Ready to quit smoking? Group therapy boosts your chances of success

The Bottom Line

  • Smoking is linked to cancer, heart disease, chronic health conditions, and early death. Quitting will greatly improve your health. For most people, it’s one of the hardest habits to quit due to the addictive nature of nicotine.
  • Group smoking cessation programs are a good and effective option for many people either alone or in combination with nicotine replacement therapy.
  • It’s never too late to quit smoking.

There may be safety in numbers but there can also be support. That’s particularly valuable when you’re overwhelmed or trying to do something especially challenging – like quitting smoking.

Smoking rates have been gradually declining: in ten years the percentage of Canadians age 12 and over who smoked dropped from 20.8% in 2005 to 17.7% in 2015 (1;2). It’s an encouraging trend, but that still translates into roughly 5.3 million Canadians who are lighting up occasionally, if not every day (1).

If you’re one of them, you probably don’t need to be told – yet again – the many ways smoking impacts your health and endangers your life. Cancer, heart disease, several serious chronic conditions, early death (2)… the list goes on. You know you should quit; perhaps you’ve tried to in the past and maybe you’ve made promises to loved ones, or to yourself, that this is the year you’re going to butt out for good. But it’s hard!

Research has shown that nicotine can be as addictive as heroin and cocaine (2;3). Many people who manage to stop smoking for a while end up starting again due to stress and severe withdrawal symptoms including strong cravings, hunger (and resulting weight gain from eating more), feeling irritable, angry and/or anxious, and difficulties with thinking (3;4;5).

Despite that, many people can – and do – quit successfully. And you don’t have to do it alone! There are several treatment options available, including group therapy for people who like the idea of “support in numbers.” Typically, participants meet regularly for sessions led by a facilitator trained in smoking cessation counseling. Group members share experiences and receive additional encouragement from others struggling with the same challenges in their quest to become smoke free (6). What are the chances that might work for you?

What the research tells us

Group therapy really does help people quit smoking!

Research shows that compared with “self-help” (e.g. receiving smoking cessation literature), those who took part in group-based programs were 50% to 130% more likely to successfully quit smoking (6). Group programs delivered in the workplace turned up similar results (7). Group therapy may be used together with drug or nicotine replacement therapy (6;8).

Group therapy and other types of smoking cessation programs are widely available in most communities and are usually free of charge. If you’re interested, check with your local hospitals, health units or community centres to find out your options and get details. There are even online programs that may suit your needs. Click here for information about programs and supports offered by the Canadian Cancer Association’s Smokers’ Helpline:

When it comes to becoming smoke free, remember the old saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” Quitting smoking may be difficult, but it can be done. And it is worth the time and effort. Don’t stop trying until you’ve stopped smoking once and for all!

Featured Resources

  1. Blog Post: 5 tips to help you quit smoking for good 
  2. Web Resource Rating: Tips to help you stop smoking 
  3. Web Resource Rating: Quitting smoking 

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  1. Statistics Canada. Health fact sheets: Smoking, 2015. [Internet] 2017. [cited September 2017]. Available from
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The health consequences of smoking—50 Years of progress: A report of the surgeon general. [Internet] 2014. [cited September 2017]. Available from
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Is nicotine addictive? [Internet] 2012. [cited September 2017]. Available from
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US); National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (US); Office on Smoking and Health (US). How tobacco smoke causes disease: The biology and behavioral basis for smoking-attributable disease: A report of the Surgeon General. [Internet] 2010. [cited September 2017. Available from
  5. Fiore MC, Jaén CR, Baker TB et al. Treating tobacco use and dependence: 2008 Update—Clinical practice guideline. [Internet] 2008. [cited September 2017]. Available from
  6. Stead LF, Carroll AJ, Lancaster T. Group behaviour therapy sessions for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database of Syst Rev. 2017, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD001007. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001007.pub3.
  7. Cahill K, Lancaster T. Workplace interventions for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Feb 26;(2):CD003440. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003440.pub4.
  8. Hajek P. Current issues in behavioral and pharmacological approaches to smoking cessation. Addict Behav. 1996; 21(6):699–707.

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Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.