.

Quit Smoking – You’re Ready!

Your quit date is here and you have now quit smoking. Congratulations on day 1! To quit smoking successfully, be sure to do these five things:

(1) Lean on your supportive network and spend time in your favorite non-smoking places.

(2) Keep practicing your breathing and relaxation exercises daily.

(3) Continue to evaluate your thoughts and challenge any unhelpful thinking patterns. For example, when you catch yourself thinking, “I need a cigarette” you can then intentionally think, or even say, “I need a break” or “I need to step outside” or “I need some fresh air.”

(4) Consider a nicotine replacement or other product to help you get few the first few weeks. It’s not just patches and gum anymore. There are lozenges, toothpicks, and more!

(5) Use the following coping strategies and coping statements to get you through cravings. Here they are!

Strategies to Cope with Cravings

Substitute the physical hand-to-mouth motions of smoking with suckers or lollipops, or flossers or toothpicks.

Keep your hands busy. Knit, crochet, whittle, type, practice sign language, paint your nails, pick your nose, fondle yourself, whatever works!

Do any of these 115 coping skills to distract yourself from the nicotine craving.

Exercise. Walk or do crunches, or whatever works for you. This can help manage the craving while also easing worries about weight gain.

Keep your mouth busy. Chew gum, drink water, brush or floss your teeth, suck on lozenges, eat sunflower seeds (in the shell), chew on a straw, etc.

Use the breathing and relaxation techniques you’ve been practicing.

Use the following coping statements. Think them, say them, read them, repeat them.

Coping Statements to Deal with Cravings
Take a breath. Just breathe.
I am going to breathe slowly until I know what to do.
Stay focused on the present. What do I need to do right now?
Cravings usually pass within 5 minutes. I can hang on for 5 minutes.
Fighting this doesn’t help, so I’ll relax and breathe through it.
This feeling isn’t comfortable, but I can handle it.
Feeling tense is natural. It tells me it’s time to use coping strategies.
It won’t always be this bad. It will get better.
This feeling will go away.
I’m making progress.
I can handle this.
I’ve survived hard times before, and I will survive this, too.
My life matters.
This will pass. Cravings are temporary.
I’m stronger than I think.
I can use my coping skills to get through this.
I can learn from this and it will be easier next time.
I will get through this.
I’ve done this before so I can do it again.
I am in charge, not my addiction.
No matter how bad it gets, I can do it.
I’ll be glad I did it when this is over.
I’ll feel so much better when this craving passes.
I can do this.
It will get better. It always does.
It will soon be over.
It won’t last much longer.
This isn’t as bad as I thought.
I am not my addiction.
Better health and more money are coming my way.

Bonus Tip: Set up small rewards along your quitting journey, and reward yourself for your successes.

See here for The Big List of Coping Skills

What to Do if You Relapse

It is important to remember that quitting smoking is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes you may stumble along the way, but you can choose to get back up and keep going. Give yourself credit for your success so far, and notice that you’ve gone longer without smoking than you could have imagined a few months or a few years ago. Look at how far you’ve come!

Thinking of a relapse as a failure is not only untrue, but it also contributes to self-criticism and negative emotions, which sap your energy and motivation. You deserve better. You can only relapse if you’ve tried to quit, and any attempt to quit smoking is an improvement over not trying at all.

So, pick yourself up, reach out to your supportive peeps, don’t believe those negative thoughts, and use these coping statements. Think them, say them, read them, immerse yourself in them. You’ve got this.

I am a work in progress.
It won’t always be this hard. It will get better.
I’m stronger than I think.
I can learn from this and it will be easier next time.
I will not give up.
It will feel so good when I succeed.
I forgive myself for not being perfect.
I’m making progress.
Two steps forward and one step back still leaves me a step ahead of where I started.
I am not my addiction.
My life matters.
I am worth it.
I will keep trying.

Other Resources to Quit Smoking

The American Lung Association’s Freedom from Smoking Online smoking cessation program

Nicotine Anonymous. Nicotine Anonymous is a free 12-step program. Find a face-to-face, phone, or online meeting here.

877-44U-QUIT(877-448-7848). The National Cancer Institute’s trained counselors provide information and support for quitting.

800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669). State-specific quit-lines with counselors who are trained specifically to help smokers quit. Call this number to connect directly to your state’s quit-line.

National Cancer Institute’s LiveHelp chat. Chat with an information specialist for information and answers about quitting smoking.

Good luck on your journey to quit smoking! Remember to practice self-care along the way.  You know HOW to quit smoking for free now, so you’re ready for success. Comment below to share about your journey, or to share about anything. Thanks for being here.


CDC – Quit Smoking

10 Replies to “How to Quit Smoking Cigarettes for Free”

  1. What a tough habit this is for so many to break! I love the idea of the rescue kit! You have to be prepared to fight the hardest part which is yourself! Great post!

  2. I’ve recently quit smoking myself. Let me tell you it wasn’t easy…but one thing I did realise is that all the difficulty was in my head. The physical withdrawals are actually rather slight, it’s the mind that makes it tricky. Your suggestions for positive, reinforcing statements would have helped me immensely! My number one tip for anyone quitting would have to be this: thinking that you’re ‘missing out’ on something will make it harder – focus on all the things you’re gaining instead. It’s not as difficult as you think if your mind is right. Thanks for a great post!

    1. Wow, congratulations on quitting smoking! That is such a huge accomplishment, and unless someone’s been there, they don’t understand how hard it can be. And great point about the fear of missing out (FOMO)-so true! Thanks so much for being here.

    1. Best of luck with quitting, Steve! The body begins to heal so fast after quitting that even a day without cigarettes brings benefits. If it’s helpful to think of it as one day at a time, instead of forever, that works too! Thanks for commenting.

  3. I have been smoking since I was 16 and the problem I have is that I really enjoy it. The problem is not in my head as I decided to cut down on my drinking, and I did! I recently put myself to the test and lost 20 kilos in 6 months. Have you got any recommendations on how is the best way I can cut my smoking down? I’m currently smoking 30 cigarettes a day and would like to half that amount.
    I found drinking less add losing weight quite easy but I think cutting the cigarettes will be somewhat harder.
    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
    Best regards, Jeff.

    1. The coping statements listed under the Quitting section could be useful to counter any negative self-talk as you try to delay your next smoke bit by bit, or if you decide to have only half a smoke at a time. You can also use these coping skills to distract yourself from a craving, and it can be really helpful to spend more time in non-smoking places you enjoy until the cravings adjust to your new lowered intake. Best of luck to you on your journey!

  4. I’ve been a smoker for 15 years and the habit has finally caught up with me. I know I need to quit and soon. I guess it’s time to start preparing myself mentally.

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