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How to cope when you want to smoke

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Some situations make you want to smoke. It’s important to identify these high-risk situations so you know how to cope with them. Once you’ve dealt with a high-risk situation a few times, you’ll become more confident and less likely to start smoking again.

Coping with stress

You might think that smoking calms you down, but it actually does the opposite. When you smoke, your body produces adrenaline, which raises your blood pressure and heart rate.

You can change the way you react to stress. Instead of reaching for a cigarette, find other ways to cope. Go on a walk, talk to someone or try deep breathing. Take up a new hobby or continue with existing ones so you have time out for yourself. Don’t self-medicate with alcohol, caffeine, cannabis or other drugs.

You can also reduce stress by:

  • being realistic about what you can achieve - forget perfection
  • learning to accept what you can’t change
  • taking one thing at a time and saying no if you don’t want to do something
  • delegating - getting others to help you with things can make your day less hectic
  • prioritising your time - only do the things you have to do
  • letting things go in arguments - don’t make life a battleground

These things can help you feel good:

  • eating good meals at regular times
  • getting enough sleep
  • doing things for others

Remember that low mood, irritability and anxiety are also very common withdrawal symptoms. Read our advice on how to cope with withdrawal.

Alcohol and socialising

Alcohol can weaken your resolve to stop smoking. Most smokers associate drinking with smoking. Don’t 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 your drink so you don't associate the new one with smoking
  • swap hands if you used to smoke with one particular hand - hold your drink in that hand instead
  • use your common sense about going to pubs after you quit - it’ll be hard at first, but it will get 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 times when someone does offer you one. Smile and tell people “NOPE (not one puff even)!”.

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

Making excuses to smoke

Don’t make excuses to smoke. These include things like keeping a pack of cigarettes in the house or buying cheap tobacco on holiday ‘for friends’. Don’t light, hold or look after other people’s cigarettes or sit in smoking areas ‘just for a chat’.

It’s easy to think to yourself “There’s so much smoke in here, I may as well smoke myself” - but don’t do this - stay strong. Avoid going to see a smoking friend or picking a fight with someone when craving - they might tell you to have a cigarette.

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 might make you want to smoke, especially if cigarettes were a part of your routine. These tips will help distract you:

  • brush your teeth and use mouthwash first thing in the morning
  • brush your teeth again after meals if you can - or move to another room, do the dishes or phone a friend
  • if you’re used to smoking with a tea or coffee, hold your cup in a different hand
  • change your usual drink - try fruit juices or herbal teas instead
  • if you’re used to smoking on the phone, try sugarless gum instead
  • when using your mobile phone, walk away from cigarettes
  • when driving, chew gum, sing or listen to music instead
  • try deep breathing to relax
  • change your routine before bed - go to bed early, have a bath or read a book

page last reviewed: 25/03/2019
next review due: 25/03/2022

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