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Suddenly, you've found yourself smoking again, after days or even months of being smoke-free. Perhaps you had a strong craving to smoke or were under stress or had a drink with friends. Perhaps you don't even remember lighting the cigarette. Maybe you thought you could have "just one." Most often, a lapse occurs when an ex-smoker is placed in a situation in which he or she would have smoked in the past, but lacks a plan to cope without a cigarette.

In any case, lapses happen. It may be one puff or it may be days of smoking. A lapse is simply a mistake, a slip. Lapse does not mean failure, and it does not mean you have to stop trying to be smoke-free. Millions of ex-smokers experienced lapses before they were finally able to maintain a smoke-free lifestyle. But a lapse will become a relapse if you give up and return to a smoking lifestyle.

Learn how to cope with the lapse so it doesn't become a relapse.


Stop what you are doing. Stop smoking and throw all of your cigarettes away.
Try one of the following:

  • Leave the situation. Get away from cigarettes.

  • Take a break or go for a walk to give yourself a chance to think.

  • Tell yourself "I am okay right now without a cigarette. I can cope."

  • Remind yourself of your reasons for wanting to be smoke-free.

  • Call a friend or professional to help you get back on track.

If you are kicking yourself for having a cigarette, stop. Take this opportunity to catch
your breath, assess what happened and make a new plan.

Assess and learn:

Where were you when you smoked?
Who was with you?
What triggered the first cigarette?
How did you feel when you smoked?
Did it solve a problem or create more problems?
Did it make you feel better or worse?

By looking back on what happened, you can learn about the risks you faced. Use this opportunity to come up with a new coping strategy. How might you avoid this situation in the future? If you find yourself in this situation again, what would be an alternative way to deal with the urge to smoke?

Don't feel like a failure. Don't feel guilty about the lapse. Forgive yourself. Make this a learning experience. Make your renewed stop-smoking plan even better.

Get back on track:

  • Make the decision to return to being smoke-free.

  • Review your reasons for wanting to be smoke-free. Those reasons are as important as ever.

  • Review your stop-smoking plan and identify areas of your plan to strengthen or improve.

  • Think of a phrase that will help you stay smoke-free. Practice saying this phrase to yourself:

"Not even a puff."
"It's easier to have none than one."
"I can cope without a cigarette."
"I can do it, one moment at a time."

  • If your lapse occurred over several days, you may want to use nicotine replacement to manage any renewed signs of withdrawal. Follow your original plan regarding how much and how often to use this medication. Consult your doctor with any questions.

  • If you need additional support, talk to your doctor, counselor or other healthcare professional. They can offer insights to help you continue down your smoke-free path.

  • Each time you try to be smoke-free, you take a step forward. You can't fail unless you stop trying. Each smoke-free moment is a victory. Continue to reward yourself for working on being smoke-free.


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