Find Your Smoking Triggers

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K. on May 23, 2022.

Smoking Triggers

If you're a smoker, you're well aware of the situation. When you finish a meal, you get a strong desire for a smoke. When you get up from your seat and take a break, you feel tempted to light up. A deep desire to smoke may be triggered by certain hours of the day, locations, and also foods.

These are referred to as triggers by experts. And there may be quite a few of them. They may occur if you do the following:

  • Checking your texts or email
  • Feeling bored, sad, angry, or stressed
  • Talking on the phone
  • Taking a break from work
  • Drink your morning tea or coffee
  • Drinking a beer, cocktail, or glass of wine
  • Go for a drive
  • Get up during intermission at a show
  • After dinner
  • Even happy or joyful emotions may act as triggers.

Learn to Spot Your Smoking Triggers

Once you know yours, you are better prepared to avoid or overcome them.

Keep a diary for a couple days or a week until you quit. Make use of your mobile or a small notebook that you can conveniently carry.

Keep records each time you light a cigarette:

  • The time of the day.
  • On a scale of 1 to 5, how strong the desire is (with 5 being the most intense).
  • What you're doing at the time.
  • Where you are
  • Who you’re with How you feel (happy, stressed, bored, etc.)

Get the observations as accurate as possible. Since your routine is going to be different on weekdays and weekends, keep your diary for at least one daily and one weekend day.

Assess your journal once you've finished. Depending on the severity of the craving, make a list of the most powerful triggers. What are the most common triggers? Make a list of the places, people, situations, and moods that make you want to smoke.

Defuse Smoking Triggers in Advance

Triggers are a form of conditioned response. If you're used to smoking a cigarette during your coffee break, for example, you'll start to associate coffee's scent with smoking.

Before they hit, you'll have to outsmart the triggers. To do this, modify your daily routines to eliminate your most powerful triggers.

For example, if driving is a trigger, practice driving short distances without smoking. If coffee makes you want it, consider going without it for a while or switching to a new drink or coffee store.

Avoid Situations That Spark a Craving to Smoke

Examine the list of triggers until your quit date and label those that you can fairly avoid with a check mark.

If you have acquaintances with whom you used to smoke, for example, plan ahead of time to avoid seeing them within the first few weeks of stopping. Explain why you're doing that.

You should abstain from consuming alcohol for a while, since it can weaken your resolve to quit smoking.

Do you want to smoke while watching television? You could do something else or watch in a location where smoking is prohibited. Take a new route if you normally light up as you take the dog for a walk. Again, the aim is to eliminate all smoking-related habits.

The more drastically you alter your daily routine, the better it would be to avoid triggers. Taking a little stroll around the neighborhood instead of breakfast and a cigarette first thing in the morning. Instead of stepping outdoors to light a cigarette on a job break, perform a few quick exercises at your workplace, such as deep knee bends or stretches. Go to locations that you can't smoke, such as libraries, museums, or theatres, if possible.

Plan Ways to Resist Smoking Triggers You Can’t Avoid

You can't always avoid all of your triggers. Prepare for them and have a strategy in place for when they strike.

Instead of a cigarette, bring something else to chew on, like a mint-flavored toothpick or some carrot sticks. Take slow breaths while walking and concentrate on how wonderful the fresh air tastes in your body. Sipping ice-cold water, taking deep breaths, squeezing a rubber ball or completing a crossword puzzle, or meditating will both help you get over a craving.

You reclaim some of the control that smoking has over you every time you fight a trigger and don't light up. The majority of cravings last for a few minutes. You'll get a step closer to a future without cigarettes if you can get through them.


Referenced on 12/05/2021

  1. Steven Schroeder, MD, director, Smoking Cessation Leadership Center, University of California, San Francisco.
  2. Scott McIntosh, PhD, associate professor of community and preventive medicine, University of Rochester, New York; director, Greater Rochester Area Tobacco Cessation Center.
  3. National Cancer Institute.
  4. American Cancer Society: “Guide to Quitting Smoking.”
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
  6. QuitNow Canada.

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