The process of successful quitting, and the personal and social conditions required to support it, remain poorly understood.
This qualitative grounded theory study used in-depth interviews with 37 Australian adult ex-smokers (24-68 years; 15 men and 22 women) who quit in the past 6-24 months to explore how ex-smokers explain their quitting success.
This analysis provides a framework for understanding the personal, social and structural factors critical to successful quitting. The key analytic finding was the core concept ‘being serious’. Three factors contributed to ‘being serious’: (1) prior experiences of quitting; (2) an identity (or existential) threat; and (3) timing and circumstances. The analysis indicated that the concept ‘being serious’ rather than the oft-cited psychological constructs motivation and willpower more accurately captures how participants talked about and explained their quitting success, how they accounted for their success when previous apparently similar attempts had failed, and the advice they would offer would-be quitters about achieving quitting success. An explanation is provided for why some participants battled with quitting for years, while others quit unexpectedly, even effortlessly. The social and structural factors that made the state of ‘being serious’ easier or harder for the participant to attain are also discussed.
‘Being serious’ was a term that resonated with participants. Participants’ accounts of quitting indicate that quitting is a complex and gradual process and that social and structural influences have a key role in determining how easy or difficult it was to become serious about quitting.

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