The single greatest step you can take to protecting your health is to quit using tobacco. Tobacco is responsible for one-third of all cancers, including approximately 90% of all lung cancers. Tobacco alone is estimated to claim nearly half a million lives in the US each year.

But it can be difficult to quit smoking. It requires dedication, support and planning. In fact, many patients find it helpful to speak with a doctor or tobacco cessation counselor beforehand to get help and support to successfully quit.

Below, two experts from MD Anderson’s Tobacco Treatment Program offer questions to ask your doctor and some information to consider when thinking about trying to quit. Maher Karam-Hage, M.D., is professor of Behavioral Science and associate medical director of our Tobacco Treatment Program. Diane Beneventi, Ph.D., is the supervising behavioral Psychologist in our Tobacco Treatment Program.

How hard is it to quit smoking and how long should I expect this to take?

It can be very difficult to quit, but the process is different for each person. The important thing to know is we have proven treatments that work. Some people may have several quit attempts before they quit for good.

This shouldn’t discourage you! Research has shown that people who have previously quit are more likely to achieve long-term success on their next attempts than people who have never tried. The important thing is to keep working toward your goal to quit smoking.

What are the biggest steps I can take to increase my chances of success?

There are several things you can do to increase your chances of success. It’s ideal to combine both medication and counseling support. It’s also important to seek support from those close to you, but be very specific about how they can help. You need to ask for the type of help you would like.

Set a quit date and stick to it. While you’re quitting, take good care of yourself. Get plenty of rest, relaxation, good nutrition and exercise. All of these factors can contribute to your success.

If you lapse and smoke a cigarette or two, step back and renew your commitment to quitting as soon as you can to avoid going all the way back to smoking.

Finally, and most importantly, don’t focus on the setbacks. Instead, focus on your successes. Each time you work through an urge or extend the period between cigarettes, it is like building muscle. Quitting is a process.

What medications are available to help me quit?

There are seven medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help people quit smoking. Some of these are available over the counter, while some are available by prescription only.

Over-the-counter medications include nicotine patches, lozenges or gum. Prescription medications include Chantix (varenicline), Zyban (bupropion), nicotine nasal spray and a nicotine inhaler.

Speak with your doctor about your personal health and to determine which medication(s) or combination of them may be the best for you to try.

Can I use different methods and medications in combination with one another?

The best combination when trying to quit smoking is medication and counseling together. This combination is scientifically proven to have a higher success rate than either approach alone. At MD Anderson, we are studying different combinations of nicotine replacement therapy, such as the patch and lozenges or patch and gum, but please speak with your doctor before trying this on your own.

Some have also found it helpful to try acupuncture or hypnosis, either with or without medication. However, there is not strong scientific evidence to support these methods.

Is there anything I should avoid when trying to quit?

You will have many thoughts about smoking and urges to smoke, so make a plan for difficult situations and try and minimize exposure to triggers, or situations that spark your urges.

When they can’t be avoided, try to think of alternative ways to cope. You can practice deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or mindfulness. You can also utilize substitutes to satisfy the urge such as sugar-free gum, chewy candies or healthy snacks. If you can substitute an activity that is completely opposed to smoking, such as exercise (e.g., walking), that would be even better.

Written by Clayton Boldt, Ph.D. for