Giving up smoking

Life events and their effect on people’s motivation to stop smoking

Some people’s pattern of cigarette smoking was very steady, but others said the amount they smoked increased and decreased depending on what else was going on in their lives. Many told us that they were particularly motivated to stop smoking when they thought about having children, getting older, or the impact of smoking on their physical health and appearance.

Others were influenced by the people around them they were closest to, like partners, children or grandchildren. Here we describe events and milestones in people’s lives that made them decide to cut down or stop smoking.

Becoming a parent

A key event that prompted people to cut down or give up smoking was the thought of having children. Many women are highly motivated to give up smoking in pregnancy, though twenty or thirty years ago when less was known about the effects of second-hand smoke and low birth weight of babies born to mothers who smoked it was still fairly common to smoke in pregnancy and around children. Anna gave up the day she found out she was pregnant with her first child. Others, like Caroline and Angela, wanted to give up when they were pregnant but struggled to stop.
Men who became fathers also talked about the effect that fatherhood had on their smoking.
Life stage: growing older

Others wanted to give up because they were getting older and didn’t want to smoke into their ‘middle age’ or beyond. Some spoke about changing many things in their life, and smoking was just one of those things.
Both Andy and Tom wanted to give up as they approached their 30th birthday; it seemed time to quit. In her thirties, Rukmini got into yoga and pilates and didn’t want to smoke.

Various people talked of changes in their lives that helped them smoke less: Sue no longer hung around with her smoker friends, and Tom moved in with his girlfriend who smoked less than he did.

Becoming aware of smoking as an unhealthy way of coping

Many people said they smoked more when they were particularly stressed. They felt at the time that smoking helped, but with hindsight many saw it as part of more self-destructive behaviour. For example, Lisa felt that smoking actually made her feel more stressed. Judith recognised that smoking was tied into her mental health problems, and though at times it helped her cope, she realised that smoking caused more anxiety than it relieved. Abdul smoked a lot of skunk to help him cope with his dad’s death, but he felt it messed up his “outlook on the world” and this eventually made him want to quit. Mariam’s smoking indicated to her that she no longer cared about herself after getting divorced, but now takes better care of herself and not smoking was part of that.
Jules said that when there was a “tragedy in the family” he had started smoking again. However now he has his daughter, he feels strongly that he won’t smoke again.
(Also see ‘Appearance and physical health’ and ‘The role of others in the decision to quit’).

​Last reviewed August 2018.

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