“I Love Smoking, So Why Should I Stop?”

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated February 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 12 of every 100 adults in the US smoke cigarettes regularly. Over half of these individuals are estimated to be currently living with a smoking-related disease. In 2023, it’s common knowledge that tobacco contains nicotine, an addictive chemical, and that smoking or chewing tobacco comes bundled with a variety of serious health risks. So why do millions of people still regularly use this substance? 

One of the most obvious reasons is that nicotine makes it difficult to quit. Some people also enjoy the feeling smoking gives them, or the ritual of taking a break from work or social situations to step outside and smoke. Others may feel that it helps them manage stress, while still others may pick up the habit in order to fit in with a certain crowd. That said, the most recent statistics currently available (2015) report that almost 70% of smokers say they wish they could quit. However you feel about your smoking habits, reading about the health risks associated with them and looking over tips for quitting could help you on the road to improved health.

Getty/Luis Alvarez
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Key health risks of smoking tobacco

Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical compound that’s found in tobacco as well as vaping products. So why is nicotine bad for you? The simplest answer is that it’s what keeps smokers going back for more, leading them to repeatedly take in the many harmful chemicals—including ammonia, arsenic, formaldehyde, tar, and carbon monoxide—present in tobacco smoke. Over time, frequent exposure to these substances can cause a variety of health problems. Three of the most serious are listed below. They illustrate that although some people may enjoy the act of smoking, the risks to one’s well-being are severe.

Increased likelihood of cancer

Smoking is the number-one identified cause of cancer worldwide. Since smoking can negatively affect virtually every organ in the body, it has the potential to cause many different types of cancer. Some of the most common cancers are of the lungs, mouth, throat, liver, and stomach. As Cancer Research UK reports, the factor that most affects your likelihood of developing a smoking-related cancer is the number of years you’ve been smoking.

Increased likelihood of fertility problems

For those who are interested in having children, it’s important to know that smoking can negatively affect the reproductive system, the ability to conceive, and the health of the baby. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, smoking can reduce fertility, negatively affect hormone production, and damage the DNA in sperm. It also notes that smoking before, during, or after pregnancy can be harmful to a baby’s health in addition to the carrying parent’s health, including increased risks of:

  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Miscarriage
  • Preterm labor and delivery 
  • Stillbirth
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Low birth weight
  • Orofacial clefts in the baby
  • Underdeveloped lungs in the baby
  • Childhood asthma

Note that there is no safe type of tobacco to use during pregnancy. Smoking tobacco, chewing tobacco, and vaping can all present serious risks to both the parent and the baby because of their nicotine content.

Increased likelihood of early death

If you smoke tobacco, you are much more likely to die earlier than your non-smoking counterparts.

At this time, smoking retains its position as the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States and the world. In the US, it’s responsible for more than 20% of deaths annually—more than alcohol consumption, drug use, or car accidents.

Helpful tips for quitting

Quitting smoking, sometimes referred to as “smoking cessation,” is possible, and it can have significant health benefits. For instance, as the CDC reports, the risk of lung cancer in a person who hasn’t smoked for 10–15 years is half that of a person who has continued to smoke. With continued abstinence, these risks decrease even further. Since these figures are similar to other health risks associated with smoking, quitting as soon as possible is recommended.

That said, quitting can be easier said than done. Most people are unable to successfully quit the first time they try, so some patience, persistence, and self-compassion may be helpful if you’ve decided to embark on this process. Note that there are a variety of physical aids that are designed to help people stop smoking, such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) in the form of gum, lozenges, or patches. Many of these are available over the counter, though a doctor can help you find the right product for you and support you in managing withdrawal symptoms. The following pieces of information and advice may also be useful in the process.

Find your reason for quitting

Focusing on one or two key reasons that you want to quit can help you get motivated to take the steps to do so and may even support you in staying on track when things get difficult. It's usually best to choose a reason(s) that’s personally meaningful to you in particular. Some examples include:

  • Decreasing your risk of cancer
  • Improving your lung health for sports or hiking
  • Safeguarding your family from secondhand smoke
  • Saving money on cigarettes
  • Boosting your senses of taste/smell to enjoy food more

Track your progress

Keeping track of the progress you’ve made toward your goal of being cigarette-free and the benefits you get to enjoy at each stage may help you stay the course. You might start by bookmarking or printing out this list from the American Lung Association that details the health benefits the average person is likely to experience at various stages of quitting. For example, just 12–24 hours after quitting, your risk of heart attack is already reduced. One year after quitting, your added risk of coronary heart disease will typically have decreased by half. You could also find other ways to measure your progress, such as engaging in a new physical exercise routine and seeing how your stamina improves over time.

Reduce stress

According to a study on the topic, one of the most common causes of relapsing in smokers who are trying to quit is stress. Since many people get used to turning to a cigarette when they feel stressed, experiencing this emotion frequently can make it harder to continually resist the craving. That’s why learning other coping mechanisms for handling stress in daily life can be helpful on the road to quitting. 

One strategy to consider is learning some deep breathing exercises. Part of why some people find smoking calming is that it involves stepping out to take a moment to yourself and to engage in long, slow, deep breaths. Doing a similar ritual but without a cigarette could be helpful for some. Meditation, yoga, eating nutritious foods, exercising, and practicing good sleep hygiene could also help you manage stress as well.

Be mindful of your environment

Certain environmental factors can trigger a craving, so being mindful of your surroundings and routines could help decrease this risk somewhat. For example, if you’re used to smoking every day on your lunch break, you could replace that act with taking a walk, getting a smoothie, calling a friend, or doing a crossword puzzle. If you have lighters all around the house, you could get rid of them all. If you frequent a place where people often smoke, you might avoid it to help reduce temptation.

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How therapy can help

Trying to beat a nicotine addiction can feel difficult and overwhelming, especially if it’s been a part of your routine for many years. That’s why working with a therapist throughout this process is helpful for some people. They can help you identify what triggers your cravings and help you build new habits, support you in formulating healthier coping mechanisms for stress, and work with you to address any underlying emotions that may be holding you back, such as shame or guilt.

Some people find it more convenient to attend therapy online since it means they can log on from the comfort of home rather than commuting back and forth to an office. It’s one reason online therapy represents a more flexible option for many. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist whom you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging to address the challenges you may be facing. Research suggests that online interventions for smoking cessation can be as effective as in-person ones, so it may be worth exploring this format if it appeals to you.


Smoking cigarettes is considered to be a highly dangerous habit because of how drastically it increases a person’s risk of cancer, fertility problems, respiratory issues, other health consequences, and even early mortality. Quitting can be difficult because of the addictive quality of nicotine, but help is available. If you're looking for support, speaking with your doctor and/or a therapist could be helpful.
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