How To Quit Smoking: Ex-Smokers Share Their Stories

Having been surrounded by smokers for most of my life, I’ve seen first hand the harmful effects of smoking and how it destroys people’s health. But quitting smoking is clearly not easy. I thought it would be nice to collect and compile inspiring stories from ex-smokers who managed to quit, with the idea of hopefully helping and inspiring more smokers to quit. The below are the best stories I received on this topic (if you’re an ex-smoker, you can also submit your story here), and I consider them to be great reads. I personally enjoyed reading each one and hope you will too.

Here are the main things that led people to quit smoking in the stories below:

  • Finding out that your lung capacity was only being about 70% of normal (link)
  • Going to a heavily polluted city (Beijing), and upon returning home, finding that smoking was just like being teleported back to that pollution — and hating the smell of smoke ever since (link)
  • Trying a particularly nasty brand of cigarettes one time (link)
  • Realizing how expensive smoking is and chewing on Nicorette gum (link)
  • Quitting cold turkey and doing things to keep your mind distracted (walking in the forest, cooking, house maintenance etc) when the urge to smoke came (link)
  • Simply realizing that smoking does not make you happy anymore, and also finding that quitting smoking allows for better relationships with non smokers (link)
  • Falling pregnant and quitting for the sake of your child (link)
  • Avoiding activities you associate with smoking (going to pubs, restaurants, parties etc) (link)
  • Quitting smoking with your partner and supporting each other (link)
  • Losing a friend to lung cancer (link)

36 years ago...when I was 33, I went to see my doctor because I had a slight cough and my chest hurt when I coughed.

While my doctor was examining me, he asked me question after question after question about my family medical history. How many people had heart attacks? How many people had strokes? What age did they die at? And he asked me these kinds of questions for about 20 minutes.

Then, he tested my lung capacity on a machine they use to test for emphysema. My lung capacity, even at age 33, was only about 70% of normal. When I saw the graph that showed 70% of normal, I quit cold turkey and have not smoked again.

And oh, the reason my chest hurt when I the end of the visit he told me that I had just pulled some cartillage in my chest, but his questions and that test were enough to make me quit.

Now, here's a smoking anecdote...

On my first date with a woman I met at a party, she said she wouldn't kiss me because I smoked. So I quit smoking and I went out with her a week later and she still wouldn't kiss me. C'est la vie.

--Robert Barrows, R.M. Barrows


I finally quit smoking on 23 November 2010, five years almost to the day after I first said the words, This is DEFINITELY my last cigarette! To steal a joke from Twain: quitting smoking was easy: after all, I did it thousands of times!

I tried it all: gum, patches, cold turkey, even hypnosis from a quack up in Boston, where I was living at the time.

So what finally did it for me? Pollution, believe it or not. That autumn, I spent a month in Beijing for work. The air quality was particularly horrendous that month, even by Beijing standards. (I had spent time there before.) The air was so bad that even food and drink tasted like smog to me. I arrived back home in Boston on the 22nd, slept probably 12 hours (as I typically do when returning from a trip to Asia), woke up, had my coffee, and went outside for a cigarette. One puff and I wanted to retch. My brain associated the cigarette with the pollution so strongly that it was like being teleported back to central Beijing. Almost a decade later, I’ve yet to smoke again, and can’t even stand the smell of it.

--Christopher Hughey, Fast Layne Solutions


I was never a pack-a-day smoker, but I definitely used to smoke at least a pack a week. I've quit about three times -- and always started back up again when I would hang out with social smokers.

The last time I quit was the hardest. It took months to stop buying cigarettes altogether. Ultimately, one night I was out with some friends and bummed a drag off of someone's cigarette. I have no idea what brand it was but I just remember it was so disgusting. Every time I craved a cigarette after that night, I would just remember how gross that one tasted (even though I knew it was just the brand that grossed me out) and I forgot about the craving right away.

To be honest, I have smoked a few cigarettes since then, but I'm not addicted anymore. I can really just 'have one.'

I haven't smoked in almost a year now. I think the last time was last August.

--Alicia Butler, Adulting


I smoked about a pack a day but finally decided to quit when I was about 28. I wanted to spare my 1 year old from foul air & we wanted to buy a house. Cigarettes have always been taxed more heavily in Canada & when I did the math, I realized I was smoking one month's worth of mortgage payments.

Nicorette gum had recently come on the market & I tried it off & on for about a year but failed each time. One thing that worked in my favour was that I had never bought my smokes by the carton even though it was much cheaper.

A carton meant that quitting was always 2 weeks away while a single pack could always be my last. Finally, one Friday night, I ran out & told myself that was it. That Saturday I went through 8-10 pieces of Nicorette gum & never looked back.

When you smoke, your body (kidneys I think) produces acid to counteract the effects of nicotine on the pH of your blood. Nicotine is an alkaloid & quitting tobacco causes metabolic acidosis, a.k.a. withdrawal.

Like most people I drank coffee when I smoked. Quitting coffee was thought necessary to break the tobacco habit. This is where a science background helped me.

Nicotine and caffeine are both alkaloids. So, quitting both at the same time makes withdrawal symptoms even worse. What I did was to chew a Nicorette every time I had a coffee While doing that, I fidgeted with a pencil, even putting it in my mouth & this helped break the mental connection between coffee & smoking.

The gum & the coffee together helped me deal with withdrawal. The physical discomfort ended within a week but it took months to get over the psychological need.

I got down to ½ a gum per day in about 2 months. Finally, 8 months later, my MD refused to renew my prescription. He said that a ½ gum, since the nicotine was absorbed only in my mouth, was barely equivalent to few puffs.

The urge to smoke was still there though. So, I kept a pack of nicotine gum in my pocket, briefcase, desk & glove compartment. When the urge would came, I would reach for the gum. But, I would hesitate since the gum had an awful taste. Fortunately the urge would go away 30 seconds later. It took another year before the urge subsided almost entirely.

Now, 40 years later, I am still smoke free after smoking through high school, university & 5 years of work.

--Stephan Logan, Indigo Instruments


I quit smoking ten years ago when I was 25. I smoked since I was a teenager. The reason to stop was easy: health. A friend of mine was battling lung cancer (he was also a smoker), and he always begged me to stop smoking. Seeing my friend like that was a reason enough to make me quit.

I wasn’t feeling great lately, either. I felt anxious, tired, and sometimes some symptoms of tachycardia, which scared me the most.

Stopping was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done. Smoking was part of me; it was my daily routine. Instead of gradually diminishing the number of smoked cigarettes, I decided to stop completely. From ten to fifteen cigarettes per day to zero. I was determined to stop, no matter what. I still had an unopened pack, which I left on my bedside table with a note: “You will not beat me. I’m stronger than you.”

I remember the first five days were the hardest; that’s when my will power had to be the strongest. The desire to smoke would come, and I had to resist. I had to find other things to keep my mind distracted. Luckily I’ve always lived near nature, so after work, I would go for long walks in the forest. On top of that, I started learning more about cooking and tried new recipes every day. It was also the time I decided to do some house maintenance I had been postponing for so long. I just wanted to keep my mind busy.

The days were passing, and the will to smoke was fading away. The anxiety disappeared, I was sleeping better, and I wasn’t feeling tired anymore. The tachycardia also went away.

I haven’t touched a cigarette ever since. I still keep that unopened pack as a reminder of what will power can accomplish. And by the way, that friend of mine eventually won his battle, and has also been smokefree ever since.

--Mike Lima, Ultimate Prepping


After having been a smoker for more than 16 years, sometimes up to two packs a day, and several awful unsuccessful attempts at quitting, I one day realized one simple truth: I enjoy smoking, and it is a big part of my life, as nearly everything I do is associated with smoking, but... I just don't appreciate it anymore. Lighting a cigarette because I miss it, not really feeling much as soon as I start, and wanting another one right after throwing the last cigarette.

So, one day, in a plane, I had this realization, that it just doesn't make me happy anymore. Keeping a pack and a lighter in my pocket at all time - I still have an emergency pack and a lighter in my bag, in case a lady needs one - I just realized that not smoking anymore wasn't quitting.

It wasn't about losing anything, on the contrary - I didn't enjoy the 2 packs a day as I did enjoy the one hidden cigarette a day of my sweet sixteenths.

No, it was about changing. I was not having better social relationships and encounters with cigarettes - but I was on the contrary depriving myself from these relations with non smokers. The cigarette break while preparing morning, the one with morning, the one walking towards bus stop, the one waiting for the bus, and all other cigarettes were not liberating me, but they were taking precious time that I could spend focusing on what matters, instead of smoking that cigarette I don't even enjoy anymore.

Stopping smoking, after a very hard first 48h of physical pain, was liberating, and opened so many doors that I didn't expect - as I was looking at the world through a smoker's point of view (I won't go there if I can't smoke!), instead of looking at it from a free thinking human - I can now go wherever I want and meet whoever, without the cigarette limit. I don't need it to enjoy life at its fullest.

--Yoann, Where Can I FLY?


I stopped smoking about three years ago. I wanted to be a dad, so the decision to stop was easy. Actually doing it, though, not so much.

I had started six years before that at a party and kept occasionally smoking until it became a habit.

My partner being a nurse, I know all the harms that smoking causes. I'd say that the worst disease smoking causes is COPD, mostly because, as a nurse, there's not much you can do to help a patient with it that has trouble breathing. Anyway, all the horror stories I heard from her weren't enough to make me stop. That only changed when we decided to have a baby.

First, I wanted to stop smoking before pregnancy. I have to be honest, quitting was very hard, and I failed and gave in many times. It was mostly an on-off relationship with cigarettes, as my work is stressful, and I was also studying at the same time. My fiancée isn't a smoker, and she could not understand why it wasn’t easy for me. After a few weeks, I was able to limit my smoking to only 1-2 cigarettes per day; some days, not even that.

My smoking finally stopped for good the moment I was holding a positive pregnancy test. After that, I couldn't touch a cigarette. It was a total turning point for me to know that a little person was coming to this world, depending on me to give him the best possible life.

I was mentally ready to quit then; physically, I tried to find a substitute for smoking. Gums, small treats, and pastilles were doing a good job in that department. I also focused more on weight lifting; that was, and still is, my biggest stress reliever.

My son is now two years old. I have to admit that I still do enjoy being around people who smoke. There have been countless times that I would have wanted to have a cigarette, but I haven’t smoked since that positive pregnancy test day. What helps me most to keep on track is my baby boy. I want to be healthy and a good role model for him.

--Miguel Silva, Adventure Genesis


I decided to quit by going cold turkey. I had previously tried patches, gum etc. with no success. I knew I had to stay occupied to keep my mind off the cigs. To get through the days I threw myself into my work, skipping breaks and eating lunch at my desk. After work I would go the gym, do DIY, cook elaborate meals and go to bed early. I also avoided alcohol and activities I associated with smoking for 2 weeks So no pubs, restaurants, parties etc just exercise, chores and quality time with the family.

After the initial 2 weeks (by far the hardest part) I then eased myself back into social situations, drank but did did not get drunk for another 2 weeks and then after that it was business as usual!

--Joe Wilson, MintResume


I’ve been smoking for 10 long years, and it seemed to me that quitting would be extremely hard (I tried and failed a few times). But 2 years and 4 months ago my husband and I decided to quit smoking together. We thought that that's enough, that smoking wasn’t something we like but what we suffered from. We realized that smoking wasn’t under our control and that it turned into an addiction.

So, the very first step towards quitting smoking is to realize that you don’t like it, that you don’t enjoy it and that you are addicted to it. And why on earth would you do something that you actually don’t love doing? So, yeah, the change should happen in your mind first.

The next step would be to stop smoking - you don’t smoke at all, you don’t think of it at all. I know, it is easier said than done but having someone at your side to help you would really simplify it. That’s what happened to me. My husband and I were quitting smoking together and we supported each other all the time. The truth is that I wanted to smoke so badly that I was actually dreaming about having a cigarette. And I knew (and even hoped for sometimes) that as soon as my husband had a cigarette, I would too. Yeah, I know, it was embarrassing. But he never did, and neither did I.

--Oksana Chyketa,


I had been one pack a day kind of smoker for the past five years. All of my friends are still addicted to smoking. About three months ago, I heard about a friend who had been smoking for nearly 14 years, diagnosed with lung cancer, just because of his intense smoking habit.

After about one week of stay in the hospital, he lost his battle of life against lung cancer as well as smoking. That day, I decided to quit smoking completely.

It wasn't an easy decision, and I faced a lot of difficulties at the start. I quitted socializing as most of the people around me smoke. It's not like that I didn't make an effort to quit smoking in the past. It requires a lot of patience, consistency, and energy. I felt sluggish, tired, manic, and even experienced dizziness too. It was too hard for me to concentrate on anything.

I'm glad I took the right step at the right time because I was so obsessed with smoking that I was increasing the dose day by day, and it would have caused danger to my health.

Before deciding to quit smoking, I did a lot of research and found out that people who instantly stopped smoking face a lot of mental issues; in severe conditions, they go straight into depression. The chemical dopamine concentration rises. So, I decided to use alternatives such as switching to vape, which is 95 percent less harmful to health, and it made the quitting process easier, and soon after its use, I started to live a nicotine-free life.

--Mike Bran, Thrill Appeal


For me, the biggest challenge in beating my nicotine addiction was the oral fixation piece of the equation. The hand to mouth process gave me something to do and it took my mind away from other stressors. I tried to fill the void with gum, candy, lollipops, even stress balls - all without much success.

What finally worked for me was sunflower seeds. Anytime I felt a craving coming on, I'd grab a handful of seeds and pop them in my mouth. I could eat them for an hour straight without consuming more than 100 calories. Plus, they're way more nutritious than candy or gum.

--Mark Pettyjohn,