Why is smoking so hard to quit?

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Smoking – it’s a problem that many people have come across in their lifetime, whether it was from a young age or later on in life. The act of smoking is a dangerous one; not only is the way most people start an awful experience, the process of quitting is even worse. Smoking is such a strong habit that it’s still something that around 15% of Canadians do. Yet, despite all the studies and side effects that have been published that discuss the dangers of smoking cigarettes, most people can’t give up the habit. Why? 

Quitting is expensive

The first problem with trying to give up cigarettes is that the easiest quitting method costs a lot of money. If someone wants to quit smoking without having to go cold-turkey and deal with the side-effects, the current options out there are expensive. An estimated price for the brand version of the ten-week replacement program is around $413.89 per person, and $310.39 per person for the off-brand generic version at a local drug store. Despite the benefits of eliminating the symptoms of withdrawal, the initial cost of the program, combined with all the hardships it entails, can be off-putting to many people. 

Trying to quit cold-turkey is difficult

The second problem is that the cheap and free way to quit smoking, going “cold-turkey”, is sometimes attractive to people trying to quit. Despite seeming convenient, there’s a load of side effects that come along with quitting cold-turkey. These include, but aren’t limited to: urges to smoke, restlessness, trouble sleeping, anger, irritability, anxiety and depression, with some less common symptoms that seem like a cold, such as stomach aches, nausea, dizziness, and feeling light-headed. These negative side effects might influence certain people to believe that their attempts to quit will always cause these effects, and that fact might make them hesitant to quit in the future if they wind up being unsuccessful the first time.  

Quitting smoking made difficult by triggers

Another barrier to quitting smoking is caused by triggers. Triggers are events that make an ex-smoker crave cigarettes. Triggers fall into two broad categories, which are then broken down into four sub-groups: The two broad groups are external triggers and internal triggers, and the four subgroups of triggers are emotion-related, withdrawal-related, habit-related, and social-related. 


Emotions play a big part in trying to quit; if someone is used to using cigarettes as a coping mechanism, having them not be an option anymore can make their problems overwhelming to deal with, and lead them right back down the same path to re-start smoking. 


Withdrawal is what happens to the body when it stops getting a steady intake of nicotine and is most common when attempting to quit cold-turkey. Withdrawal triggers and emotional triggers are interlinked; the withdrawal triggers can influence a smoker’s actions and force them to have a smoke, thus stopping them from quitting.  


The third and last internal trigger is habitual triggers. These are caused when smokers go to a location they would often smoke in, or when they associate with someone that would cause them to smoke in the past. There are also acts that some ex-smokers can associate with smoking; some smokers get habitual triggers from just being around cigarettes, smelling cigarette smoke from someone else, or even handling a physical cigarette.  

Social groups

The fourth external trigger is all thanks to social groups. Some examples of where social groups would make an ex-smoker want to start again include going somewhere populated by other smokers, being around someone who might offer you a smoke, or any similar circumstances. This can be made even worse if an ex-smokers’ friend group belittles them for trying to quit, or tries to use peer pressure to get them to continue smoking. If that’s the case, it might be best for them to stop associating with those people, until the wrath of nicotine withdrawal goes away. 

Those who want to quit need support

Many factors prevent smokers from quitting. This makes the task seem like a mountain of adversity and hardship, and it’s true; quitting is an amazing feat. It’s one that requires as much support as possible, and shouldn’t be downplayed. It would be best if everyone, including non-smokers, is aware of how tough it is so that they can cheer on those people in their life who are in the process of quitting. 

Emily is in her fourth year of Political Science. She loves studying and academics which follows into her research work. She's a stern black coffee drinker and is a proud Acadienne. When she's not working or doing school work, you can find Emily listening to 70s music on vinyl and watching Parks and Recreation. If you ask her about parliamentary institutions, she won't stop talking.