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How to cope when you want to smoke

Identify situations where you used to smoke or want to smoke and think about what you can do instead of smoking. This can help you cope with them.

After you deal with a difficult situation a few times, you’ll become more confident and less likely to start smoking again.

Stress and smoking

It's a common belief that smoking helps you relax.

But smoking does the opposite, it:

  • increases anxiety and tension - smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop depression over time
  • causes your body to produce a stress hormone called adrenaline
  • raises your blood pressure and heart rate

Smoking and mental health

Coping with stress

Some people learn to use smoking to help them cope with the stresses of life. Before you quit, think about other ways you can manage stressful situations. This will help you not to smoke when you feel stressed.

Instead of reaching for a cigarette, you could:

  • go on a walk
  • talk to someone
  • try deep breathing
  • take up a new hobby or use existing ones so you have time for yourself

Do not try to manage your stress with alcohol, caffeine, cannabis or other drugs.

Stress - tips and self-help

Reducing stress

To reduce stress:

  • be realistic about what you can achieve
  • learn to accept what you cannot change
  • take one thing at a time and say no if you do not want to do something
  • delegate - getting others to help you with things can make your day less hectic
  • prioritise your time - only do the things you have to do
  • let go of things in arguments - do not make life a battleground

These things can help you feel good:

Low mood, irritability and anxiety are very common withdrawal symptoms.

Advice on how to cope with withdrawal

Alcohol and socialising

Alcohol can weaken your resolve to stop smoking. Most smokers associate drinking with smoking. Do not get so drunk that you forget you’re trying to quit.

To help you cope in social situations, you could:

  • cut down the amount you drink during the first few weeks of stopping smoking
  • consider changing what you drink so you do not associate the new drink with smoking
  • swap hands if you used to smoke with a particular hand - hold your drink in that hand instead

Going to pubs after you quit may be hard at first. It can help to meet in other places until it gets easier.

Being around people who smoke

This is a tricky situation. Ask friends and family who smoke to help you by not smoking around you or offering you cigarettes.

Practise saying 'No thanks - I don’t smoke' each day in front of the mirror for when someone offers you a cigarette. Smile and say 'NOPE (not one puff even)!'.

If you’re around people who are smoking, move away until you feel in control. Look for people who are not smoking.

Making excuses to smoke

Do not make excuses to smoke. These include things like keeping a pack of cigarettes in the house or buying cheap tobacco on holiday ‘for friends’.

Do not light, hold or look after other people’s cigarettes or sit in smoking areas ‘just for a chat’. It’s easy to think 'There’s so much smoke in here, I may as well smoke'. But do not do this - stay strong.

Avoid situations where someone might tell you to have a cigarette. For example, going to see a smoking friend or picking a fight with someone when you are irritable because of cravings.

Remember, it’s still smoking if:

  • it’s a joint
  • it’s an ultra-light cigarette
  • it’s someone else’s cigarette
  • no one sees you smoke it
  • you didn’t buy it
  • you’re on holiday

Habits and routines

Your normal habits and routines may make you want to smoke, especially if cigarettes were a part of your routine.

There are things you can try to change your habits:

  • Brush your teeth and use mouthwash first thing in the morning.
  • Brush your teeth after meals if you can, or move to another room, do the dishes or phone a friend.
  • Hold your cup in a different hand if you used to smoke with a tea or coffee.
  • Change your usual drink - try fruit juices or herbal teas instead.
  • Chew sugarless gum in situations where you used to smoke, such as when talking on the phone.
  • Walk away from others who are smoking - distract yourself by scrolling on your phone or log in to your quit plan.
  • Chew gum, sing or listen to music instead of smoking when you drive.
  • Try deep breathing to relax.
  • Change your routine before bed - go to bed early, have a bath or read a book.

Page last reviewed: 5 October 2022
Next review due: 5 October 2025