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Taking Action to Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do to positively affect your heart health. Becoming smoke-free at any age improves your health and can extend your life. It’s never too late to quit, but the sooner you quit, the sooner your body can begin to heal and repair the damage caused by smoking. The following are just a few of the many positive statistics associated with quitting the habit:

  • The benefits of quitting begin within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, and at one year, your risk for a heart attack is reduced by 50%.
  • Within just 24-hours of quitting, your blood pressure and pulse rate may drop. 
  • Fifteen years after you quit, you are at no greater risk for death than a non-smoker.
  • Quitting smoking lowers your risk for hospitalization and death.
  • More than 6.6 million Canadians have successfully kicked the habit.3
  • Smoking is the most preventable cause of cardiovascular disease.
  • No matter how long you have smoked, quitting will greatly improve your health.

Quitting smoking is difficult. On average, most smokers try to quit five to seven times before finally succeeding. A variety of proven techniques are available to help you stop. Successful quitting requires making a continual effort and getting plenty of help through a combination of counselling and medications that specifically target quitting. But putting in the effort can return your health to that of a non-smoker within a few years, offering you a longer, healthier life.

Beyond the many health benefits that begin within as little as 20 minutes of quitting smoking, you’ll experience other advantages, such as:

  • Your food will taste better.
  • You’ll feel better about yourself and have a greater sense of self-control.
  • Your home, car, and clothing will smell better.
  • As a non-smoker, you’ll serve as a role model for your children, decreasing the likelihood that they will smoke.
  • You’ll no longer expose your family and friends to second-hand smoke.
  • You’ll perform better during physical activity.
  • With fewer wrinkles and whiter teeth, you’ll look better.

And you’ll save money. The cost of smoking one pack of cigarettes is about $10 per day, $70 per week, or $3,920 per year. Think of the money you will save over the long term once you quit.

How much do you spend on cigarettes?

Government of Canada – Cost Calculator

Quit Smoking Stages

Quitting smoking is a complex process that requires preparation. When you begin to think about quitting, and you weigh the benefits against the drawbacks, you’ll likely proceed through roughly five stages:

  • Stage 1 — Not Yet Ready
    At this stage, you may have no intention of quitting. But you can begin to gain valuable information and seek nonjudgmental support. Part of this early process involves understanding why you smoke, how it affects your health, and what you can expect when you finally quit.
    Stage 2 — Considering the Quit Process
  • You will begin to identify your concerns about quitting and plan appropriate strategies to overcome the challenges of giving up smoking. By targeting potential solutions, you are likely to strengthen your resolve to quit.
  • Stage 3 — Preparing to Quit
    This is the stage at which you begin to understand your reasons for smoking and to pinpoint the combination of quit methods that will work best for you throughout the process. In addition, you will select a quit date and begin to develop the necessary coping strategies that will help you succeed.
  • Stage 4 — Quitting Smoking
    You will create a specific plan that will carry you through the quit process. A range of coping strategies (medications, behavioural and social reconditioning) will help you tackle the nicotine withdrawal that’s at the centre of smoking addiction.
  • Stage 5 — Remaining Smoke-Free
    The challenge continues as you incorporate strategies to remain smoke-free. Throughout the quit process, you will seek support and advice to help you change your behaviour, control your surroundings, reducing stress, and recover from the inevitable slip-ups.

Quit Smoking Plan

Prepare two to three weeks prior to your quit date:

  • Make your car and home smoke-free.
  • Identify routines that trigger your smoking (morning coffee, work breaks, after-dinner tea). Consider keeping a smoking log that allows you to track when you are smoking, who you are with, and how you feel before and after you smoke. Do you notice a pattern? What emotions do you associate with smoking? Start making an effort to change these routines.
  • Review triggers and dangerous situations that increase the likelihood of relapse (alcohol, other smokers, acutely stressful situations — such as the loss of a loved one, arguments with your partner or family, pressure at work, the holidays). Make a plan that will permit you to overcome these obstacles.

One week prior to your quit date:

  • Cut back on the amount you smoke: Consider using nicotine gum or an inhaler as an aid to accomplish this.
  • Put STAR into action:
    • Set the date
    • Tell family and friends about your upcoming quit date and enlist their support
    • Anticipate challenges
    • Remove tobacco products from your environment
  • Recognize triggers, or the situations, times of day, and even foodsthat tempt you to smoke.
  • Name the top three reasons why you want to quit and post them on your fridge.
  • Plan different rewards for staying smoke-free.
  • If you’re using Champix or Zyban, begin taking your medication eight days prior to your quit date.
  • Address concerns about withdrawal symptoms (urge to smoke, anger, frustration, anxiety, increased appetite, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, headaches).
  • Cravings or urges to smoke last only three to five minutes and are a normal part of the quit process. Use strategies to dampen your cravings:
    • Take medication (NRT, for example) to relieve symptoms and distract yourself.
    • Review the four D’s (Drink water, Distract, Delay, take Deep breaths).
  • Use relapse as an opportunity to learn more about your smoking behaviour. Most slip-ups occur in social or stressful situations, especially if alcohol is involved. Apply coping mechanisms:
    • Change the situation — ( leave the room and throw out your cigarettes)
    • Ask for help — talk to a counsellor or friend.
    • Talk positively to yourself — remind yourself of how far you’ve come.
    • Take action — engage in physical activity or chew gum.

On your quit date:

  • If you’re using one, apply your nicotine patch first thing in the morning.
  • Until you feel ready, make a conscious effort to avoid people who smoke.
  • Make sure all cigarettes are removed from your home, car, and workplace.
  • Keep busy at times when you might normally smoke.
  • Remember that cravings last 3 to 5 minutes,and use the four D’s. Seek out strategies to cope with smoking urges (brush your teeth after meals, go for short walks at break times, do crossword puzzles, knit, listen to music, meditate, call a friend, take a shower, check email).
  • Use a nicotine inhaler or nicotine gum to help you through cravings (but not if you are taking Champix).
  • Carry things to put in your mouth, like sugarless candies, gum, toothpicks, or a straw.
  • Strive for abstinence.

Quit Medications

There is a variety of medications available to help you quit smoking:

  How It Works Cost per Unit Cost of 12-Week Therapy Possible Side Effects
NRT Patch Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) helps reduce withdrawal symptoms, such as cravings, anxiety, irritability, headaches, and difficulty concentrating. Each form of NRT can be used alone or with others. The type, amount, and length of NRT treatment can be changed to meet your needs. $25-30 $360
  • Headache
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Skin irritation
  • Stomach upset
NRT Inhaler $40 $420-840
  • Headache
  • Mouth/throat irritation
  • Nausea
NRT Gum $32-42 $42-56
  • Mouth soreness
  • Jaw pain
  • Hiccups
  • Nausea
  • Clings to dental work
NRT Lozenge $32-42 $42-56
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Hiccups
  • Headache
  • Coughing
NRT Mouth Spray    
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Changes to taste
  • Tingling sensation in the mouth
Varenicline (Champix) Varenicline (Champix) Varenicline comes in pill form. It targets the nicotine receptors in your brain, reducing your cravings for nicotine and taking away the satisfaction you get from smoking. Varenicline should be started 8 to 35 days before your quit date. $72 $432
  • Nausea
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headache
  • Abnormal dreams
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Gas
  • Altered/depressed mood
  • Allergic reaction (rare)
Bupropion (Zyban) Bupropion is taken in pill form. It helps balance the chemicals in your brain to reduce nicotine cravings and withdrawal. Bupropion should be started at least 7 days before your quit date. $63-90 $175-252
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Anxiety
  • Altered taste
  • Palpitations
  • Shakiness
  • Seizures (rare)

Don’t let the cost of quit-smoking medications keep you from using them. It’s important to remember that these medications are proven to double or triple your odds of successfully quitting. Most quit-smoking medications are far less than what you’ll ultimately pay if you continue to smoke.

Consider this: The cost of smoking one pack of cigarettes is about $10 per day, $70 per week, or $3,920 per year. Think of the money you will save over the long term once you quit.

Quit Process

What to Expect

Knowing what to expect when you quit smoking can reduce stress and give you a better chance at success.

Withdrawal Symptoms

It’s normal to experience withdrawal symptoms when quitting smoking. Symptoms may include headache, dizziness, mild confusion, anxiety or restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and changes in your mood. Medications that aid in quitting will help reduce or eliminate these withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms typically begin on the first day of quitting and dissipate around the fourth week.

As your body gets less nicotine, you will feel more and more uncomfortable. This discomfort will peak after two to three days, signaling that your body is beginning to heal from the damage of smoking. Over time, your brain will adapt to the reduced nicotine and many of your withdrawal symptoms will subside. Keep in mind that your discomfort is only temporary. The benefits of quitting last a lifetime.


Cravings are common. Their intensity usually decreases over two to three weeks. Remember that a craving normally last only three to five minutes. Try to keep yourself occupied for that time and the craving should pass.

The good news is that each new day without a cigarette will be easier and your cravings and withdrawal symptoms will decrease.

Dealing with Stress

Stress is a normal part of life. Many people smoke because they believe it helps them cope with stress. Actually, smoking can increase stress because nicotine causes your heart rate and blood pressure to rise. You may want to join a support group or find a friend to quit with or talk to. Learn to relax, and when you feel stress coming on, take deep breaths through your nose.

Changes to Your Mood

As your body adapts to being a non-smoker, you may feel anxious, irritable, depressed, or have difficulty concentrating. Be patient with yourself in the first few weeks after quitting. If you’re taking a quitting aid and your family notices that you are agitated, in a depressed mood, or that your behaviour is changing in unusual ways, stop taking the medication and contact your follow-up support or family doctor immediately. Do the same if you have an allergic reaction.


Many smokers find that they cough more in the first few weeks after quitting. This means your lungs are clearing. Consider it a sign that you are getting healthier.

Managing Body Weight

Experiencing an increase in appetite is normal while quitting smoking. Some people can gain 5 to 7 pounds during the first few months of quitting. Making a small change to your diet (choosing healthy snacks and drinking plenty of water) and exercise routine (going for a 30 minute walk) can help manage your appetite and keep your weight in check.

Effects of Caffeine

Cut back your intake of caffeine by at least half, either by reducing the number of cups of coffee, tea, or colas that you drink each day or by switching to decaffeinated beverages. Non-smokers are more affected by caffeine and reducing your intake will help you avoid any unpleasant effects, such as “caffeine jitters,” nervousness, irritability, headaches, sleeplessness, or heart palpitations.

Recognizing Your Smoking Triggers

Smokers tend to develop a set of conditioned responses to smoking. These are often referred to as “triggers” because they reinforce the habit of smoking and strengthen the addiction. Before attempting to quit, it’s important that you learn to recognize your own smoking triggers and then find strategies to avoid them. Pinpoint your triggers in advance of your quit date by taking note of the following:

  • The times of day in which you smoke
  • What you’re feeling when you light up
  • The strength of your desire to smoke (mild, medium, strong, intense)
  • Where you are and what you’re doing when you smoke
  • Who is with you when you smoke

Once you recognize your triggers, appropriate coping strategies can be used to aid in changing your behaviours. Identify your own personal triggers to devise effective coping strategies and avoid tempting situations.6

Relapse Prevention

Have a plan to get back on track before you relapse. If you find yourself smoking, do the following:

  • Change Your Situation
    Stop smoking immediately, leave the room, throw out your cigarettes, and carry on with your quit attempt.
  • Talk Positively to Yourself
    Remind yourself of how far you have come and encourage yourself to keep at it.
  • Take Action
    Find something else to do that makes it difficult to smoke, such as showering, engaging in physical activity, or chewing gum.
  • Ask for Help
    Talk to someone to distract or encourage you.