Is It OK to Smoke a Cigarette After Quitting?

Single cigarette
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As of Dec. 20, 2019, the new legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.

Once you stop smoking, you might wonder if it is possible to have an occasional cigarette after quitting. If you decide to go ahead and smoke just one, the risk of relapse is strong. Chances are that you'll be back to smoking as much as you did before you quit.

Spending time with people who regularly smoke can also increase the risk of relapse. Research shows that ex-smokers have an increased likelihood of a smoking relapse when there's greater exposure to other smokers in social situations, at work, or home. Unfortunately, these situations are sometimes difficult to avoid and can lead to intense nicotine cravings.

Don't tell yourself that you can control nicotine once you get a taste. It just doesn't work that way for people with nicotine addiction. The only way to keep the beast at bay is to keep nicotine out of your system completely.

Slip vs. Relapse

When quitting smoking, it is important to recognize the difference between a slip and a relapse. A slip involves having a cigarette or two before you quit completely. A relapse involves a full return to smoking regularly.

Remember that slips and even full relapses are very common. The CDC suggests that most people make eight to 11 attempts before they quit successfully. One study found that the number of attempts ranged from six to as many as 30 or more.

Slips are common and expected, but they don't need to derail progress. If you slipped and smoked a cigarette, recognize that you can easily relapse, but you haven't yet gone that far...yet.

Look for tactics to make it harder to take another smoke. Reach out to your social support. Don't let feelings of failure snowball until you give up on quitting.

Tips for Quitting Smoking

If you absolutely cannot shake thoughts of smoking and are worried you're about to cave in and smoke, stop everything. Sit down with a pen and paper and honestly answer the questions below. Or, answer these questions in advance and carry them with you to review when needed.

  • Thinking back to the day you quit, how were you feeling about smoking?
  • How many years did you smoke? How long did you want to stop?
  • If you go back to smoking will you want to quit again? Will you wish you hadn't lit up?
  • When will you quit again? Will it be weeks, months, years, or when illness strikes?
  • What benefits will smoking offer you?
  • Is smoking now worth giving up all of the work you've invested in cessation?
  • Will quitting be any easier the next time around?

Taking an honest look at these questions and their answers will help you find balance when the urge to smoke seems so important that you're ready to throw everything you've worked for away and give in.

Keep your reasons for quitting at the forefront of your memory. They are no less true today than when you quit, but they can feel less critical if you're not careful.

Watch Your Thinking

When many people quit smoking they go through a fair amount of addictive thought patterns—the internal battle between nicotine addiction and themselves. Early in smoking cessation that dialog can seem relentless. The voice in your head trying to convince you to smoke is persistent, annoying, and exhausting.

This phase of nicotine withdrawal is temporary. The less attention you give to unhealthy thoughts of smoking, the better. But how can you do that?

It's important to realize ahead of time that the mental contortions you will experience after you stub out your last cigarette are a normal part of the recovery process.

Don't panic and think you're failing because you want a cigarette. Think of that inner chatter as a sign of healing, because that is exactly what it is.

Distracting Yourself

Time will lessen the power of thoughts that trigger cravings to smoke. In the meantime, use distraction as a tool to jolt yourself out of a bad mindset as smoking thoughts come up.

Create a list of activities you can do at a moment's notice so that you're not left struggling when the urge to smoke hits. Be proactive and know that with each urge you overcome, your brain is registering new ways of coping.

In time, it will be easier to redirect yourself, and with more time, thoughts of smoking will lose their power entirely.

Some days will be worse than others. Such is smoking cessation, and such is life. On days when simple distractions don't work and you're feeling agitated and unhappy, pull out a different list—one that details rewards tailored to your interests.

Create a List of Rewards

Many people tend to neglect their comfort in favor of the needs of others who are important to them. You put them first on the list, and while this is admirable, you must take care of your own needs, especially while quitting tobacco.

Put a list together of ways to pamper yourself. Include items you know will make you feel good and rejuvenate your body and mind after a hard day. Ideas could include:

  • Dinner out or dinner in with take-out (or have someone else in the family cook)
  • Taking a long walk in nature with the dog
  • Give yourself an hour to soak in a long hot bath
  • Relax with a good book in a quiet room
  • Head to the gym for a workout and a swim
  • Take a power nap
  • Schedule some time to work on a hobby you enjoy

Make your treats self-indulgent and guilt-free. You're working hard to recover from a tough addiction, and a little positive reinforcement goes a long way.

If all else fails and cigarette cravings won't give you any peace, put your mind on ignore and go to bed earlier than usual. Tomorrow will be a better day.

Online Support

You can call or text the National Cancer Institute's quitline or sign up for their live chat, including a real-time link to a counselor. Even if you are not a person who likes to participate in forums or group support, stop in and take a browse through a smoking cessation support forum.

Join an active community of people who are at all stages of quitting, and there's no doubt your motivation will be bolstered by what you read there.

A Word From Verywell

The truth of the matter is that smoking offers you nothing of value, and that empty feeling you have that smoking used to fill will go away in long as you don't smoke. Recovery from nicotine addiction can feel like it will never end, but that's just not true.

It does take time to reprogram old associations, but it doesn't take forever. Be patient with yourself and allow the healing process to take place, regardless of how long it takes. Nurture and protect your quit program because it's the path to the healthier and happier life that you deserve.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Slips and relapses.

  3. Chaiton M, Diemert L, Cohen JE, et al. Estimating the number of quit attempts it takes to quit smoking successfully in a longitudinal cohort of smokersBMJ Open. 2016;6(6):e011045. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-011045

  4. DiFranza JR. Can tobacco dependence provide insights into other drug addictions? BMC Psychiatry. 2016;16(1):365. doi:10.1186/s12888-016-1074-4

  5. Jackson KJ, Muldoon PP, De Biasi M, Damaj MI. New mechanisms and perspectives in nicotine withdrawal. Neuropharmacology. 2015;96(Pt B):223-34. doi10.1016/j.neuropharm.2014.11.009

  6. Moskowitz JM, Mcdonnell DD, Kazinets G, Lee HJ. Online smoking cessation program for Korean Americans: Randomized trial to test effects of incentives for program completion and interim surveys. Prev Med. 2016;86:70-6. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2016.01.019

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