How to Quit Smoking: 9 Common Smoking Triggers and How To Overcome Them

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K. on May 18, 2021.

Smoking Triggers

When you decided to stop smoking, you probably expected your body to crave nicotine for a bit, but you prepared yourself for those cravings. However, you may not have expected the strong emotions that occur while you are in certain situations, around certain individuals, or at certain periods of the day.

You can’t help but want to smoke and that’s how you’ve always managed it at those moments. It’s difficult to break bad habits. These conditions are referred to as “triggers" for smoking.

When you plan out how to make the triggers lose their control over you, quitting becomes simpler. The only way to achieve this is to anticipate their presence and thus have a strategy in place to divert your attention during these times.

You will make the triggers disappear and easier to control with practice. The below are common smoking triggers (in no specific order), as well as strategies to avoid wanting to light up in each situation:

1. Coffee

For certain people, a cup of coffee and a cigarette are synonymous. It’s possible that tasting coffee would make you want to smoke. The habit goes hand in hand.

Overcome your trigger: Change your routine to have coffee somewhere different. It’s best to drink it at a different moment. For a short while, switch to decaf, cocoa, or hot chocolate. To keep your hands occupied while sipping, text, read a newsletter, or make to-do lists.

2. Work Breaks

If you always smoke with your colleagues outside, you may feel compelled to light up when it’s time for your regular cigarette break.

Overcome your trigger: When your friends ask you out for a cigarette break, politely decline. And if you don’t light up for them, you’ll be compelled to, which may be detrimental to your determination. If you’ve always loved having a break outdoors, take a quick walk anytime you need a break from your desk. Take a deep breath and notice how much better it feels when you’re not in a smoky cloud.

3. Stress

Since the chemicals in cigarettes can affect the way your brain manages stress, they may make some people feel calmer. When you’re feeling nervous, you may want to light up a cigarette to unwind.

Overcome your trigger: There are also options to unwind without lighting up a cigarette. Take ten slow, deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling steadily. Listen to music that is relaxing and calming. Make a phone call to speak to a friend. Take a stroll. To keep your hands occupied, squeeze a stress ball.

4. After a Meal

When they’ve finished eating, several people light up. If you often smoke after dinner, you’ll probably want a cigarette as soon as you’ve cleared the table.

Overcome your trigger: After your dinner, brush your teeth or grab a breath mint. Instead of a cigarette, you should imagine minty-fresh breath after you eat with this new change to your routine. Alternatively, as soon as you’ve finished eating, clean the pots and pans. You can’t smoke while your hands are wet and soapy.

5. Boredom

When they have nothing left to do, certain people switch to smoke. It could be difficult to overcome this mindless habit.

Overcome your trigger: Create your own entertainment so you don’t get bored. Make a list of items you intend to do and pursue them one at a time while you have free time. Hold activities around the house that can occupy you and keep your hands occupied, such as crossword puzzles or puzzle games like Sudoku. Alternatively, go for a stroll to get a fresh outlook.

6. Driving

If you usually smoke while driving, being in your car will tempt you to do so.

Overcome your trigger: You'll love the clean, smoke-free scent after freshening the air in your vehicle. Keep a stock of hard candies or chewing gum in your glove compartment to keep your mouth occupied. Sing along with the music on the radio to develop a new, better driving routine.

7. Bars

Beer and nicotine are interchangeable with certain individuals. It would be difficult to have one without the other. They go hand in hand.

Overcome your trigger: Alcohol suppresses willpower. For a while, stay away from your normal hangouts and smoking buddies because the temptation to light up would be too intense. If you like to drink, go to a smoke-free bar and order something different from the regular beer or cocktail, so the taste doesn't entice you to smoke.

8. Sex

Many people light up after the natural sex high to enhance the sensation.

Overcome your trigger: Bring a new post-sex routine to help you cope with your elevated mood. You could try cuddling with your partner after sex. Try having pillow talk with your partner or give massages to each other. Alternatively, take a hot bath or shower to unwind and fall asleep.

9. Bedtime

Smoking is often the last thing people do before going to bed. You, too, can break this habit.

Overcome your trigger: Change up your bedtime routine: Drinking a glass of warm milk is recommended. You could also try yoga before bedtime. Consider meditating. Take a long and hot shower. Relax while listening to soothing songs. Read a novel that keeps you turning the pages. Consider what you’ll do with the money you’ll save from not purchasing tobacco.


Referenced on 12/05/2021

  1. National Cancer Institute: “How to handle withdrawal symptoms and triggers when you decide to quit smoking.” 
  2. from National Cancer Institute: “Know your smoking triggers,” “How to Manage Cravings.”
  3. QuitDay: “Knowing what to expect: How to avoid triggers.”
  4. Quit and Stay Quit Monday from The Monday Campaigns: “How to conquer smoking triggers.”

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