Giving up smoking

First thinking about quitting

People usually had multiple motivations and reasons for thinking about quitting, and their expectations differed on what it would be like and how easy it would be. Sometimes they had heard about other people’s experiences. Some people said they had always wanted to stop, others had vaguely thoughts that they would give up in the future if they became ‘addicted’ or got any health problems.

Lisa, and others, felt that giving up smoking was something they “should” do, but it seemed too difficult. Anna’s cousin had smoked heavily, and had given up, and this encouraged her to think that she might be able to do it too.

People’s experiences of giving up vary but no one can know whether he or she will find it easy to stop.
Some people had a ‘nagging thought’ that “everyone knows that you shouldn’t smoke”, and knew that they would have to stop at some point. Reaching a new stage of life often encouraged people to try to stop, for example when starting a family, turning 40, or beginning to think about health in retirement. Keith had just wanted a ‘new start’ after college and giving up smoking might be part of that. Sue felt ‘lucky’ to go off the taste of cigarettes when she became pregnant, a time when women often feel highly motivated to stop.

While first attempts sometimes succeed dramatically, many people admitted that their initial attempt had been ‘half-hearted’, perhaps because they weren’t ready or very convinced about wanting to stop. The role of non-smoking friends and family could be difficult: if their encouragement felt like nagging it could be unhelpful and even lead to people smoking in secret. But a new relationship with a non-smoking girlfriend or boyfriend really motivated some people to quit.
Wanting to stop smoking

Looking back, people who had given up recalled many of the unpleasant aspects of smoking. Something that used to be fun became less and less fun. Roger began to notice unpleasant physical effects of smoking such as the smell that ‘lingers in your clothes, in your hair, in your mouth’. Rukmini noticed the smell that was on her clothes and in her hair the night after smoking too many, but would go out and do the same again soon after.
People who felt they were addicted sooner or later became aware that they smoked because they felt they had to and not because they enjoyed it. Andy talked about having to go out in the freezing rain to have a cigarette and getting no pleasure from it, and Peter talked about being bored with the ‘habit’ and having ‘no enjoyment left’.
Money played a role in some people’s decisions to quit. Khan remembers calculating in 2011 that he spent around £2000 on cigarettes in a year. When Caroline first started to think about giving up, it was for financial rather than health reasons. Others, however, said that they could always find money for cigarettes.
Some people had enjoyed smoking for years before they started to think more seriously about quitting. People who still had positive associations with smoking were unlikely to find it easy to quit until they shifted how they thought about smoking. Abdul, for example, realised he had to “demonise” smoking to make himself ready to eventually give up.

(Also see ‘Life events and their effect on people’s motivation to stop smoking’, ‘The role of other people in the decision to quit’ and ‘Money and smoking’).

For more information on giving up smoking see our resources section.

​Last reviewed August 2018.

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