9 Common Rationalizations for Smoking

High Angle View Of Cigarette In Ashtray
Theerapan Bhumirat / EyeEm / Getty Images

After you quit smoking, you might have moments when you think: Maybe I'll have just one more cigarette. There are plenty of rationalizations your mind can come up with for having a cigarette, especially if you're under stress.

It's helpful to understand what the most common rationalizations are, identify what situations might be triggering them, and learn healthy coping mechanisms to keep you smoke-free.

When you accept that it's normal to think about smoking from time to time, you can generate more understanding and self-compassion.

"One Cigarette Won't Hurt"

Of course, there is no such thing as a safe cigarette. Having even just one cigarette has immediate health consequences, such as increasing your heart rate and filling your airways with toxins. These toxins can damage your heart and blood vessels, and this puts you at risk of cardiovascular disease.

How to Respond to This Thought

Try to stay in the present moment. Don't let this thought interrupt what you were doing, but don't try to banish it from your mind either.

It might help to work with a mental healthcare professional. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is shown to be effective at addressing unwanted thoughts and impulses.

A therapist can help you identify the triggers for this thought about smoking. Why do you want just one more cigarette?

It's common to crave a cigarette when you're around other people who are smoking or when you revisit places or activities where you used to smoke.

Noticing when and where your thoughts about smoking happen can help you come up with healthy coping strategies to do instead. You might try one of the following:

  • Chew on sugarless gum or put a toothpick in your mouth.
  • Visit a place where you know you can't smoke, like the movies or a museum.
  • Perform some physical activity, like a walk around the block.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day.

"Smoking Relaxes Me"

While nicotine might make you feel relaxed at first, people who smoke tend to have higher levels of anxiety and depression. It is possible that people who already have these conditions are more likely to smoke; some research also suggests that smoking may lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression.

Feeling stressed is a common trigger for smoking. It can be tempting to reach for a cigarette in the midst of a fight with a loved one or while you're dealing with a tight deadline at work.

However, research shows that smoking cigarettes to cope with emotions actually makes it harder for us to cope with difficult emotions on our own.

How to Respond to This Thought

Smoking doesn't actually reduce tension, but there are plenty of lifestyle choices that are proven to promote relaxation.

Practices like mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises have been shown to reduce stress and even reduce cravings for cigarettes in people who used to smoke.

Find a quiet place to sit. Take a deep breath, expanding your lower belly. Focus on your breath and not on your thoughts.

There are plenty of things you can add to your routine to reduce stress as well, including:

  • Watching your favorite movie
  • Taking a hike in nature
  • Asking for help when you need it
  • Not overscheduling yourself

Make sure you're taking enough time for yourself. When you prioritize relaxation, you'll realize that you don't need to reach for a cigarette.

"Smoking Makes Me More Productive"

Nicotine might give you a quick burst of energy, but it usually doesn't last beyond a few hours. This is one of the reasons people become addicted to nicotine—they come to crave that initial burst of energy, but have to keep smoking to feel that sensation.

Smoking doesn't actually make you more productive, though. Nicotine puts your body through a cycle of highs and lows. A few hours after a cigarette, you'll likely experience a crash and lower energy than you did before smoking.

How to Respond to This Thought

Making long-term changes is a much more sustainable way of generating more energy and more productivity in your life. Ask yourself these questions if you're thinking of reaching for a cigarette to be more productive:

When you replace cigarette smoking with healthier habits, you'll probably find you have even more energy.

"I'll Just Smoke Less"

Cutting down on how many cigarettes you smoke is a good first step if you haven't quit. Still, people who smoke intermittently, sometimes called social smokers, are subject to the same health risks as people who smoke regularly.

Deciding to smoke again after you quit can also be a slippery slope. Despite your best efforts, you may end up returning to your old patterns of smoking.

You may be more vulnerable to smoking again within the first year after quitting.

How to Respond to This Thought

Notice when you're having this thought. Maybe you always used to smoke on long car rides, and now every time you're in your car you get a craving. Keep a journal of the thought you have about smoking and what the context is. Then, you can be more prepared in the future.

You might put a pack of sugarless gum in your car for when a craving hits, or bring another crunchy snack like carrot sticks and celery on long car rides. Set yourself up for success. Have something to reach for instead of a cigarette.

"It's Too Hard to Quit"

Quitting smoking is hard. There are many uncomfortable symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal—like dizziness, aches, nausea, irritability, and even depression. You probably miss smoking. It's normal to enter a grieving period after you quit.

How to Respond to This Thought

Quitting tobacco is hard, but don't let that stop you. Remember, you're not in this alone.

Whenever you feel like it's too hard to quit, try reaching out to a support group or download a quit smoking app on your phone. Having support from others who are also going through it can encourage you to stay smoke-free.

Reach out to someone for support. Everyone faces challenges, but it's possible to get through them.

If you're struggling with the emotional symptoms of withdrawal, remember that these are only temporary as your body adjusts to life without tobacco. If you find they last more than a month, speak with your doctor.

"I Don't Want to Gain Weight"

When you quit smoking, it's possible you'll gain weight. People put on an average of 5 to 10 pounds the months after they quit smoking.

Smoking speeds up your metabolism; when you quit, your metabolism slows and your body doesn't require as many calories. If you continue eating more calories than you need, you might gain some weight.

Smoking is also an appetite suppressant, so you may find yourself eating more when you quit. Some people also eat more to cope with the emotions of nicotine withdrawal or to replace the act of smoking itself.

How to Respond to This Thought

You may not want to put on weight, but it's important to put this one potential side effect of quitting smoking into perspective.

Consider the health risks of smoking, including heart disease, high blood pressure, lung cancer, esophageal cancer, pancreatic cancer, cataracts, premature death, and more.

When you smoke, you can't control the negative health risks; but when you quit, you can be proactive about weight gain.

If you have strong cravings for food when you quit smoking, keep healthy snacks on hand like vegetables and nuts.

Practice eating mindfully so that you can tell when your body is full, and make sure to get regular exercise—aim for about 2.5 hours a week.

"I Don't Know What Else to Do"

It's completely normal to miss smoking as an activity. In fact, the feeling of missing smoking and not knowing what else to do keeps a lot of people from quitting smoking successfully.

How to Respond to This Thought

Make a list of activities you can pick up at a moment's notice when the urge to smoke hits. If you miss the social aspect of sharing a cigarette, replace it with another social activity like calling a friend on the phone.

You might miss the alone time you got when stepping out for a cigarette. You can still take that time for yourself. Step outside and instead of lighting up, take a few deep breaths. You can remind yourself that you're inhaling fresh air instead of cigarette smoke.

Try keeping your hands busy, too. Some people hang on to a coin, a paper clip, or a pencil. You might miss having something to hold onto, so try these items instead of a cigarette.

"I Have Irresistible Urges"

After you quit, cravings to smoke are intense. You probably coped with a lot of emotions by smoking. When you quit, it can feel like you have nonstop triggers to smoke again.

How to Respond to This Thought

Learn to decipher the urges as they come and you will be able to respond appropriately to what your body needs. If cravings get strong and you realize you're hungry, have a snack or a meal. If the trigger is caused by fatigue, take a nap or go to bed.

A rationalization for smoking might be triggered by an emotion, like irritability, depression, or anxiety.

Tune in to what you're feeling and try new ways to cope instead of smoking:

  • Self-care: Make sure you're meeting your basic needs by eating healthily, staying hydrated, and getting enough rest.
  • Visualize: Close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Picture yourself at the beach or anywhere you think peaceful. Visualization can promote relaxation in your body and mind.
  • Talk about your feelings: Reach out to a trusted family member, friend, or mental healthcare professional. Talking about your feelings might be enough to feel a little bit better.

"I Messed Up Already"

Maybe you have already smoked since deciding to quit, and now, you're tempted to throw in the towel and start smoking like you used to before. But smoking one or a few cigarettes doesn't mean you've failed. A lot of people who quit smoking experience a relapse or multiple relapses.

How to Respond to This Thought

The most important thing to do if you experience a smoking relapse is to keep moving toward your goal to quit. Don't give up because you made a mistake.

Remind yourself of the reasons that you quit smoking in the first place. Do you want to improve your health and your quality of life? Do you want to be able to enjoy activities with your family and friends without craving a cigarette?

Be kind to yourself and remind yourself you can still achieve the goals you set.

Consider sharing with your doctor about your relapse if you need additional support. They might recommend other methods of quitting that you haven't tried before, like nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).

NRT is available in patches, gums, and lozenges. It administers doses of nicotine without the harmful chemicals that are in cigarettes. Your doctor might also prescribe you a medication to help you quit smoking like Zyban (bupropion) or Chantix (varenicline tartrate).

You might connect with a mental healthcare professional if you haven't already. A therapist can help keep you motivated, as can a support group or a trusted friend.

A Word From Verywell

While these are common rationalizations people think of when trying to quit smoking, it's likely that you'll experience others. With each new thought, try writing it in a journal or talking about it with a support group. By establishing healthy ways of coping, over time, these rationalizations won't have as much power over you as you work toward a smoke-free lifestyle.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.