Why it’s Hard to Quit Smoking

I love the movie Holes! Recently I found out that my wife hadn’t watched it, so I turned it on for her because it’s a good movie. Maybe I think it’s a good movie because I have nostalgia when I watch it, nostalgia of my early days in High School (where I watched the movie in film class). Why am I telling you about Holes, and what does that have to do with smoking?

Remember Mr. Sir? Remember the first scene he was in, with Stanly and the prison officer? He was asked why he’s chewing on sunflower seeds and he said because he quit smoking. So, is that what you have to do to stop smoking, chew on sunflower seed for the rest of your life?

Why Quitting Smoking is Hard? 

Quitting smoking is a hard task and rightly so because it’s a two-component problem, the double-edged sword if you will. There is the addiction to tobacco which contains nicotine (an addictive stimulant and a strong parasympathomimetic- it activates your parasympathetic system (aka your rest & digest system; in other words it relaxes you- this could be why it’s hard to  kick the smoking habit-more on that in a little bit). Then there is the psychological component, the habit of smoking and the behavior around smoking. I am, for the purposes of this article more interested in the behavioral aspects of smoking because I think it can be an equally important driver of why a person starts smoking and why it becomes hard to stop smoking). 

The Behavioral Component of Smoking 

The majority of smokers do become addicted to nicotine so obliviously the physiological/biochemical component we discussed earlier plays an important role that makes it difficult to quit smoking (in fact, some research suggest that nicotine may be as addictive as heroin, cocaine or alcohol)1. However, do not underestimate the power of the mind, there is truth in the saying “mind over matter”. 

Do people find smoking enjoyable? I’m sure they do or else they wouldn’t do it! Part of the reason people smoke is because they associate too much pleasure to smoking and/or associate to much pain with quitting smoking. What do I mean by those two things?

Smoking and Pleasure 

Smokers find smoking enjoyable; it relaxes them, it makes them feel good and it makes them feel happy. Where does this pleasure come from? Doesn’t come from the chemical, nicotine? In part yes, but there is also the act or the habit of smoking and the pleasure that comes from that. The process of taking a break from the daily stress of life and smoking to relax. That sounds like an oxymoron, but smoking is a form of breathing exercises, smokers inhale slowly and exhale slowly as they blow the smoke. That process is in itself enjoyable and when something brings pleasure in the form of relaxation it becomes hard to kick that behavior/habit. 

Smoking and Pain

So, the act of smoking brings pleasure which makes it hard to kick the habit of smoking. To make matters worse the process to quit smoking is rather difficult. According to the CDC people who try to quit smoking end up failing because of withdrawals symptoms like stress and weight gain. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include1

  • Being and feeling irritable, angry and/or anxious
  • Having trouble thinking
  • Craving tobacco products 
  • Feeling hungrier than normal, this could explain why those who quit smoking end up gaining weight in most cases 

That’s a lot of things to NOT look forward to, is it any wonder it takes anywhere from 8 to 30 attempts to quit smoking before a current smoker becomes a former smoker?2 Knowing these numbers coupled with the nicotine withdrawal symptoms will certainly make it hard for any smoker to quit smoking, why? Because it’s too much pain to go through, too many failed attempts to deal with, too many disappointments, too many relapses before a smoker can go a full year without having a cigarette. 

There is some good news though, 7 out of every 10 smokers report that they want to quit smoking.1

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint 

The process to quit smoking is a marathon, it will take time, there will be setbacks, relapses and many failed attempts but like all marathons, there is a finish line. Quitting smoking takes work, the work of figuring out the how and which methods work best.

According to the CDC, there are several options that have been proven to help smokers quit1:

  • Some help from your doctor (they can provide assistance about quitting)- I would say that not much help can come from a conventional medicine doctor, it’s not because they don’t care. It’s because they are in a system that is overwhelmed and focuses all too often on speed and volume. Most patients don’t get more than 15 minutes with their doctor. 
  • Group or individual counseling (in person or over the phone)
  • Behavioral therapies 
  • Programs that deliver treatments using technology (phones, video conferencing, etc.)
  • Medications that include:
    • Over the counter (OTC) nicotine replacement therapy 
    • Prescription nicotine replacement therapy 
    • Prescription non-nicotine replacement medications 

I think that working with a health coach can also be a great and effective way to help smokers become non-smokers.

  • A health coach empowers the client to tap into their own strengths that will be needed on the journey to quit smoking
  • A health coach helps the client create their own quitting solutions that are specific to them and their situation 
  • A health coach supports the client without judgement; the process of quitting smoking will be a difficult one with many failed attempts and setbacks. The last thing that is needed is another person that will be judging you and looking at you as a failure. 
  • A health coach holds the client accountable to their goal of quitting smoking and helps them tie those goals to an overall vision for wellness and health (making it easier to stick to the plan to quit smoking)

The process of quitting smoking is difficult but it’s possible and it requires work, time and help! 

If you are curious to have me as your health coach and your partner on this journey, click here and find out if we are a good fit for each other. 


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/index.htm
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/quitting-smoking-expect-failure-before-you-succeed#1

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