Quitting smoking in 5 steps

This time is the last time… is what you tell yourself! There are plenty of good reasons to want to stop smoking.

Preparing an action plan will stack the odds in your favour and hopefully avoid a relapse. To help you, here’s our five-step plan.

But first, some addiction info

Cigarette addiction affects the mind and body.

Quitting requires unwavering dedication and a willingness to learn to live without the daily effects of nicotine.

With a plan, your chances of success are two to three times greater than quitting cold turkey (i.e. without support or medication).

It’s never too late to quit and reap the physical health benefits.

Step 1: Be Prepared

This is the step most people tend to forego, even though it sets up the next ones.

Preparation starts with introspection. Introspection will help you understand why you started smoking in the first place and why you can’t seem to stop.

Ask yourself why you want to quit. Health concerns? Life expectancy? Personal finances?

Try to identify what triggers your need to smoke:

  • Socializing?
  • Enjoying the break that lighting up provides?
  • What rituals is your smoking centered around?

Asking yourself these questions is essential because the answers will help you wean yourself off nicotine and mitigate the unwanted side effects. This also lets you identify your habits and learn to anticipate situations likely to cause a relapse.

Once you have the answers to all these questions, you’ll be able to set an I Quit date.

Step 2: Get Support

Having the support of your loved ones will make all the difference. Family, friends, even coworkers, are great sources of inspiration (and moral support) during the hardest moments.

Seek professional help: pharmacists, doctors, respiratory therapists or nurses. They can help you through the initial weeks of nicotine withdrawal by prescribing medication to alleviate the symptoms, answer all your questions and provide support.

Finally, you can always call the Smokers’ Helpline at 1-877-513-5333. Serving as a sort of peer mentor, the Smokers’ Helpline Quit Coach is there to support you, listen without judging and recommend personalized solutions to help you break the habit.

This free service is available:

  • In person
  • Through chat
  • Through text messages
  • Over the phone

Step 3: Change your Habits

All smokers are different—that’s why it’s important to choose a method that will work for you.

Nicotine Replacement Products

Plenty of nicotine replacement therapy products exist on the market today:

  • Patches
  • Chewing gum
  • Lozenges
  • Sprays
  • Inhalers

They work on the principle that replacing nicotine eases the transition from smoking to cessation.

Speak to a healthcare professional about setting up an effective weekly plan to slowly break your nicotine addiction. Expect to use such products for up to 12 weeks.

For strong cravings, combining a patch (24-hour effect) with a quick-release option (chewing gum, lozenges, sprays or inhalers) seems to be very effective. In fact, this method is covered by most public prescription drug plans and group insurance plans.

Prescription Drugs

The two prescription drugs that doctors recommend using in conjunction with a smoking cessation program are:

  • Zyban®
  • Champix®

Zyban® is an extended-release antidepressant pill that contains dopamine and noradrenaline. The dopamine simulates the pleasure caused by the nicotine reward. The noradrenaline acts as a stimulant and increases alertness. Zyban’s side effects include insomnia, dry mouth and skin rash.

Champix® contains varenicline. It blocks nicotine receptors in the brain. By doing so, it makes smoking less satisfying. Nausea is a potential side effect.

Both drugs act on the brain, but in different ways. In general, treatment starts one or two weeks prior to the I Quit date and lasts up to 12 weeks. Dosage starts at once a day and is progressively increased to twice a day.

As Yet Unproven Methods

  • E-Cigarettes and Vaping

E-cigarettes, also known as e-cigs, vapes and vape pens, contain the same nicotine found in cigarettes. They also tend to make you fall into the same pattern as with regular cigarettes.

For this reason, this may not be the best quitting method.

  • Alternative Medicines

Some people have had success through hypnosis, laser therapy or acupuncture.

However, Health Canada points out that scientific proof of efficacy is limited.

For advice on the subject, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or smoking cessation specialist.

Step 4: The Gauntlet

This will be the hardest, most trying step. This is when you’ll realize just how much you crave cigarettes, which will put your motivation to the test.

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms  (This hyperlink will open in a new tab). include:

  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Increased appetite
  • Insomnia

Remind yourself that this step only lasts two weeks (thankfully!) and that the symptoms will eventually subside.

Stress Management

Smoking is often associated with relaxation and letting go. By not smoking, you expose yourself to stress that you have to manage otherwise.

Consider meditation  (This hyperlink will open in a new tab).. This technique will let you boost your mindfulness and stop focusing on the negative.

Keep your hands, mind and body busy when you get the urge to smoke. Yoga, Tai chi, a massage, a walk in the forest, soft music and reading are all good stress-reducing options. Fidget toys, like stress balls, are good too.

Release the Endorphins

It takes 10 seconds for the nicotine in a cigarette to reach the brain.

Once there, the brain releases endorphins, which are the happy hormone. Throughout the weaning period, it’s normal to feel like you’re not as happy. Smoking makes your brain lazy, which means that it will require stimulation to release endorphins.

To get your brain to start releasing endorphins again, consider physical activity  (This hyperlink will open in a new tab)..

This is not to suggest doing something extreme like ironman triathlons. Simply walking, running or playing a sport that you enjoy should be enough to release endorphins.

Step 5: You Are The Champion

Making it through the gauntlet is cause for celebration. Reward yourself... you deserve it!

Celebrate all the times you resisted temptation. Choose a reward worthy of your sacrifice:

  • A trip
  • Dinner at your favourite restaurant (remember that your taste sensitivity should increase)
  • A weekend getaway with family or friends
  • A gift from you to you (something you’ve been pining for)


Remember, you can do it!