Why do people smoke?

Wherever you look – on TV, in magazines, across social media, even on cigarette packs themselves – there are warnings galore about the health hazards of smoking.1 And with so few public places where you are actually allowed to sit and have a cigarette, you have to wonder – why do people still smoke?

That very first smoke

Most people start smoking when they are in their teens.2 They might start because of peer pressure from their friends, because their parents smoke, or simply because they are teenagers and they want to push the boundaries and take risks.3

Once a smoker starts, it’s hard to stop

Whatever the reason someone first tried a cigarette, it’s probably not the same reason why they keep smoking now.2 Here are some of the most common reasons why people continue to smoke, and most importantly, how a person can overcome these when they quit.

Nicotine addiction

Over time, the body becomes addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes. So, once a smoker finishes one cigarette, their body begins to crave another.4 If they don’t satisfy those cravings, they’ll begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. They might feel anxious, stressed, irritable or down, and all of these feelings drive them to have another smoke. It’s a vicious cycle.4

What’s the upside once someone quits?

When a smoker quits, they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms, especially in the first 2 weeks. The good news is that these symptoms will lessen with time.5 If a smoker needs help coping with these symptoms, it’s good to remember they’re not alone. They can talk to a doctor as they're up to 4x more likely to succeed in quitting with the help of a healthcare professional compared to quitting unaided.6

Smoking helps them relax

Some people might smoke because it feels like it helps them cope with negative feelings and emotions, leaving them with a heightened sense of wellbeing. Some people with mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety, might smoke because it helps to alleviate some of the symptoms they experience. Either way, they feel like smoking keeps their emotions under control, helping them to cope.7,8

What’s the upside once someone quits?

Smoking isn’t the only way to deal with negative emotions. They might find something as simple as exercise helps, or could try counselling to help learn different methods to cope with negative emotions. Sometimes, simply chatting with understanding family or friends can help.8,9


Smoking can become ingrained in a person’s life. It might be a reward after cleaning the house, or someone might automatically have a cigarette with their coffee in the morning. It’s there with them every day, and has become part of the routine.2

What’s the upside once someone quits?

The smoking habit can be broken and replaced with better, healthier habits.2 A doctor can provide a reference to a counsellor – to work with one-on-one, in a group, or even over the phone – and they can help suggest new routines that will create new, healthier habits.10

Stress relief

Smoking might be a way to manage stress, like the pressures of work, troubles with friends and family, or financial worries. Smoking may have become a crutch, with many smokers believing it boosts their concentration and focuses their attention.2

What’s the upside once someone quits?

When a smoker quits, they can find other ways that help them cope and are better for their overall health. Relaxation techniques and deep breathing might be helpful for some people, while others might find simply talking to others alleviates the build-up of stress.11

Weight management

Some people might be so worried about putting on weight, that they just keep on smoking. Even if they do put on weight, in the long run, the average body weight of ex-smokers is similar to those people who have never smoked.12

What’s the upside once someone quits?

There are lots of things that someone can do to keep their weight under control, and all of them will help increase overall health and wellbeing. Exercising a little more, eating more fruit and veg and cutting back on foods that are high in fat and sugar – simple things that all work together for a healthier life.12

Even when they know the dangers of smoking, there are still lots of different reasons why people continue to smoke. But they can be overcome.

Whatever reasons they think they have to keep smoking, they probably have a dozen more reasons why they want to stop. And that’s the most important thing. If a smoker wants to quit, there is a way to make it happen, and they definitely don't need to do it on their own.

They can start by making an appointment with their doctor today to start talking about the different means of support available. Remember, they're up to 4x more likely to succeed in quitting with the help of a healthcare professional compared to quitting unaided.1

©Pfizer 2018. Pfizer Australia Pty Limited. Pfizer Medical Information: 1800 675 229. Sydney, Australia. PP-CHM-AUS-0449, 04/2018

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health effects of cigarette smoking. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/index.htm. Accessed 1 March 2018.

2 Netdoctor. Some things you might miss. Available at http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/healthy-living/wellbeing/a5017/some-things-you-might-miss/. Accessed 1 March 2018.

3 Tyas, S.L. and Pederson, L.L. (1998). Psychosocial factors related to adolescent smoking: a critical review of the literature. Tobacco control, 7(4), pp.409-420.

4 Benowitz, N. (2010). Nicotine addiction. New England Journal of Medicine, 362(24), pp.2295-2303.

5 Healthline. Nicotine Withdrawal. Available at http://www.healthline.com/health/smoking/nicotine-withdrawal. Accessed 1 March 2018.

6 West R (2012) Stop smoking services: Increased chances of quitting. NCSCT Briefing #8. London; National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training.

7 HowStuffWorks. 10 Reasons people start smoking. Available at http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/smoking-cessation/10-reasons-people-start-smoking.htm. Accessed 01 March 2018.

8 Smokefree.gov. Reasons people smoke. Available at https://smokefree.gov/veterans/nicotine-addiction/reasons-people-smoke. Accessed 1 March 2018.

9 Smokefree.gov. Smoking and depression. Available at https://smokefree.gov/challenges-when-quitting/mood-management/smoking-depression. Accessed 1 March 2018.

10 Make smoking history. Ways to quit. Available at https://makesmokinghistory.org.au/im-ready-to-quit/ways-to-quit/. Accessed 1 March 2018.

11 Smokefree.gov. Coping with stress without smoking. Available at https://smokefree.gov/challenges-when-quitting/stress-management/coping-stress-without-smoking. Accessed 1 March 2018.

12 Better Health Channel. Quitting smoking and managing weight. Available at https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/smoking-and-weight. Accessed 1 March 2018.

13 West R (2012) Stop smoking services: Increased chances of quitting. NCSCT Briefing #8. London; National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training.