Cigarette smoking is indeed a tough habit to break. Many people fail after the first attempt to quit smoking, and try again. To quit smoking cold turkey seems like the strategy least likely to work. But what does the research say? Two studies document the efficacy of using this approach.

Research on Quitting Cold Turkey

While there is nothing wrong with using smoking cessation products and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help you quit, some evidence suggests the cold turkey method garners some success.

Case in point: In a 2007 study published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, researchers interviewed more than 8,000 adult smokers from four countries attempting to quit the cigarette habit. Participants were contacted at three separate intervals to see how their quitting methods had worked out. The researchers then compared success rates of smokers who were trying the cold turkey approach with those who were employing other methods.

The study found that 68.5 percent of the smokers made an attempt to quit using the cold turkey method, and of those, 22 percent succeeded after the second contact with researchers and 27 percent succeeded after the third contact. Among people using the cut down method, in which a person smokes successively fewer cigarettes before abstaining completely, only 12 percent and 16 percent, respectively, were successful.

Another study, published in 2006 in Addictive Behaviors, involved Australian smokers and ex-smokers. Quitting methods included NRT (such as gums and lozenges), pharmaceuticals like bupropion (commonly known as Zyban or Wellbutrin) and the cold turkey method. The cold turkey success rate among 2,207 former smokers and 928 current smokers who reported to their general practitioners during 2002 and 2003 was 77 percent, compared to 23 percent for bupropion, although it declined somewhat over time.

Going Cold Turkey: Help Yourself Be Successful

If you want to try quitting cold turkey, prepare yourself for the pitfalls. Make use of all of the free quit smoking resources online and in-person, such as, to learn strategies on handling cravings and withdrawal.

Willpower and personal motivation will play a big role in your success. Get a "Rocky" mentality, and look at this endeavor as a personal fight for your freedom from nicotine slavery. The big prize: a much healthier you.

Take that all-important first step of writing down your reasons for quitting. Some of the best reasons you can write down include:

  • Better health for yourself and your kids: You can reduce your risks of cancer, heart attacks, and the lung disease, emphysema. You also reduce your kids' exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Greater peace of mind. It is an illusion that nicotine relaxes you; it might appear to in the moment, but all those moments in between add up to a great big ball of unhealthy, unsavory anxiety.
  • More money in your pocket. Now your hard-earned cash can be saved or spent on things that improve your quality of life, not diminish it.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up If You Fall Off the Wagon

Take courage from the fact that many people require several attempts before they kick their smoking habit for good. Even if you don’t make it the first time, set a new date and look forward to your next attempt at personal freedom.

By: Daniel P. McGoldrick


Cheong, Y., H.H. Yong, R. Borland (2007). “Does how you quit affect success?: a comparison between abrupt and gradual methods using data from the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Study.” Oxford Journals: Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 9(8): 801-810.

Doran CM, Valenti L, Robinson M, Britt H, Mattick RP. Smoking status of Australian general practice patients and their attempts to quit. Addict Behavior. 2006 May;31(5):758-66. Epub 2005 Aug 31.

American Lung Association: Available at Accessed June 7, 2011.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 04 Aug 2011

Last Modified: 19 Feb 2015