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Why do we smoke?

If you're getting ready to quit, you might want to think a little about what makes you smoke in the first place.

Congratulations on making the decision to quit. Before you get started, it’s helpful to understand why people smoke.

There are three common reasons

  1. Nicotine addiction – the chemical part that causes nicotine withdrawal and the ‘need’ for nicotine

  2. Situation triggers – the smoke you want when you’re in certain situations or with certain people

  3. Emotional triggers – the smoke you want when you’re upset, stressed, bored or happy.

Usually we smoke because of a combination of these reasons. 


Dealing with one side of the smoking equation won’t usually be enough because you can be tripped up by the other. For example, if you use patches to deal with nicotine addiction but don't have a plan for emotional triggers you might find yourself reaching for a cigarette during a stressful day at work. 

Managing nicotine addiction

The best way to manage nicotine addiction part is by using a combination of Quitline and stop smoking medications such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) or prescribed tablets.  Combination therapy: a nicotine patch plus a faster-acting type like mouth spray, gum or lozenge is the most effective. The patch gives you a steady amount of nicotine while the faster-acting product helps you manage cravings.

How does nicotine work

Situation triggers that cause cravings

  • People – do you feel like a cigarette when you see people you usually smoke with?  

  • Place – are there places such as being in the car, being at work or in a pub that makes you crave a smoke? 

  • Pattern – do you smoke at certain times or during activities such as while drinking your morning coffee or when you’re on the phone?  

Everyone will have different types of these triggers, the key at this stage is to identify them. 

Emotional triggers that cause cravings

Do you find yourself reaching for a cigarette when you’re: 

  • Sad

  • Angry

  • Happy

  • Stressed

  • Frustrated

  • Bored 

Working out your emotional triggers now will help you to mentally prepare for them while quitting.

Best way to quit

Everybody who quits has a different story, but research shows that some methods will give you a better chance at quitting this time round than others. 

After more than 30 years of helping people to quit, we have found the best chance of quitting success is to combine stop smoking medication with regular Quitline conversations. 

That's because stop smoking medications deal with the nicotine addiction while our Quitline counsellors help with ways to deal with emotional and routine-based triggers. Request a Quitline callback.

Last updated June 2022.

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