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Quitting Smoking

How to lessen harm when you don’t want to quit

“I don’t want to quit smoking”
“I love smoking”
“I’ve tried to quit and it’s too hard”
“I know people who’ve smoked their whole
lives and lived to their nineties”

Even if you don’t want to quit, you may still want to take steps to lessen harm. Harm reduction tries to lessen the health and social harms that are linked to addiction and substance use. But this is done without stopping use completely.

For smoking, harm reduction refers to lessening contact with the harmful chemicals that the tobacco industry adds to products like cigarettes and cigars.

Research has looked at 2 main ways to lessen the harms from smoking.

Smoke less

To lessen the number of cigarettes or other tobacco products you smoke, you’ll first need to keep track of the number you currently smoke and when you smoke. It also helps to plan which ones you want to try to cut out.

Here are some tips to help you lessen your use:

  • Each week choose a few cigarettes (or other tobacco products) to give up. For example, these could be the ones you smoke in the car on your way to work.
  • Slowly add more time between smoking cigarettes.
  • Smoke only during odd or even hours.
  • Limit your smoking to certain places, like outside, but not at work or in the car.
  • Wait as late in the day as you can before you smoke.

When you smoke fewer cigarettes, you may be tempted to take longer, deeper puffs. But smoking this way won’t end up lessening harm, even if you smoke fewer cigarettes.

Many people find it hard to lessen use without getting nicotine from another source. If this is you, you may want to try switching to less harmful products instead.

If you decide to quit

It’s not recommended to lessen the amount of tobacco products you use if you’re ready to quit smoking. But it may help for a very short amount of time or if you’re ready to quit right away.

If you’re ready to quit, find out more about quitting smoking.

Switch to less harmful products

Switching means replacing all or some of your cigarettes with a product that is less harmful, like:

  • nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products like gum or lozenges
  • cigarettes with less tar, carbon, or nicotine
  • snus (tobacco in a small pouch that you put between your upper or lower gums and teeth)
  • vaping products

NRT products are a cleaner source of nicotine that can be switched out for some cigarettes. Research shows that NRT can help you to smoke half the number of cigarettes you normally would.

Switching to a non-smoked product like snus or a vaping product can still cause harm. But research shows they can help people lessen the amount of cigarettes they smoke.

Health impacts

Smoked tobacco products are very toxic. So when you keep using them, it’s still harmful.

There is some evidence that smoking less can lessen the harm from smoking, but we don’t know for sure. More research is needed to look at ways to lessen harm if you keep smoking.

Smoking less and using NRT lessens your contact with toxic chemicals. This may improve your health by:

  • lowering your risk of heart disease
  • making your blood-toxin levels more healthy (more like non-smoker levels)
  • helping your lungs to work better

It’s important to know that smoking less doesn’t lower your risk of heart disease by the same amount. For example, if you smoke 1 cigarette a day, you have about half the risk of heart disease than if you smoke 20 cigarettes a day.

Lessening harm when you smoke can help you feel more in control of your smoking. It can also help you feel more confident that you’re lessening the harms from tobacco use or that you’ll eventually stop.

Current as of: September 16, 2020

Author: Tobacco Reduction Program, Alberta Health Services