How to quit after smoking for a long time

profile picture of Elizabeth Rogers
Associate Clinical Director, Bupa Health Clinics
26 August 2021
Next review due August 2024

Many people who smoke want to give it up. But, if you’ve been smoking for a long time, deciding to quit can feel daunting. Here I’ll talk about why it’s still worth doing and offer some top tips for stopping smoking if you’ve been doing it for a long time.

A man drinking a coffee

In England, six out of 10 people who smoke want to give up. If you’ve been smoking for a long time you might be wondering if you’ll get any benefits from quitting. But the good news is that the benefits start right away. Within 12 hours the amount of oxygen in your body returns to normal, and in just two weeks your circulation and sense of taste can start to improve. At any age, stopping smoking can still increase your life expectancy too. So, it’s never too late to quit!

Will it be harder to stop smoking if I’ve been doing it a long time?

Everybody’s different and some people find it easier to stop smoking than others. If you’ve been smoking for a long time, it might be more difficult. Perhaps it’s part of your daily routine, or you smoke more cigarettes now than you used to. These things can make quitting feel daunting, but there are lots of things you can do that will help.

How should I quit smoking?

The best way to quit is with support. Don’t try to stop smoking by yourself. Completely cutting out cigarettes and relying on willpower is the least effective way of giving up smoking. Most people who try and quit this way aren’t successful. This is sometimes called “going cold turkey”.

Instead, speak to your GP and ask them about any support they can offer you. They might suggest some medication, which can make quitting easier. They can also let you know of support groups you can join and counselling services you can use. You can also contact your local stop smoking service for more information.

Five tips for quitting after smoking for a long time

1. Be prepared

Decide on a quit date and stick to it. Put it in your phone or write it on your calendar. Before the date arrives, get rid of anything that might make it harder to quit. This could be ashtrays and lighters as well as packets of cigarettes. It can also be useful to come up with a plan for situations that you might find difficult, so you’ll know how to react. For example, you could decide that if you’re going to the pub you will sit indoors so you can’t smoke.

2. Expect some side-effects

In the first few weeks you might experience side-effects. As well as craving cigarettes, you might find that you feel more emotional, don’t sleep as well or find it harder to concentrate. You might also find that you are hungrier than usual. Using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can help to reduce the number of side-effects you have. It’s important to remember that these symptoms won’t last forever. Plan for how you’ll deal with them if they happen. For example, you could make sure you have some healthy snacks at home to help you manage your appetite.

3. Look after your mental health

You might have mixed feelings about stopping smoking after such a long time. Maybe you’re nervous about how you’ll cope without cigarettes or worried you won’t be able to quit successfully. Stopping smoking can also make you feel stressed and irritable at first. Try doing things you find relaxing such as walking or practising mindfulness. The good news is that quitting is linked to better mental health in the long run. If you feel you need support with your mental health, speak to a doctor.

4. Rethink your routine

After such a long time, smoking might be an important part of your routine. Try to think of other things you could do to replace the habit. You could try taking a short walk or calling a friend when you would usually smoke. If you’re used to having something to do with your mouth, try chewing gum or taking sips of water.

5. The new you

You might strongly identify as a smoker at the moment. Try to rethink this once you decide to stop smoking. Tell people around you that you no longer smoke and start calling yourself a ‘non-smoker’. This can help you get in the right frame of mind to quit.

What if I smoke again?

Lots of people find it very difficult to give up smoking. You might find you have to try a few times before quitting for good. The most important thing is to not let a slip-up stop you trying again. Throw away any leftover cigarettes. Remind yourself of why you wanted to stop smoking. Think about what caused you to smoke again and think about how you’ll handle the same situation next time. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it, there is plenty of support available to help you give up for good.

Stop smoking services

The Smokefree National Helpline has trained advisors that can offer advice and help you if you are about to have a cigarette.

  • 0300 123 1044 (Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am to 4pm)

Find your local stop smoking services by visiting:

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

profile picture of Elizabeth Rogers
Dr Elizabeth Rogers
Associate Clinical Director, Bupa Health Clinics

    • Tobacco: Health benefits of smoking cessation. World Health Organization., published 25 February 2020
    • Health matters: stopping smoking – what works? Public Health England., updated 17 December 2019
    • Stop smoking options: guidance for conversations with patients. Public Health England., published 20 August 2018
    • What about withdrawal symptoms from stopping smoking? British Lung Foundation., last reviewed February 2019
    • Does stopping smoking improve mental health? Cochrane., published 9 March 2021
    • How can I stop smoking? British Lung Foundation., last reviewed February 2019
    • How do I stop smoking? Cancer Research UK., last reviewed 24 March 2021

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