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College Students & Quitting Smoking

How to Quit | Quitting Tips | Online Quitting Resources | More Information

How to Quit

We know that you already know all the reasons why you should quit smoking (if not, check out Why to Quit), but do you have any idea how to go about doing it? There is no right or wrong way for quitting smoking, but there are four main steps which will increase your chances of success:

  1. Making the decision to quit
  2. Setting a quit date and choosing a quit plan
  3. Dealing with withdrawal
  4. Staying quit (maintenance)

Making the Decision to Quit

The decision to quit smoking is one that only you can make. The Stages of Change Model identifies the stages that a person goes through in making a change in behavior. Here are the stages as they apply to quitting smoking:


This stage includes smokers who are not thinking seriously about quitting right now. If this is you, check out WebMD's answers to the question Why Quit?


In this stage, the smoker is actively thinking about quitting but is not quite ready to make a serious attempt. This person may say, "Yes, I'm ready to quit, but the stress of school is too much/I don't want to gain weight/I'm not sure if I can do it."


Smokers in the preparation stage seriously intend to quit in the next month and often have tried to quit in the past 12 months. They usually have a plan.
ActionThis is the first 6 months when the smoker is actively quitting.


This is the period of 6 months to 5 years after quitting when the ex-smoker is aware of the danger of relapse and take steps to avoid it.

Setting a Quit Date and Choosing a Quit Plan

Here are some strategies to try as you prepare yourself to quit:

  1. Keep a smoking diary.
  2. Learn from your smoking habits:
    • Cut out the cigarettes that you do not feel a strong need to smoke (e.g., eliminate your two "least needed" cigarettes each day).
    • Take fewer puffs each time you smoke--one way to do this is to smoke only half of each cigarette.
    • When you feel like smoking, try chewing gum.
  3. If you have tried to quit in the past, review what happened and LEARN from your past attempt(s).
  4. Find a "Stop Smoking Buddy" who can help.
  5. Set a quit date.

Selecting a quit date is a very important step! Choose a specific day within the next month as your Quit Day--picking a date too far in the future allows you time to rationalize and change your mind, but do give yourself enough time to prepare and come up with a plan. Once you decide on a date, circle it in your planner and make a strong, personal commitment to quit on that day.

Your next step is to choose a quit plan. There is no right way to quit smoking, but there are two main approaches: cold turkey or gradual withdrawal.

Cold TurkeyGoing cold turkey means stopping abruptly and totally. To quit cold turkey, you can either smoke as usual until your quit day and then stop all at once or you can smoke fewer cigarettes for a week or two before your quit day.
Gradual WithdrawalGradual withdrawal involves cutting down on the number of cigarettes smoked each day. For example, you might cut out cigarettes smoked after meals, or you might decide to smoke only at certain times of the day. You can also taper down by cutting out 1-2 cigarettes per day until your quit day.

Dealing with Withdrawal

Withdrawal from nicotine has two parts, the physical and the psychological. The physical symptoms, while annoying, are not life threatening. Nicotine replacement can help reduce many of these physical symptoms. But most smokers find that the bigger challenge is the psychological part of quitting.

If you have been smoking for any length of time, smoking has become linked with nearly everything you do--waking up in the morning, eating, reading, watching TV, drinking coffee, etc.--and thus it will take time to "unlink" smoking from these activities. One way to overcome these urges or cravings is to identify rationalizations as they come up. A rationalization is a mistaken belief that seems to make sense at the time but is not based on facts. If you have tried to quit before, you will probably recognize many of these common rationalizations.

  • How bad is smoking, really? Uncle Harry smoked all his life and he lived to be over 90. Air pollution is probably just as bad. (Do you really think so? Go back to Why Quit? for more information about the negative effects of smoking.)
  • You've got to die of something. (So why not go out into traffic and play chicken?)
  • I'll just have one to get through this rough spot. (Does a smoker ever stop with just one?)
  • Today is not a good day; I'll quit tomorrow. (We've heard that one before.)
  • It's my only vice. (Does that make it okay?)
  • Life is no fun without smoking. (Oh, come on!)

You probably can add more to the list. As you go through the first few days without smoking, write down any rationalizations as they come up and recognize them for what they are: messages that can trap you into going back to smoking. Use the Quitting Tips section below to help you keep your commitment to quitting.

Staying Quit

You can use the same methods to stay quit as you did to help you through withdrawal. Think ahead to those times when you may be tempted to smoke, and plan on how you will use alternatives and activities to cope with these situations. More dangerous, perhaps, are the unexpected strong desires to smoke that occur, sometimes months (or even years) after you've quit. To get through these without relapse, try the following:

  • Utilize the Quitting Tips below.
  • Remind yourself that there is no such thing as just one cigarette or even just one puff.
  • Ride out the desire to smoke; it will go away!

What if you do smoke? Don't despair--one cigarette is not a relapse! The difference between a slip and a relapse is within your control. You can use the slip as an excuse to go back to smoking, OR, you can look at what went wrong and renew your commitment to staying off smoking for good.

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Quitting Tips

Below are some tips to help you stick with your commitment to quit smoking.


  • Get rid of all your cigarettes as well as your ashtrays and lighters.
  • Put up a "NO SMOKING" sign in your room or suite.
  • Enroll in a smoking cessation program such as the one offered by the Livingston County Department of Health (call 243-7524 for more information).
  • Stop by Health Services to pick up a "Quit Kit" from the Health & Counseling Self-Care Center or make an appointment to speak with a provider about whether nicotine replacement or other prescription medications (such as Zyban) might help.
  • Utilize Online Quitting Resources.
  • Let your friends, family, professors and others know that you are quitting and ask for their help.
  • Call your "Stop Smoking Buddy" when you have the urge to smoke.
  • Reduce the urge to smoke by...
    • Trying the 4 D's:
      • take DEEP breaths
      • DRINK plenty of water
      • DO something else
      • DELAY until the urge passes
    • Keeping yourself busy
    • Exercising regularly
    • Chewing sugarless gum
    • Nibbling on low-calorie items such as apples and sugarless candy
  • Avoid smoke-filled settings and situations in which you are more likely to smoke (e.g., drinking with friends).
  • Increase your time in places where you can't smoke (e.g., campus buildings such as the library, restaurants, etc.).
  • Make some new, nonsmoking friends.
  • Are you also struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues?  Read more about Tobacco Use and Mental Health.
  • Make a list of activities to do instead of smoking, including what you will do when you are stressed. For more information about stress management, visit our College Students & Stress page.
  • Do something new! Try an intramural sport, join a student activities group, or take up a favorite hobby from when you were a kid.
  • Remind yourself of the reasons Why Quit?
  • Each week, deposit the money you would have spent on cigarettes in a special "bank." Use your special "bank" money to buy yourself a special treat for each week or month you go without smoking.
  • Plan a big celebration your six-month anniversary of being a nonsmoker--you deserve it!


More than two-thirds of all college graduates who have ever smoked have now quit--you can too! Say to yourself: I can be a NON-SMOKER.

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Online Quitting Resources

A panel of Geneseo students chose the following web sites as the best quitting resources for college students:

TobaccoFreeU.orgDesigned for college students (sponsored by the BACCHUS and GAMMA network). Includes a discussion board, educational materials, quitting tips, and information on secondhand smoke.
NYS Smoker's QuitlineAlso has a toll-free number, 1-888-609-6292.
GottaQuit.comIncludes stories of local Rochester-area teens.
Quit Smoking Journals.comHuge grassroots site providing support from others in all stages of quitting.
New Jersey Quit NetAllows you to develop a personalized quitting plan; also available in Spanish.
trytostop.orgOffers expert advice, motivational emails, free postcards and other downloads, and a "Quit Wizard."
WhyQuit.comJoining Freedom from Tobacco provides additional resources, including an online support group.
The Great American SmokeoutResources for quitting on the day of the annual Great American Smokeout, held on the third Thursday of November each year.
BobQuits.comFollow the story of Bob, a real person in his 30s, as he attempts to quit smoking.

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Get More Information

American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute

American Heart Association

Office on Smoking and Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


American Lung Association

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