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Smoking and cancer: Giving up

Giving up smoking is difficult, but becomes easier with professional help. Giving up is the best thing a smoker can do to improve their health. Quitting greatly reduces the risk of smoking-related cancers. The earlier you do it, the better. But equally it is never too late to gain valuable years of life by giving up on smoking.

Most smokers say that they would like to give up if they could. But stopping isn't always simple.

Emilie and Mark have both successfully given up after being smokers for years. They shared their stories with us, telling us how they did it, and how they feel now.

You can also read a first-hand account of quitting on our blog.

Feeling inspired? Read on for some tips and information about the support that's available if you're ready to quit.

Know yourself

Before you give up make sure you know why you want to stop. Ask yourself:

  • Why do I smoke?
  • Why do I want to stop smoking?
  • Is this the right time to stop smoking?
  • When am I most likely to give in to cravings? (They may be more powerful than you think...)
  • What can I do to overcome these cravings?
  • Who can support me whilst I’m giving up?
  • How can I reward myself for giving up?
  • When would be a good quit date?

Support yourself

Quitting smoking can be hard, but free services and treatments are available to help and these have been shown to improve the chances of quitting successfully. Smokers are much more likely to quit successfully if they get professional support than if they try to go "cold-turkey".

The NHS has a range of services on offer. Smokers can now pick up a new and improved NHS Quit Kit from thousands of pharmacies across England to help them stop smoking. The NHS Quit Kit has been developed by experts, smokers and ex-smokers, and contains practical tools and advice to help smokers quit smoking for good. For the first time, the Quit Kit includes a new text support programme to give smokers extra help in those tough first weeks.

This autumn the Department of Health is launching the Stoptober campaign. Research shows that if you can stop smoking for 28 days, you are five times more likely to stay smokefree. Stoptober leads you through a detailed step-by-step programme to help you achieve this goal. 

The new campaign includes a preparation pack, 28-day Quit Calendar and Health & Wealth wheel. You will also receive support and encouragement through a daily messaging service, inspiration from celebrity mentors, and expert advice through the Stoptober smartphone app, motivational text messages and the Stoptober Facebook page. 

Stoptober 2012 kicks off on Monday 1st October and runs for 28 days. For more information and to join the biggest stop smoking challenge of its kind, visit the Stoptober website.

The NHS also provide:

  • Stop smoking groups - sessions run by health professionals for groups of smokers who want to stop. In the sessions you can find out more about ways to give up and share tips and experiences with others.
  • One to one counselling - in many areas individual counselling is available to help you give up.

To find out more about these services and get support with giving up smoking, talk to your doctor or pharmacist, or call the NHS Smokefree Helpline:

  • England: 0800 022 4 332
  • Wales: 0800 169 0 169
  • Scotland: 0800 84 84 84
  • Northern Ireland: 0800 85 85 85
  • Isle of Man: 01624 642 404

Quit also have a helpline with information and advice to help you give up smoking. Call 0800 00 22 00 between 9am and 9pm or e-mail

Control your withdrawal symptoms

When you try to quit, you may experience nicotine cravings and research has shown that these are often more severe than you expect. Don't let that put you off though - there are several products on the market to help control withdrawal symptoms. Many are free on prescription from your GP.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy can help you by reducing your nicotine cravings. NRT has been shown to double your chances of successfully quitting. It is also less addictive than smoking and doesn't cause cancer. NRT is available on prescription or over the counter as gum, patches, tablets, lozenges, nasal spray or inhalers. You usually take a 10-12 week course.

Zyban and Champix are other medicines that can help you give up smoking. They don't contain nicotine. Instead, they work by reducing your desire to smoke and relieving withdrawal symptoms. Zyban and Champix are only available on prescription and are not suitable for everyone. So talk to your doctor if you want to find out more.

Putting on weight

Many people are worried that when they give up smoking they may put on weight. This may be because:

  • Nicotine suppresses your appetite and makes your body burn calories faster
  • Smoking affects your taste and smell, so food may be much tastier when you quit
  • Some people replace cigarettes with snacks and sweets when they give up.

If you’re worried about putting on weight:

Staying stopped

Giving up smoking is hard work and it may take some people several attempts to quit for good.

Remember that nicotine is very addictive and watch out for situations where you might be tempted to have 'just one cigarette'.

If you do start smoking again, think about where you went wrong and try to learn from your experiences for next time. Phone the NHS or Quit helplines to help you get back on track.

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Updated: 8 February 2012