We all know why smoking is addictive, and it’s all down to that compound known as nicotine. Nicotine acts on receptors in our brain, and our brains come to rely on the stimulation from nicotine to function normally. When you suddenly deprive your body of nicotine, these receptors don’t function as well, slowing down the communication between brain cells. 

This hampered communication between our cells leads to slower cognitive functioning, increased stress, being grouchy and feelings of sadness or depression – these are nicotine withdrawal symptoms, and these contribute to that feeling of craving a cigarette. The brain knows that having a cigarette will alleviate these symptoms (and be satisfying) which is why quitters feel a pull to smoke even after deciding to quit smoking.

Staying smoke free requires being aware of withdrawal symptoms, and preparing ways to tackle these, and the urge to smoke, when a craving hits! 


Nicotine acts on receptors called nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, and these increase in number if you are a smoker. When you stop smoking, the increased number of these receptors takes a while to go back to ‘normal’ – that of a non-smoker – and it is thought that the studies published in JAMA Psychiatry suggest the the number of number of receptors can make it hard to quit smoking.

Tobacco companies also include chemicals in their cigarettes to increase the bioavailability of nicotine – this means they increase the efficiency with which the body absorbs nicotine. This means that smoking cigarettes is an aggressive way of getting nicotine into your system.


The two types of nicotine cravings you will run into during a quit attempt are physical cravings and psychological cravings.

  • Physical cravings are short bursts usually experienced as a physical feeling- tightness in the throat or belly, feeling tense and anxious.
  • Psychological cravings are when your brain wants to smoke – often triggers experienced during the day (like stress) initiate these kinds of cravings.


The big question, then, is when do the cravings for nicotine go away? Many regular smokers experience cravings for up to 6 months after quitting. The worst cravings will be right after quitting, and they normally pass within about 5 minutes, but these intense bursts can be a challenge to stay on top of.

When you quit, nicotine is cleared out of your system in about 3 days, and the metabolites, such as cotinine, are cleared after approximately 10 days. The heavier smokers may have detectable levels of nicotine for as long as 20 days, with certain tests for cotinine able to detect nicotine consumption for one year after ceasing tobacco use.


Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy NRT is one way of tackling the cravings. There are a variety of options to choose from, these include the better-known nicotine gum, nasal sprays, inhalators, transdermal patches, and prescription pills, among others. Most of these are available over the counter. 

Each form of NRT has its own merits and drawbacks. The lozenges and gum require anticipating cravings in order to use them effectively as they take a short while to get the blood nicotine level up. In contrast the transdermal patches are applied in the morning and then forgotten about until the end of the day or the following morning, so less thought and effort is required. 

Electronic Cigarettes

In the UK, the National Health Service has recently announced that it will be licencing e-cigarettes for use by cigarette users as a smoking cessation tool. This is a great way of eliminating the majority of toxins, carcinogens and tar that come with smoking; while delivering nicotine to the body – this means the nicotine withdrawal is addressed, so you should be able to give up the tobacco without suffering too much. 

Using leading vape blog article outlines the reasons why using an e-cigarette can aid in quitting smoking to quit means you can reduce your nicotine intake over time by using e-liquids with a lower concentration of nicotine. This means you can get your nicotine intake down really low before finally giving it up, which should mean less withdrawal symptoms, and less craving.

Do remember that Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians agree that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than traditional tobacco cigarettes – just make sure to buy your device and liquids from a country with good regulation, like the UK!

Effective tips for Successfully Quit smoking

Environmental Methods

There is a lot of research into other factors that may help smoking cessation, and there is a fair bit of good news.

Research indicates that green spaces have a positive effect on our mental health, and this spreads over into smoking cessation. A study with over eight thousand subjects found that there was a recent studies found people who live close to green spaces are 20% less likely to smoke. After adjusting for a variety of factors, they concluded the green spaces were not linked with ‘ever-smoking’, therefore the lower prevalence of smokers is likely due to increased quitting rates.


Another way to proactively tackle cravings is to get some exercise! St George’s university, London, published findings indicating that Science Daily published a study that found moderate exercise can help reduce cravings. This means getting out for a short but brisk walk could help you attack cravings head on, and take your mind off smoking!

Practicing mindfulness is also a great way to deal with cravings and withdrawal symptoms – or just when you’re feeling stressed! Forms of meditation or specific mindfulness exercises can help manage these cravings; reducing stress, anxiety and depression that are common feelings during a quit attempt. Deep breathing exercises, like Wim Hof’s breathing method, are well worth a try – and if you have never tried deep breathing exercises, you will be amazed at the impact they can make.

For ultimate efficiency, try combining exercise, green spaces and mindfulness together – a walk in a woodland area without headphones in, focusing on taking in the majesty of nature’s sounds, smells and sights has a relaxing effect that always leaves me feeling a little more at peace.


Including a few specific food items in your diet may positively contribute to a quit attempt – the University of Buffalo, New York, examined a cohort of 1000 subjects and found that the US study found that smokers who consumed the highest amounts of fruit and veg were more likely to have been tobacco free

As smoking reduces the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and D, eating fruit and veg helps to increase the levels of these vitamins, which may help to reduce cravings, and taking supplements can help get you topped up!

A Healthy Diet Can Dramatically Improve Lifestyle

Dealing with triggers

Triggers are the hurdles that trip us up on any given quit attempt – a lot of them we can see coming, and so take steps to avoid. Some, however, pop up out of nowhere when you least expect it, knocking you off balance and potentially ruining all the effort you put into this latest quit attempt. 

The triggers you expect can be planned for – this could be the morning coffee that you usually have a cigarette with, or your break at work that you always enjoy a cigarette in. Plan instead to change that morning drink, or consume it in an environment that stops you from smoking. At breaktime at work, plan to go out for a short walk instead of the usual cigarette. 

The unexpected triggers are the ones to watch out for. Stress is one of these triggers that can appear anytime, be it at work, at home, while travelling, first thing in the morning and late at night. Make sure you have a few tricks ready for use when these pop up; a short burst of exercise is great if you can do it, but may not always be possible, so a meditation exercise might be more appropriate. 

Getting support

Tackling any of life’s challenges is easier with a bit of support, and quitting smoking is no different. There are a few options out there – support groups on social media sites and blogs where sharing an experience could help you or someone else. Behavioural support from your local stop smoking service could help give you the edge on the next quit attempt. 

A good place to start may be just talking with a family member, but anyone with experience of quitting smoking is likely to have a few words of wisdom that could help, maybe even a trick or two that helped them go the distance. 

Stop Smoking Services


Quitting smoking is a life experience that can teach you a lot: primarily that deciding to do something does not make it happen. We have to bargain with ourselves, fight our inclinations toward bad habits, and put the effort in to make things happen. 

Cravings pass, they become less frequent and less intense over time. The hardest part is getting through the first few days, then staying strong until the cravings truly disappear. Putting a plan together and getting some craving-busting activities prepared can be a great distraction in itself – so be sure to stay busy, exercise, hydrate, eat well, maintain your mental wellbeing and even try an e-cigarette if you seriously want to pack in the cigarettes.