Stages of quitting smoking

If you smoke, you will likely go through 5 stages in the process of quitting smoking. It is important to determine what stage you are at, since the most effective strategy is different for each stage. The 5 stages of quitting are:

  1. precontemplation
  2. contemplation
  3. preparation
  4. action
  5. maintenance and relapse


If you're not even thinking about quitting, and you feel the benefits of smoking outweigh the costs, then you are in the precontemplation stage. At some point, however, if you remain open to information or if you experience some of the consequences of nicotine addiction, you may find that you become more interested in quitting and may move into the contemplation stage.


You are in the contemplation stage if you are thinking about quitting, but are not quite ready to quit. Part of you wants to quit, but part of you is unwilling to give up the pleasure or comfort of cigarettes. Only when you become convinced that the negative aspects of smoking outweigh the benefits will you make a firm decision to take the necessary steps to quit - and stay quit.

If you think you need more convincing, read "Health effects of smoking." When deciding, try making 2 lists side by side. On one list write down all of the benefits or good things you get from smoking. On the other list, write down all of the costs or negatives aspects of smoking.


At this stage, you have decided to quit and are getting ready to quit. This is the most important stage. Spending some time to prepare to quit will help increase your chance of successfully quitting.

Make a list of the times and situations you smoke. List those times when you want to smoke the very most. Outline cues, or triggers - such as your morning coffee, talking on the phone, just after a good meal, having a drink - so you may decide on alternate coping strategies. Are there any changes in your environment or behaviour you should make, even for a while, when you quit smoking? Some people have suggested getting rid of ashtrays, avoiding the morning coffee, staying away from alcohol for a while, eating lunch in a different spot, changing your route to work, getting the interior of the car cleaned...

As part of your preparation, you may want to talk to your family doctor about your options, including medications. Tell other people about your intentions and make a list of support people you might use to help you through the early weeks of quitting.

This part of your journey is very important and very personal. Spend enough time and effort on it to give you a good chance at success. Then choose a quit date! For more information, read "Preparing to quit smoking."


In this stage, you are trying to quit smoking. This is where the rubber hits the road. Breathe in, breathe out, don't have even a puff. Short-term pain for long-term gain.

You have stocked up on healthy finger food. You have an exercise program to deal with that nervous energy. You have scheduled some rewards for successful completion of short periods of abstinence. All you need to do is make it to bedtime today without a smoke. The irritability, hunger, craving, and poor concentration will all pass. Just remember, by the end of your first 24 hours your heart health has already improved. Soon you will start to smell and taste things better.

Of course, we all know that there can be some undesired effects of quitting. For more information on dealing with them, read "The road to recovery."

Maintenance and relapse

Now you are a former smoker, but you will never be able to be a causal or social smoker. The changes in your brain, which occurred with addiction, were partly reversible and partly permanent. With time the craving goes away and the compulsion weakens. Thankfully, by this stage, you will have developed some effective coping strategies and will feel more confident facing temptations to smoke. Find some tips in "Staying smoke free."

If you slip and have a cigarette, it is important to turn it into a valuable lesson, from a stumbling block into a stepping stone. Go over the situations and feelings leading up to the slip. What could you have done differently? What didn't you consider? What changes can you make to keep a slip like this from happening again?

Continue to reward yourself for your success. Don't let up on the exercise and healthy nutrition. Every so often make a list of the rewards and benefits of being an ex-smoker.

Congratulations, you are now a role model for others.

Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team