Updated 06 November 2018

How to prevent a relapse

Only 3-5% of those who attempt to stop smoking without assistance remain abstinent in the long term.


Approximately 70% of smokers want to quit smoking. However, only 3-5% of those who attempt to stop smoking without assistance remain abstinent in the long term. A great percentage of smokers relapse. In fact, it can take as many as 10 or more tries before a smoker is able to quit for good.

Research shows that certain factors can help predict who will be more successful in quitting. The following factors count in your favour if you’re trying to kick the habit:

• Male gender

• Older age

• Older age at initiation of smoking

• Lower nicotine dependency

• Lower exhaled carbon monoxide levels

• Fewer cigarettes smoked per day 

• Higher confidence with regards to quitting 

Heavier smokers and smokers with a high nicotine dependency are more likely to continue smoking.

What to do

Research shows that combining varenicline (Champix) or bupropion hydrochloride (Zyban or Nicolift) with behavioural treatments and psychotherapy improve abstinence rates.

Relapse prevention psychotherapy can teach you various skills that you can employ to avoid a relapse. A psychologist or counsellor can help you to:

• Identify and learn to cope with high-risk situations

• Reframe your expectations

• Learn from relapses

• Deal better with social pressures to smoke

Speak to your doctor about the combination of treatments that’s best suited to your particular circumstances. Ask for a referral to a psychologist or counsellor, or make use of the following online and telephonic-based services to help you quit for good:

• The National Council Against Smoking’s Quitline: 011 720 3145

• The Cancer Association of South Africa’s (CANSA) Call Centre: 0800 22 66 22

• The CANSA eKick Butt Programme:

Reviewed by Cape Town-based general practitioner, Dr Dalia Hack. October 2018.


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