Know Your Smoking Triggers

  • woman smoking
    Stop Cravings Before They Start
    Triggers are activities or situations that cause you to reach for a cigarette. By taking a few minutes to think about why you smoke, you can set yourself up to succeed at quitting. Perhaps you smoke when job stress peaks. Or maybe you always smoke while drinking alcohol. If you can identify what things prompt you to smoke, you can overcome the habit for good. Here are seven common smoking triggers—and what you can do to avoid or manage them.

  • male stressed at work
    You’ve just engaged in a tense conversation with your boss or spouse, and you can feel your adrenaline surging. What do you do next? If you reach for a cigarette, you’re not alone. Emotional stress—like anxiety or a fight-or-flight feeling—can trigger a strong desire to smoke. Next time you feel like smoking due to stress, try a more healthful alternative like taking a walk, practicing deep breathing, or listening to soothing music instead. 

  • waitress-bringing-food-to-table
    Eating a Meal
    One of the most common smoking triggers is eating a meal. Many smokers rise from the dinner table and immediately light up a cigarette. If you find yourself doing the same thing, you should recognize this is merely a habit. Like any other habit, you can break this one. Make a list of other activities you can do after eating instead of smoking. Perhaps you could take a brief walk. Or clean up the kitchen. Or chew gum.

  • Teenage girl taking cigarette from friend cigarette pack, close-up
    Socializing With Other Smokers
    It can be very hard to quit smoking when others around you are puffing away. In order to make a serious attempt to quit smoking, you need to talk to your friends and ask them not to smoke in your presence. Tell them this behavior triggers you and undermines your efforts. If they care about you, they will understand and refrain from lighting up in your presence. Avoid the smoking area at work and take your break somewhere else in (or out of) the office. 

  • Worried Woman Waiting
    Nicotine Withdrawal
    When you quit smoking, you should brace yourself for several days of very strong cravings for a cigarette. This is your body’s response to the withdrawal of nicotine from your system. Prepare in advance for these withdrawal cravings by developing an action plan. Have friends to call for support, use chewing gum when a craving hits, take a brisk walk, brush your teeth—do whatever you must to get through the nicotine withdrawal period without smoking

  • Bottles of Liquor at a Bar
    Drinking Alcohol
    Many smokers double down on cigarettes while drinking. A drink and cigarette seem to go together naturally. If you find drinking alcohol increases your desire to smoke, then the simplest solution is to avoid drinking—at least while you’re in the process of quitting. If you feel you can’t enjoy social situations without alcohol, or if you think you really can’t give up drinking, then you should speak to your doctor to evaluate your alcohol consumption and drinking habits.

  • woman resting her head
    Many people eat or smoke mindlessly when they’re bored. Reaching for a potato chip or a cigarette feels like an easy way to occupy the mind and hands. The next time you find yourself lighting up for no apparent reason, ask yourself if you’re smoking because you’re bored. If that’s the case, you can redirect your mind to a healthier activity, such as working a crossword puzzle, doing some housework, or playing with your kids. 

  • Calendar and Clock
    Routine Triggers
    If you’re like many smokers, your day goes something like this: wake up, smoke, drink coffee, smoke, eat lunch, smoke, take an afternoon cigarette break, smoke while driving home from work, eat dinner, smoke. These routine episodes of smoking are sometimes called “pattern triggers.” You can overcome pattern triggers by disrupting your routine. For instance, brush your teeth as soon as you wake up instead of having a smoke. When you eliminate routine smoking, being smoke-free can become your new normal.

Know Your Smoking Triggers

About The Author

As “the nurse who knows content,” Elizabeth Hanes, RN, works with national and regional healthcare systems, brands, agencies and publishers to produce all types of consumer-facing content. Formerly a perioperative and cosmetic surgery nurse, Elizabeth today uses her nursing knowledge to inform her writing on a wide variety of medical, health and wellness topics.
  1. Know Your Smoking Triggers. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  2. Cravings. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  3. How to Handle Withdrawal Symptoms and Triggers When You Decide to Quit Smoking. National Cancer Institute.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 23
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.