How you can quit smoking

Breaking a cigarette in half

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Research shows that 70% of smokers want to quit – so you’re not alone. 

We know quitting smoking can be difficult. It's also a different experience for every smoker: some people succeed on the first try; others try many times before they quit for good.

If you're thinking about quitting, or you'd like to help a friend or family member to do so, we can help!

How to go about it

The first thing is to realise that quitting smoking is a process and it is important to understand where you fit in the process or ‘cycle’ of change.

Next, you need to plan when and how you’re going to quit. You can find useful hints and tips below.

If you manage to stay off smoking for a few weeks, your chances of success are greatly increased. Below are our tips on surviving the first month.

There are lots of treatments available to help you through the journey. Below you can find information on treatments to help you quit.

We have also developed a series of short podcasts (see below) to help you through the process, covering everything from the reasons you should stop in the first place, to withdrawal symptoms and dealing with cravings.

The benefits of quitting smoking

It’s good for your health

Everyone knows you feel better when you give up smoking. But did you know that the health benefits kick in almost immediately and accumulate over time? Here’s a summary of what happens to your body when you quit (Data source: US Surgeon General’s Office):

  • After 20 minutes: your blood pressure and pulse rate return to normal. Circulation improves in hands and feet.
  • After 8 hours: oxygen levels in the blood return to normal and your chance of heart attack starts to fall.
  • After 24 hours: poisonous carbon monoxide gas is eliminated from the body. The lungs start to clear out mucous and other debris.
  • After 48 hours: nicotine is no longer detectable in the body. Taste and smell improve.
  • After 72 hours: breathing becomes easier as the bronchial tubes relax and energy levels increase.
  • After 2 weeks: circulation improves, making walking and exercise easier.
  • After 3 to 9 months: coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing are reduced dramatically.
  • After 5 years: risk of heart attack falls to that of a non-smoker.
  • After 10 years: risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker.

Remember, quitting smoking may well be the single most important thing you can do to improve your health.

When you quit smoking, you save money!

Find out how much you will save with our quitting smoking savings calculator below.

Surviving the first month

If you can get through the first 30 days without cigarettes, you’ll have gone a long way towards kicking the habit.

The temptation will be great, so here are some coping strategies to help you stay off the cigarettes:

Pick a day

  • Pick a day to quit when you won’t be under too much pressure or stress.

Throw it away

  • On the evening before, throw away all cigarettes, lighters, and ashtrays.

Distract your hands

  • Find a way to occupy your hands (e.g., stress ball, rubber bands) and mouth (e.g., low-calorie nibbles, fruit, sugar-free chewing gum).

Look after your mouth

  • Do things to maintain a clean mouth taste, such as brushing your teeth frequently, chewing gum or using a mouthwash.

You are taking control

  • Remind yourself that this is a choice you made – you chose not to smoke and you’re in control.

Steel yourself against temptation

  • Having answers ready if someone offers you a cigarette. Practise saying, “No thanks, I don’t smoke”. Or if someone is persistent: “No thanks, I’ll have one later”, or “I’ve a bit of a sore throat”.

Start a savings jar

  • Put in the amount you would normally spend on cigarettes. Write or stick a picture on it of what you are saving for. Check out our savings calculator below.

Know what to avoid

  • Try to avoid the places or situations that will remind you of smoking.

Get active

  • Take up a sport or get active by walking or cycling. You’ll find it easier when you don’t smoke and you’ll feel better for it. Click here for the benefits of getting active.

Treat yourself

  • Plan a treat such as the cinema or a meal out for yourself and your supporters.

One day at a time!

  • Don’t think too far ahead. Each day without a cigarette is another success.

Find a treatment that helps

  • Finally, ask your stop smoking practitioner, doctor or pharmacist about medications that can help take the edge off the nicotine cravings. There are a range of nicotine replacement therapies, such as gum, inhaler, patch, mouth spray or lozenge which can be bought over the counter.

Tips for Dealing with Cravings

Follow the 5 D’s!

  • Distract – distract yourself by focusing on something else
  • Delay – delay doing anything about the craving until the urge passes
  • Deep breaths – Take 20 deep breaths
  • Drink water – drink a cold glass of water or fruit juice
  • Don’t dwell on it – You can confuse cravings for food with cravings for nicotine and vice versa. It’s important to eat 3 regular meals a day.

The quitting journey

Giving up smoking is a process. Knowing where you are in that process can help you decide what to do next to stop smoking.

The quitting smoking cycle has many stages. Some smokers move through the cycle faster than others. Ask yourself where you fit in the cycle outlined below and then see what you can do to move forward.

Cycle of Change – where do you fit in?

  1. Not ready to stop
    You may not have considered stopping and may be unaware in a specific sense of the health risks and consequences of smoking.
  2. Thinking about stopping
    You are no longer happy to be smoking. You know you should stop but still feel drawn to cigarettes. If you’re at this stage, write down your reasons for smoking and your reasons for quitting. For example, you might think that smoking might help you relax or give you something to do with your hands. Weigh these up against the reasons for quitting, like better health, whiter teeth, fewer wrinkles and major cost savings.
  3. Preparing to quit
    You are getting ready to stop and are motivated enough to make some changes to your lifestyle. Smoking is often linked to certain situations, such as drinking coffee, walking the dog or watching a sporting event. We can call these ‘trigger’ events. Keep a diary of the cigarettes you are smoking and what your triggers for smoking are. Then work out and plan how you are going to cope in these situations. Plan new activities to replace smoking.

    Finally, pick your date to stop, a day that you are not under too much stress. Get rid of all your cigarettes from the house. Clean ashtrays and clean your home in preparation for its new smoke free life.

  4. Quitting
    Put your plans into action. Changing routine is one of the key elements to successful quitting, for example:

    -Change your usual drink from coffee or tea to fruit juice or water.

    -Get up from the table once you’ve finished your meal.

    -Instead of smoking at night while watching television, keep busy by going to the cinema or for a walk.

    -Avoid the triggers for the first couple of weeks until you’re comfortable with your new no-smoking routine.

    Finally, ask your stop smoking practitioner, doctor or pharmacist about medications that can help take the edge off the nicotine cravings. There are a range of nicotine replacement therapies, such as gum, inhaler, patch, mouth spray or lozenge which can be bought over the counter.

    It is important to stay motivated and believe that you can succeed. Remember, hundreds of people every year successfully give up smoking – people just like you.

  5. Being a non-smoker
    You become more comfortable with the changes you have made in your lifestyle. For successful quitters these changes become a new way of life. You are no longer thinking about smoking.
  6. Relapsing
    Having a drink socially, being with friends who smoke or coping with stress can make you slip. But all is not lost if this occurs. Remember many smokers relapse before they quit for good. Return to the reasons you wanted to stop smoking in the first place and prepare to quit again.

Treatments to help you quit

There are treatments available to help you quit. These are designed to make quitting more comfortable and to reduce the symptoms of withdrawal.

Using the products below as directed can double your chances of quitting. Many of the treatments listed below are available free to medical card holders.

  • Nicotine replacement therapies.
  • Non-nicotine replacement therapies.

Nicotine replacement therapies

Nicotine-replacement therapy replaces a small amount of the nicotine that your body misses when you quit. It's designed to replace just enough nicotine to ease your cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Nicotine replacement therapy can take various forms. Ask your pharmacist for advice on the therapy that suits you best.

Nicotine gum

Nicotine gum replaces some of the nicotine previously obtained from smoking but at lower levels. These levels are just enough to help relieve withdrawal symptoms and to help concentrate breaking the habit. There are two strengths of gum: 4mg for the heavier smoker and 2mg for those who smoke less. It is important to use the correct strength of gum and the correct technique.


There are various brands of patch available, some of which are of varying strengths to help you gradually reduce your dependency on nicotine. Talk to your pharmacist for information on the patch and on which one you should use.


This consists of a plastic holder and a cartridge, which contains nicotine. You can draw on it like a cigarette and nicotine is absorbed through the lining of your mouth. The inhaler is the most suitable for people smoking 20 cigarettes or fewer per day.


The lozenge should be sucked until the taste becomes strong and is then lodged between the cheek and gum of the mouth. When the taste fades it should be sucked again and the process repeated until the lozenge dissolves, in 20 to 30 minutes. Always read the label for clear instructions.

Mouth spray

This gives an instant release of nicotine that gets to work on cravings in 60 seconds. The fresh tasting minty spray provides small doses of therapeutic nicotine to help manage the nicotine withdrawal cravings when quitting. Always read the label for clear instructions.

It's important that you don't smoke when using nicotine replacement therapies.

Non-nicotine medication

Champix is a pill (non-nicotine) designed to help you stop smoking; it's available on prescription from your GP.

Zyban is another non-nicotine smoking-cessation drug that is only available on prescription from your GP.

What if I relapse?

Not everyone manages to give up smoking at the first attempt. Having a cigarette or two doesn’t mean you have failed. It certainly doesn’t mean you can’t quit smoking.

To get back on track to becoming a non-smoker, here are some tips:

  • Be on guard and make plans to get back on track.
  • Look back over your reasons for quitting in the first place.
  • If you have not already written these down, now would be a good time to do so.

Learn from the experience – what was the trigger that made you light up? Were you having a drink or feeling angry with someone perhaps?

Make a list of things you will do the next time you are in that situation and other tempting situations.

Supporting a family member or friend to quit smoking

Supporting and encouraging a family member or friend to quit smoking is the greatest gift you can give someone. Recent research has indicated that 85% of smokers feel that the best help that they can receive when quitting smoking is from family and friends. If your friend or family turns to you for support, follow these helpful tips:

  • Be encouraging: Wait for them to say it’s time to quit. Then offer your support and ask them how you can help. Let them know how proud you are and have patience. Try to avoid badgering and nagging. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and what they are going through as they quit smoking.
  • Give practical help: Help them get what they need. Help them make a ‘Quit Kit’, including stress balls, sugar free gum, straws, toothpicks, mints, toothpaste or anything they might use instead of tobacco. Add pictures of loved ones as motivation to stay quit. Link them to our audio guide podcasts below, top 10 tips for quitting and other information. Provide them with the HSE Quit Team number (Freefone 1800 201 203) or take them along to their GP or pharmacy to consider the various medical stop smoking aids.
  • Help them get through cravings: Reminding them of the 4 Ds: Delay at least 3-5 minutes and the urge will pass, Drink a glass of water or fruit juice, Distract move away from the situation, Deep breathe slowly and deeply.
  •  Help them stay busy and distracted: This will help take their mind off tobacco use. Make a list of things that you can do together when the cravings are tough like going for a walk, going to the cinema, helping with house work or gardening, cooking a meal together or doing puzzles; sudoku, crosswords and jigsaws.
  • Be understanding: You may feel frustrated if your loved one becomes grumpy, irritable or cranky around cravings. Don’t take this personally. Tell them you understand quitting is difficult. Remind them this won’t last forever and this is just one of the positive signs that their body is recovering from the harmful effects of smoking. Remind them of the many benefits of quitting smoking for good.
  •  Be a good listener: Reassure them that you are there to listen when they talk about quitting. Remember how far they have come and keep offering help and support.
  • Help in dealing with relapses: Stay positive, praise them for trying to quit, and for whatever length of time (days, weeks, or months) of not smoking. “Now you know you can do that much. You can get even further next time.” Remember this is a normal part of the quitting process. Remind them that they didn’t fail – they are learning how to quit. Encourage and support them to quit again. Think of the relapse as practice for the next time and not to lose hope. Remind them again of all the reasons why they wanted to quit in the first place and help them to forget about the relapse as soon as possible.
  • Celebrate: Quitting smoking is a big deal! Plan something special together to celebrate the quit date or encourage them to treat themselves now and again with the money they are saving. Celebrate key milestones – one week, one month, one year smoke free!

Additional tips if you too are a smoker:

  • Keep all cigarettes, lighters, matches and all reminders of smoking out of sight.
  •  Don’t ever offer the quitter a cigarette (even as a joke!).
  •  Always smoke outside and away from the person you're helping to quit.
  •  Be aware of situations where you would usually smoke together - after a meal, with a drink, at a party, etc.
  •  Work together to develop a plan to deal with these situations when they arise.
  •  Why not use this opportunity to change your lifestyle and quit yourself? It might be easier to quit with someone who is trying to quit too!
How to quit smoking audio guide
We've produced a series of 15 short podcasts to help you give up smoking.

For information and support on how to quit smoking, call the HSE Quit Team on Freefone 1800 201 203 or visit 

The financial benefits of quitting

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