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How to quit smoking

Tips for quitting cigarettes once and for all

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health

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Deciding to quit smoking is a process. You might start by thinking of stopping - this is when you know it’s bad for your health but don’t really feel ready to quit. After that you start to motivate yourself to stop and maybe even tell others about your plans. Finally you decide you’re ready to stop smoking.

Why can it be so difficult to quit smoking?

Nicotine is highly addictive. When you think of all the reasons not to smoke, it seems bizarre that anyone would continue with such an expensive and unhealthy habit.

Only one reason perhaps could possibly override all the good reasons to quit and that is addiction. Quite simply, nicotine is one of the most addictive substances out there. Nicotine works extremely fast, it stimulates the central nervous system, increasing the body's heart rate, blood pressure and metabolism. When you take a pull of a cigarette, you will experience the effects of nicotine in 10-20 seconds. The half life of nicotine is 2 hours- the body gets rid of it very quickly. The reduced level of circulating nicotine prompts the need or desire to have another cigarette - creating the vicious cycle of dependence. 

 When inhaled nicotine temporarily releases the body from longing a cigarette, while strengthens the need to smoke another. Each cigarette smoked strengthens the desire for the next one. It's a cruel circle but it can be broken.

The earlier a young person starts smoking, the higher their dependence level and changes in their brain chemistry occurs on smoking just three cigarettes.

Treatments are available to make your quit attempt more comfortable, these will reduce or remove withdrawals completely. To find out more about these - speak with your pharmacist or doctor or ask for referral to the free Smoking Cessation Services in your area. 

How will my body react when I quit smoking?

  • You may feel pretty bad for a while when you first give up smoking because your body is 'withdrawing' from it's addiction to nicotine.
  • You may feel you have to cough more, this is because your lungs are attempting to clean out the tar that has built up over time. It is also fairly common to get constipation for a few days and other digestive problems as the body tries to get used to having nioctine in your body. Most people who use tobacco don’t have a regular breakfast and relied on smoking to regulate their bowels. So, having a high fibre breakfast cereal first thing is key- add fibre, fruit and plenty of water to your daily diet to resolve or prevent constipation.
  • You may also suffer from headaches, mood swings, tiredness, crankiness, dizziness or light-headedness. These symptoms are only temporary; the majority subside within 3 weeks. This is a positive sign of your body repairing - oxygen levels and circulation are improving with the removal of the poisonous gas - carbon monoxide from your system. 
  • It is possible you may have low moods and irritability, as you are missing the stimulant effect of nicotine. Daily physical activity will help to clear your head and raise natural hormones levels to reduce stress and tension.

  • You may find you are more anxious, unable to relax and need to keep on the go - tobacco smoking may have been your way of dealing with stress or tension. Daily physical activity will help burn off the excess adrenaline production and deep breathing techniques will reduce anxiety, improving your ability to deal with stress.

  • In late afternoons you may feel more tired than normal as you may have used tobacco smoking to artificially improve your energy levels and avoid slowing down.

  • Inability to get to sleep or early wakening can also be as a result of quitting tobacco. Changing your nightly routine is important as the last episode of smoking was part of getting ready for bed or sleep. The early morning wakening is due to withdrawal from nicotine. In preparing to quit remove both of these before your quit date and have alternatives in place prior to your quit date.

  • A lot of people worry about putting on weight if they give up smoking. In order to combat weight gain, try to eat healthy foods and enjoy exercise regularly while you are trying to quit. Remember to do the exercise you enjoy most - this will also help to relieve stress.
  • Don't panic, the effects of withdrawal are only temporary and the longer your body goes without nicotine, the milder they get. If you're feeling low just remember how much healthier you'll be when you're finally free of your addiction.
  • Not everyone gets all of these withdrawals, so don't panic. These effects of withdrawal are only temporary and most resolve within 4- 6 weeks. Be advised that if you are having the occasional cigarette - they will continue. See the nicotine withdrawals as a positive sign that your body is healing and you are recovering from using tobacco and remember reprogramming your brain, changing your habits and routines take time.

Here are some handy tips

  • Getting support greatly increases your chances of quitting smoking. Ask your friends and family to encourage you and if they smoke, ask them not to smoke in front of you. If you’ve got a friend who smokes, ask them to quit with you so that you’ve got each other for support.
  • Think carefully about stopping and write down your reasons so that you feel more prepared. You can stick these on your wall as a reminder!
  • NRT or Nicotine Replacement Therapy is treatment that can reduce or remove the physical symptoms of smoking withdrawal. It is known to greatly increase your chances of quitting successfully. You can chat to your doctor, pharmacist or HSE Quit Team to see if NRT is right for you.
  • Visit for lots of information and support, and to sign up for an online Quit Plan which will guide you through the quitting process day by day.
  • Visit the Quit Facebook page for further support from fellow quitters.
  • Contact the Quitline on Freephone 1800 201203 for one-to-one personal support and referral to local quit smoking services.
  • Get rid of anything that reminds you of smoking. Don’t leave lighters and empty packs lying around.
  • If there are certain things you do that always mean a cigarette (smoke break at work or your morning coffee) then change your routine to avoid these triggers. Do something else during that time, go for a walk instead of a smoke break or have a juice instead of coffee.
  • Have a strategy to deal with the cravings! Use the 4 Ds – Distract, Delay, Deep Breathe and Do something else. 
  • Try to set a quit date and make a commitment to smoke “not a puff” from then on.
  • Watch out for cravings! These might last up to five minutes but will then start to go away again. Get active as soon as the craving hits: walk around, make yourself a drink, get on your telephone and chat to someone!
  • If you slip up and have a cigarette on a night out or without thinking then don’t worry.  Remind yourself again of why you’re quitting and get back on track. Also remember what caused you to give in and have a smoke so that you can avoid it happening again.

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise contributes to good health, helps to manage your weight and can also improve your body's ability to meet the daily demands and stresses of life.

Think positively

  • Treat yourself at the end of each week, fortnight or month.
  • Avoid snacking on chocolate bars and biscuits; try some fruit or chew sugar free gum instead.
  • Take one day at a time: every day without a cigarette is a success.

What if I just cut down on smoking?

It’s not enough to just cut down on smoking, there is no 'safe' level of smoking, and the reality is that cutting down just doesn't work.

  • It has been proven that when people reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke, they take more 'drags' from each cigarette. They may also take the smoke deeper into their lungs, and hold it in their lungs for a longer period of time. This means they soak up the same amount of nicotine and other chemicals from fewer cigarettes.
  • The same thing happens when people switch to cigarettes with lower tar content. People end up actually smoking more cigarettes.

Stick with it. You have to remember all the benefits of a smoke-free life.

  • Within 20 minutes your circulation will improve.
  • The damage smoking does to your skin will be halted
  • You’ll smell much better!
  • You’ll have more money
  • Within eight hours the carbon monoxide level in your blood will drop and the oxygen level will go up.
  • You’ll start to feel fitter and will be able to play sport without getting breathless.
  • Within five years the risk of smoking related cancers will be greatly reduced.
  • You will be back in control of your life, your health and your looks.

Get help and support to QUIT smoking

Disclaimer: There is more than one way to quit smoking. You may need to try a few different things to find what is right for you. For advice and support on quitting, visit

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Published March 4th2013
Tags smoking addiction quit smoking
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