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Quitting smoking

11-minute read

Key facts

  • Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Australia.
  • Quitting smoking is associated with better outcomes for many health conditions and diseases.
  • Your body starts repairing itself as soon as you’ve smoked your last cigarette.
  • Most people who smoke will attempt to quit several times and are eventually successful.

Why should I quit smoking?

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Australia.

Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals and many of them can cause cancer. Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and every cigarette is doing you harm.

From the moment you stop smoking, however, your body begins to repair itself and you will start noticing the benefits quite quickly.

Quitting smoking can be tough, but as well as the health benefits and being able to save money, there are other reasons to give up — with benefits both for the now former smoker and their friends and family.

Once you put out that cigarette, dramatic changes start to occur in your body. From the moment you stop smoking, your lung function will begin to improve, while after:

  • 20 minutes — your resting heart rate starts to decrease (this is a sign of your overall fitness level)
  • 12 hours — your blood oxygen levels start to improve, and the amount of carbon monoxide in your body begins to decrease
  • 5 days — most of the nicotine has left your body
  • 1 week — your sense of taste and smell improves
  • 2 to 12 weeks — your risk of heart attack is reduced, your circulation is improved, you find exercise easier to manage and your lung function is more effective
  • 1 to 9 months — you are short of breath less frequently and you cough less
  • 1 year — your risk of heart disease has decreased to about half what it would have been if you had continued to smoke
  • 5 years — you have reduced your risk of having a stroke or developing mouth cancer, throat cancer or cancer of the oesophagus
  • 10 years — your risk of developing lung cancer has decreased to about half what it would have been if you had continued to smoke, while your risk of developing bladder cancer, kidney cancer and pancreatic cancer has also decreased

ARE YOU AT RISK? — Are you at risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease? Use the Risk Checker to find out.

When you quit smoking, you also help your friends and family by decreasing their exposure to ‘second-hand smoke’ and passive smoking. This is especially important if you have children living with you at home.

Quitting smoking can save you a lot of money. If you are currently smoking 20 cigarettes a day, quitting could save thousands of dollars each year.

There are other social benefits too — smoking is not allowed in many public places, and going out for a cigarette often means stepping outside during conversations, meetings and activities. Quitting means you don’t need to miss out.

How can I quit smoking?

Everyone experiences a different journey before successfully quitting smoking. Some people may find it easy; others will find it more challenging. The good news is that there are many ways to stop smoking and lots of resources to support you along the way.

Make sure you have a personal ‘quit plan’ that you can refer to when you need. Your quit plan can include:

  • a quit date
  • the reasons why you want to quit
  • a plan to deal with cravings and withdrawal symptoms
  • a list of your smoking ‘triggers’ and how to manage them
  • a plan to transform your home and car into a ‘smoke-free zone’
  • your method of quitting smoking

What methods can help me quit smoking?

There are several ways to quit smoking, including going ‘cold turkey’ (stopping suddenly), gradually cutting down on cigarettes, using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), taking prescription medicines, and getting professional support and counselling.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

You can also increase your chance of successfully quitting smoking by changing your smoking-related routines and behaviours. This might include:

  • identifying and avoiding situations that will trigger your desire to smoke
  • distracting yourself with new activities
  • finding a support system among friends and family or a support group
  • reminding yourself of the benefits of quitting smoking

Quitting smoking ‘cold turkey’

Quitting smoking suddenly, by yourself, without any support or outside help is known as going ‘cold turkey.’ This method requires a lot of willpower and mental strength to manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Although this is a common method, it is less effective than using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) or other quitting medication.

Gradually cutting down to quit

Gradually cutting down means slowly decreasing the number of cigarettes you smoke every day, until you have quit completely. It is a good way to start if you’re not quite ready to stop smoking right now.

You can gradually cut down smoking by increasing the time between cigarettes or the number of cigarettes you smoke each day until you reach your target quit date.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)

NRT provides small, measured doses of nicotine to help decrease your physical withdrawal symptoms without the dangerous chemicals found in cigarettes. This can help you in your journey to quitting smoking successfully.

NRT is available from pharmacies and some supermarkets and is found as patches, gum, nasal and oral sprays, inhalers, lozenges or tablets.

Using a combination of 2 different forms of NRT is often more effective in helping you stop smoking. For example, you can use a patch, which gives you a slow, steady dose of nicotine, in combination with an NRT gum or spray that gives you a quick release of nicotine to help you when you feel a sudden craving.

Speak with your pharmacist or doctor to determine which methods will work best for you and how to use them effectively.

Prescribed medicines for quitting smoking

There are other medicines, available on prescription from your doctor, that don’t contain nicotine. They work by acting at the nicotine receptors in your brain and can help manage withdrawal symptoms by making smoking less enjoyable.

These medicines are not suitable for everyone so speak with your pharmacist or doctor about whether they are right for you.

Professional support and counselling

Professional support and counselling can also help you in your journey towards quitting smoking. There are many services available, so speak to your trusted healthcare professional to find the most suitable option for you.

Psychological interventions may include therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy or mindfulness. Quitline provides free counselling and an online chat service and is available in all states and territories.

Alternative ways to quit smoking, electronic cigarettes and vaping

Some people try alternative methods to quit smoking, such as acupuncture or hypnotherapy. While there is no clear evidence to show that these methods work, some people find them helpful when trying to quit.

Electronic cigarettes (‘e-cigarettes’ or ‘vaping’) can only be purchased in Australia as nicotine-free products. The sale of nicotine e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine to someone without a doctor’s prescription is illegal.

There is some limited evidence that e-cigarettes are effective in helping people give up smoking in the short-term. However, it's not clear whether they help in the long-term. It’s also unclear whether they are as effective as other methods, such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). Many harmful substances have been found in the heated vapour, and since they are relatively new products, the long-term effects of exposure to e-cigarette vapour are still unknown.

How will I feel when I quit smoking?

Once you stop smoking, you may experience nicotine withdrawal, which can last from a few days to a few weeks. Common withdrawal symptoms include feeling tense, irritable or depressed, appetite changes, constipation and gas, difficulty concentrating, difficulty falling asleep, cough, dry throat and mouth, nasal drip and dizziness.

The first week is often the most challenging. However, as your body adjusts and recovers from the addiction of smoking, you will start to feel better.

Although the effects of withdrawal can be unpleasant, it’s important to remember the benefits of quitting smoking: you may cough less and be able to exercise more easily, you won’t smell of cigarettes, and your sense of smell and taste will return — and, of course, you will save more money.

How can I stay smoke-free?

Quitting smoking is hard, and it may take a few attempts before you quit for good. Remember that every time you try to quit you will get a little better at it.

If you relapse and start smoking again, it's OK — relapses are common, so don’t be hard on yourself. Most people who smoke will attempt to quit many times before they are eventually successful. Just like learning any new skill, it takes time and practice to get it right. The important thing is to keep trying.

Think of slip-ups or relapses as a learning experience and try to ask yourself:

  • What triggered you to slip-up?
  • What quit strategies can you use next time if you find yourself in a similar situation?
  • How are you managing your withdrawal symptoms?
  • If you use NRT or prescription medications, are you using them as directed?

On your journey towards quitting successfully, you will encounter triggers and cravings to smoke. It is important to identify your personal smoking triggers, make a note of them and put them into your quit smoking plan so you can be ready for them when they appear next time. Visit the Quit website for more tips on how to stick with quitting.

Resources and support

For more information and support, try these resources:

There are also several state-based resources:

Other languages

Many of the website listed above provide translated information about quitting smoking.

You can also visit the Health Translations or Multicultural Health Communication Service websites for resources in languages other than English.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2021


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