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Many people who smoke tobacco are keen to stop due to the associated health risks. However, quitting smoking can be challenging.
Scientists have found links between smoking and numerous health conditions, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and lung disease. On average, smokers die 10 years sooner than non-smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In 2020, a scientific brief from the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that there was a higher risk of severe symptoms and death among people in the hospital with COVID-19 who smoked compared with non-smokers.
Despite the risks, almost 14% of adults in the United States smoke. The main reasons for this are that nicotine is addictive and eliminating the habit is difficult. However, there is much support and help available.
Research shows that, with the right approach, it is possible to break this unhealthful routine and kick the habit once and for all.
Here are 11 of the most effective methods to quit smoking.
Doctors commonly prescribe varenicline (Champix or Chantix) for people who wish to quit smoking.
Varenicline triggers a release of dopamine, the chemical in the brain that makes people feel good. Smoking nicotine induces the same effect but involves higher amounts of dopamine — however, these satisfying effects do not last long, leading to a person craving for another cigarette.
Varenicline works by blocking nicotine receptors in the brain, reducing cravings and nicotine withdrawal effects. Doctors often recommended or prescribe nicotine patches or antidepressants with varenicline to prevent a decrease in mood.
Current guidelines from the American Thoracic Society recommend using this drug for at least 12 weeks as a first-line treatment for stopping smoking.
This treatment is preferable to starting with nicotine patches, electronic cigarettes, and other medications. However, a doctor may suggest using nicotine patches alongside this drug.
Nicotine in cigarettes can lead to dependence, so people experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) provides a low level of nicotine without the other poisonous chemicals in tobacco smoke.
It can help ease some of the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, which include:
- intense cravings
- tingling of hands and feet
- mood swings
- difficulty concentrating.
NRT is available as:
Patches are available from a pharmacy without a prescription. They slowly release nicotine, which the body absorbs through the skin. Over several weeks, the amount of nicotine gradually reduces as the person switches to lower-dose patches. Eventually, they will no longer crave the substance.
Some people wear their patches continually and have a steady dose of nicotine over 24 hours, while others remove them at night. A doctor can advise on the best option.
Inhalers, gum, lozenges, and sprays work quickly, but their effects only last a short time. They can help relieve intense cravings, while patches provide a daily dose.
Current guidelines recommend using varenicline as a first-line option to quit smoking, but state that using nicotine patches alongside the treatment can also help.
Bupropion (Zyban) is an antidepressant that may help people stop smoking. Similar to varenicline, it reduces the dopamine shortfall associated with nicotine withdrawal effects. As a result, it may reduce a person’s irritability and difficulties with focusing that people often experience when they quit smoking.
Guidelines from 2020 recommend using varenicline rather than bupropion, as it appears to be more effective. While bupropion may be cheaper, it may also be less cost-effective.
An e-cigarette is an electronic device that allows people to inhale nicotine in a vapor without the other harmful byproducts of tobacco, such as tar and carbon monoxide.
Some research suggests that e-cigarettes can help in quitting smoking because people can gradually reduce the nicotine content of the e-liquid in a similar way to NRT.
However, electronic cigarettes may have other risks. For this reason, current guidelines urge doctors to recommend varenicline or NRT over e-cigarettes.
Many healthcare professionals hoped that e-cigarettes would help smokers quit, but currently there is limited research to suggest this.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a method of counseling or talking therapy that helps people change habits that are not helpful.
A 2008 study looked at 304 adult smokers undergoing 20 weeks of CBT, with treatments focused on strategies to help them avoid smoking. Results suggested that this approach may help encourage long-term abstinence.
The researchers expect to find that the treatment — known as cognitive behavioral smoking cessation treatment with components of behavioral activation (SCBSCT-BA) — would help boost abstinence, reduce the risk of relapse, and manage the mood changes that can occur when people stop smoking.
In 2019, the team reported positive short- and medium-term results. People who underwent SCBSCT-BA experienced lower rates of depression after quitting smoking and were more likely to abstain from smoking after 3, 6, and 12 months.
Some people try hypnotherapy or acupuncture to help them stop smoking. While it may help, there is limited research evidence to support these methods, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).
At least one review suggests they may increase abstinence, but researchers need to conduct more studies to confirm this.
The NCCIH recommend people seek out a qualified professional to carry out these treatments if they wish to quit smoking.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that lobelia — also called Indian tobacco — can help people stop smoking.
Experts believe lobeline, the active ingredient in the lobelia plant, works by binding to the same receptor sites in the brain as nicotine. It triggers a release of dopamine, helping with the mood swings and cravings that occur when stopping smoking.
Lobelia may also help clear excess mucus from the respiratory tract, including the throat, lungs, and bronchial tubes that smokers often experience while quitting. However, more studies are needed to determine this conclusively.
However, while vitamin B and C supplements may help support people’s health while quitting, they will not help them stop smoking.
Habits, such as smoking, trigger in response to certain cues. Research shows that repeating a simple action in one setting can encourage people to carry out that action in similar environments. For example, a person who smokes with their morning coffee may find themselves smoking with coffee at other times.
However, people can also form healthy habits in the same way. A variety of free online apps can help people track their progress.
These apps can help track smoking consumption and nicotine-craving cues. People can use this information to plan when and where to reinforce a new healthful habit in place of the old unhealthful behavior.
For those planning to quit “cold turkey,” making a list to stay motivated may help them when they experience difficulties. These reasons may include:
- improving overall health
- saving money
- setting a good example for children
- looking and smelling better
- taking control and becoming free of dependence
By continually reviewing the list, particularly during challenging moments, a person can train their mind to focus on the positive aspects of their goals and reinforce their will to quit.
A 2014 study suggests practicing tai chi three times a week is an effective method to help people either stop smoking or reduce their habit. Tai chi can also help improve blood pressure and reduce stress.
Quitting smoking is beneficial for a person’s health, and various strategies can help.
A doctor can recommend medications to reduce cravings, while apps and lifestyle changes can boost motivation.
Nicotine replacement patches and other aids to help quit smoking are available for purchase online. However, it may be best to start by asking a doctor for advice.