Skip to content

World No Tobacco Day, May 31, 2000
Backgrounder 3/5

Quit Tips for Individuals

It is not easy to quit smoking, because the nicotine in tobacco is a powerful, addictive drug. However, many smokers have successfully quit. The effort is worth it, as the health benefits are many. Within a few days after quitting, your lung capacity increases and your chance of heart attack decreases. Within a few weeks, exercise becomes easier. Within a few months, coughing decreases, energy increases and your body is better able to fight infections. In five years, the heart disease death rate drops to that of a non-smoker, and the lung cancer death rate is halfway back to that of a non-smoker.


The most important ingredient for success in quitting is motivation. If you aren't ready to quit, you probably won't succeed. Think about why you want to quit smoking. For your health? For your family? To save money? Whatever the reason, keeping your motivation in mind will help you.

Tips for Quitting on Your Own

Even though quitting without help is tough, most smokers quit on their own. If help isn't available, here are some tips for quitting.

  • Set a specific date for quitting, and stick to it. Don't pick a time that's likely to be stressful, such as a holiday.
  • Quit "cold turkey": on the day you decide to quit, go from your usual number of cigarettes to not smoking at all. Tapering down to fewer cigarettes per day or switching to "low tar" cigarettes is not a good alternative to quitting, and does not make quitting any easier.
  • Understand your smoking behavior, and think of the activities or places in your life that you associate with smoking. You should avoid these if possible. For example, if you smoke when you drink alcohol, you may have to substitute non-alcoholic drinks, or avoid going to the bar. If you smoke after meals, plan to take a short walk instead.
  • Be prepared for withdrawal effects, such as craving for nicotine, irritability, anxiety, and increased appetite, and plan coping strategies. These effects simply mean that your body is adjusting to a lack of nicotine, and this is what you want.
  • Prepare a realistic exercise plan that fits into your daily activities. A small amount of weight gain (usually five to ten pounds) after quitting is natural for several reasons. First, you will probably look for oral substitutes, like food, to replace cigarettes. Also, nicotine suppresses appetite and increases metabolism, so when you quit smoking your appetite increases and your body doesn't metabolize energy as quickly. However, your appetite will decrease to normal after a few weeks. Exercise will help you keep weight off in the meantime, and will keep you occupied so you think less about having a cigarette.
  • Get your family and friends to support you. You might even try quitting at the same time as a friend or family member. Remember, you are not alone. Most smokers want to quit, and many in your community and around the world will be trying to quit at the same time you are.

Getting Outside Help

If you cannot quit "cold turkey," it might be because you have a high level of physical addiction to nicotine. If so, you may benefit from pharmaceutical treatments, such as nicotine replacement products and buproprion, that help relieve the physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. These treatments can increase your chances of quitting successfully.

Behavioral counseling by health professionals, either individually or in groups, also greatly increases your chances of success. When counseling and pharmaceutical treatments are used together, success rates for quitting are even higher.

Unfortunately, in many countries, pharmaceutical treatments may be unavailable or expensive. And few governments and non-governmental organizations in developing countries in the Americas offer cessation counseling. Health professionals such as doctors, who are in an ideal position to provide advice, receive little or no training in smoking cessation and often smoke themselves.

Individuals can help change this by creating a demand for these services. Tell your doctor or community nurses that you would like help to quit smoking. Tell your elected representatives that you think health services should offer assistance for smokers who want to quit. Contact the cancer society, heart association, or lung association in your area and ask if they can provide counseling.

Remember . . .

Most smokers don't quit the first time. Each quit attempt makes you healthier. Even if you don't succeed at first, you are better prepared for your next quit attempt.

For more information contact:

Heather Selin (202) 974-3383;

Bryna Brennan (202) 974-3457;

Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization
525 Twenty-third Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037, United States of America
Tel.: +1 (202) 974-3000 Fax: +1 (202) 974-3663

Pan American Health Organization. All rights reserved.