What Triggers You to Smoke?

By Sherry Baker and Temma Ehrenfeld @SherryNewsViews
June 23, 2022
� Masterfile
Model Release
Portrait of Men at a Bar

It’s not only nicotine addiction that makes you light up. Triggers can include a favorite easy chair, being with friends who also smoke, or happy hour after work.

Smoking heads the list of preventable causes of sickness in the U.S. and causes about one in every five American deaths. Despite those scary statistics, nearly 31 million adults in the U.S. are still puffing away.  


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Common smoking triggers

If you are one of them, you probably already know that certain triggers give you the urge to light up. The physical craving for nicotine piggybacks on your mental associations.

You may be used to smoking in a favorite easy chair and the sight of it makes you crave a smoke. Ashtrays, lighters, and friends who you often smoke with, or even characters in a movie or television show who are smoking, can become triggers.

Many people crave a cigarette when they have an alcoholic beverage, drink coffee or tea, finish a meal, or are driving to and from work.

Some triggers may not be obvious.  A team led by psychologist Cynthia A. Conklin, PhD, associate professor psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, concluded that any setting a person personally associates with smoking can trigger cigarette cravings.

You can remove ashtrays and any smell of smoke, but you may still associate your back porch or bathroom with smoking if that’s where you used to smoke.

A morning alarm clock triggers the desire for an immediate cigarette in many smokers, too. A Pennsylvania State University study concluded that your  chances of developing lung or oral cancer go up the sooner you reach for a cigarette in the morning.

In this research, 32 percent of the volunteers smoked their first cigarette of the day within 5 minutes of waking, 31 percent smoked within 6 to 30 minutes of waking, and 18 percent smoked within 31 to 60 minutes of waking.

Having a morning cigarette is not only a hard habit to break but also an especially dangerous one.

Major TV networks have stopped showing advertisements for e-cigarettes in part because these ads can trigger cravings in both current and former smokers. 

What triggers you to smoke?

Clearly, figuring out your personal smoking triggers can help you quit. Here is a checklist to consider:

  • Waking in the morning
  • Drinking coffee, tea, or alcohol
  • Smelling a cigarette
  • Being with other smokers
  • Seeing someone smoke
  • Taking a break
  • Talking on the phone
  • Checking email
  • Surfing the internet
  • Watching TV
  • Driving your car
  • Being a passenger
  • After eating
  • After sex
  • After completing a task
  • Feeling stressed
  • Feeling lonely or depressed
  • Being or feeling less tolerant
  • Feeling bored
  • Feeling angry, irritable, or impatient

What you can do

The National Institutes of Health advises keeping a journal for at least one week to identify your personal triggers. Make a note of each cigarette you smoke — or when you felt a strong urge to smoke — and write down what you were doing and thinking at the time. The goal is to find patterns that reveal your triggers.

Once you know what sparks the urge to light up, you can find ways to avoid the triggers you can, and cope with the ones you can’t. For example, if you always crave a cigarette during your drive to the office, you can tell anyone who rides with you that smoking in your car isn’t allowed and plan to chew gum or put a sugar-free lollipop in your mouth as you drive.

Go online to and use the step-by-step personalized quit plan to learn about other tips for managing cravings.

The urge to smoke subsides after about 15 minutes. Resisting is easier if you take deep breaths and keep your hands busy with something other than a cigarette. Try doodling. Calling or texting someone you trust to distract you is helpful, too.

You can also call the National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quit line at 1-877-44U-QUIT to talk to an expert (for free) about quitting smoking. An Apple app based on acceptance theory has had good results.


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June 23, 2022

Reviewed By:  

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA and Janet O'Dell, RN