I have been smoking for about 5 years now. I never really 'started' one day, but it just made my day to day life more enjoyable, and it did so consistently, so I never had a reason to stop. Recently, I have read about Buddhism and started breath meditation. This brought attention to my lung capacity and, to be honest, made it difficult to meditate without occasionally 'gasping' for air.

All the things I have tried when feeling urges (hot showers, nicotine gum, sleeping, video games, money restraints) don't work for long enough. Most days I create a 'reason' to not smoke, I end up smoking anyway because my mind keeps thinking about things like the validity of the reason, why I need an excuse, etc. Similar to how telling a child to not look at an elephant will rarely work.

I have always had an addictive personality, and am now realizing the only reason I did not engage in smoking in the past was mostly because I was addicted to something else. Currently, I am unemployed and though I have enough money to get by, I am still looking for a job so that I have something else to direct my energy towards.

All of these workarounds and escapes are tiring. But smoking is worse. Is there a way to build willpower and discipline from scratch? Or is the only escape to find something else to do?

3 Answers 3


"It's difficult to quit smoking." Everybody believes this statement, even non-smokers. Nobody understands it. It's short, lacks clarity, and offers no insight into the problem. It doesn't even define the problem. It's really just a statement about unpleasant feeling. 

Stop believing it. It's wrong view, coming from popular culture. Smoking is one thing, difficulty is another. If you glom them together you make the situation incomprehensible.

Smoking is an unskillful and harmful activity that you want to stop. Okay, no problem there. Difficulty, what does that mean? It points to the stress and suffering that you create inside, when you try not to smoke.

If you could remove the difficulty (the stress and suffering) there would be no problem, would there? So what's the actual problem?

See what I mean? People don't even know what the problem is. Because they don't understand stress and the cause of stress, they look elsewhere for a solution. This is the lack of skill (Avijjā) of the average person.

Fortunately, the Buddha understood the problem you're facing. He understood suffering, the origination of it, and the cessation of it. It's all he taught.

You need to learn to see where your unskillful thoughts are causing you stress and suffering, and then abandon those unskillful thoughts in favor of more skillful ones. This is true in quitting, and also in any other human activity.

A few suttas that will help you to better understand your "problem": https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/MN/MN19.html https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/MN/MN20.html https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/MN/MN2.html

I will admit that the above teachings may be challenging for a newcomer, but if you like a challenge, you'll find them worth the effort they take to penetrate.

"Is there a way to build willpower and discipline from scratch?"  As far as willpower goes: If you mean making a good determination, resolving on it, and persisting in your efforts to achieve your worthwhile goal, I'm all for that!

"Or is the only escape to find something else to do?" No. The escape is through comprehending your problem to the point where you see it all clearly. When that happens, you will see its allure and drawbacks, you will see exactly when and where your stress arises and ceases, and become disenchanted and dispassionate about the whole (internal) process—that's the escape—that's the easy quit.

Venerable Thanissaro says there are three levels of learning: First you listen, then you contemplate what you've heard until you think you've got it, then you try it. "The things we know best are the things we do."

Take your time, you can't rush understanding, but when you're ready, you'll know.

  • If one was to become disenchanted with everything, would life not become purely mechanical and dull? It does not sound like an appealing state to strive for, though as you said, I have not experienced it so I have no way of knowing.
    – John
    Nov 18, 2022 at 23:43
  • @John Is learning dull? Is understanding what's going on dull? To be dis-enchanted simply means to be less passionate, to not be fooled anymore. It's a bit like those enchanted people in children's's stories who "wake up." It's all good! Nov 18, 2022 at 23:50
  • disenchantment is painful. you have to accept the change of reality - not just trivial phenomena. that's not easy...it's a realization i suppose
    – blue_ego
    Nov 19, 2022 at 16:24

Some of the secular advice is "delay". I found that not buying cigarettes, not having them, made it easier to quit -- having none to hand, I couldn't just take one and start smoking in some moment of heedlessness, it would have taken several minutes of sustained intention to walk to a store and ask to buy them and so on.

That and it isn't all about "me" -- I'm a product of my environment. If I change the environment -- take away the cigarettes, move to a non-smoking location, live in a non-smoking society, then it's less of an issue.

And it's not about doing something else, it's about not doing something. When I was taken by the urge to smoke, I couldn't do anything else, except stand there and decide that I didn't want to walk to the store and buy some, and wait for the urge to leave me. Fortunately that became easier, less frequent and less intense, with each day that passed after quitting.

Another motto is "seeing danger in the slightest fault". Having tried to quit, repeatedly, for years and years, I reckoned I knew that if I had even one more then I'd have two, and three, and the whole pack and a second pack so on. Maybe other people were less addicted, but for me it had to "no, not now, not one".

Now my life is cigarette-free. Of course I do other things now. I no longer think about smoking, and I don't regret stopping.

I've bicycled a good couple of thousand hours since then, including up-hill, so I'm very accustomed to breathing. If I gasp for air I know why (e.g. after I carry my bike up four flights of stairs, my heart rate is close to 160 bpm), but at rest I find it very easy to get enough air without "gasping", it's rarely uncomfortable. Even so that's one of things you may expected to notice in meditation, i.e. that sometimes you breathe short, and sometimes long (see Ānāpānasati).

Breathing disturbance and mood disorder go together, and with nicotine withdrawal. I think you feel nicotine level dropping in the body, uncomfortable and confusing. If you quit for hours, for a day, two days, a weeks, two months, two years, then that physical "nicotine withdrawal" state passes -- i.e. because it has reached zero it is not decreasing any more, it is gone.

  • that's a great point, the breathing is not forced, only observed
    – blue_ego
    Nov 19, 2022 at 17:01

what if someone was just to take away all your cigarettes? now you can't, and you will suffer that, but only for so long. your suffering will subside in time.

the point is to find out who is in control. but really, it's a matter of giving up control. you want to give up control, but you can't as long as there is that conflict. where there is a conflict the self will emerge. quit smoking and that's one less attachment to yourself; a return to innocence.

the term smoking cessation is funny. the act of smoking is the catalyst for the cessation of suffering. buddha is often discussing cessation of dukkha, but he didn't smoke.

do you find it gross? like taste or smell, or tactile sensation (burning or sick afterwards). that's a sure sign that's it's more mental craving than physical. the mental addiction (craving) is far harder to overcome, than the physical, don't you think?

is life stressful or enjoyable? make life more enjoyable - reduce stress. find another goal or passion to overcome the initial difficulty. like watercolor painting. try vegetarian, smoking and vegetarian is bad combo.

peer pressure might work. cut ties with friends who smoke during this divorce.

ultimately, it's just stress and craving. it's basically you versus craving. that's the only way. craving is Mara and you are John. you have to win.

finally, you should forgive yourself for not understanding. that's tranquil wisdom insight meditation (TWIM). you just do your meditation with the thought 'i forgive myself for not understanding'...it's an annoying mantra but also like a brilliant interruption in a vicious cycle. this may help snuff out your smoker if you are sincere.

Buddha says:

"Monks, I don't envision even one other fetter — fettered by which beings conjoined go wandering & transmigrating on for a long, long time — like the fetter of craving. Fettered with the fetter of craving, beings conjoined go wandering & transmigrating on for a long, long time."

  • remember you only need to quit 'THIS TIME'..not forever, forever is self-defeating. only be concerned with this time, otherwise thinking about all the times might make you resist fighting for this time...
    – blue_ego
    Nov 21, 2022 at 13:34
  • somebody posted this video that might be of value: youtube.com/watch?v=igj9l87Ig-0&t=7s
    – blue_ego
    Nov 24, 2022 at 15:59

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