Breaking free from smoking

Quitting smoking is something many Canadians make a resolution to do at the beginning of the year. Although the prevalence of smoking has gone down since 1965, 10.2% of the total population aged 15 and older continue to smoke, according to a 2023 Statistics Canada survey.

Smoking cigarettes kills more people in Canada than other causes of preventable death including obesity, high blood pressure or physical inactivity. By making your heart work harder to get enough oxygen, smoking harms your health in more ways than one. It exposes your body to 4000 poisonous chemicals, forty of which are known to cause cancer and can harm the health of the people around you, through second hand smoke.

Understanding nicotine addiction

Nicotine is an addictive chemical found naturally in tobacco. When smoking, it enters your bloodstream and goes to your brain, causing a release of chemicals that make you feel energized or happy, temporarily. After smoking a cigarette, the level of nicotine in your system starts to decrease and your brain and body start to crave it, making it uncomfortable to resist smoking another cigarette. This cycle of use can make it challenging to stop, as it creates a powerful illusion of stress relief with every cigarette.

Cutting back can cause symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Your body responding to low levels of nicotine, may give you a strong urge to smoke but symptoms will improve over time, as long as you remain smoke free. To help you cope or manage your withdrawal symptoms, try the 5D’s

  1. Delay – try to delay smoking for as long you can. Remember, the craving will pass!
  2. Distract – do something that requires concentration to take your mind off of your craving.
  3. Deep Breathing – Practice relaxation breathing by breaking in through your nose, expanding your stomach and then exhaling slowly through your mouth.
  4. Drink water – drinking a cold glass of water can help you change the feeling in your mouth.
  5. Discuss – talk about how you feel with someone. Discussing your feelings can help you understanding your urges and manage your cravings.

Overcoming concerns about quitting

The process of quitting can be difficult. Many times, the first attempt to quit can be unsuccessful but through various supports, you can be and remain smoke-free.

At UHN, we know that quitting smoking can be a very difficult change to implement. It’s a big change and you may feel like you are choosing to walk away from something that has become a significant part of your life for such a long time and have come to depend on it.

It’s important to reflect on your concerns and deal with them in a positive way. Quitting is a series of small challenges, not one big challenge.

 Tips to help you quit

You might find that your experience with quitting smoking can be drastically different from someone else going through the same challenge. Here are some tips that may help you on your journey to becoming smoke-free:

  1. Create a quit plan: build a series of steps that you can use to prepare and help you quit smoking. Making a quit plan and putting it into action can make it easier to quit and help you succeed. You can tailor your plan to help you keep track of your reasons to quit smoking, concerns and strategies, triggers and coping strategies, overall approach to quitting, tools and supports and quit dates.
  2. Use a quit aid: talk to your health care provider about your decision to quit smoking. They will be able to support you in choosing a quit aid that is right for you to increase your chances of quitting successfully. Quit aids can help you in dealing with triggers and reduce your cravings for nicotine, used in combination with other supports.
  3. Cut back gradually before quitting: slowly reduce the amount you smoke as you move closer to your quit date. You can set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely) to reduce the amount you smoke every day and cut down as much as you can in addition to changing some of your daily routines that you may associate with smoking.

 Find supports to help you succeed

There are many resources available to help you become smoke free. Consider talking to your health care provider for a referral for certain smoking cessation programs or find more resources in your area at

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