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Quit-Smoking Drugs and Nicotine Patches and Gums

What can help you quit smoking?
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Quitting smoking is never easy. But a growing number of smoking cessation aids make it easier than ever for smokers to break their addiction to nicotine.

Research suggests that medications and nicotine replacement therapies can double and sometimes even triple the chances that a smoker will successfully quit. Some of these treatments also help to minimize weight gain while quitting -- an important plus for many smokers who want to kick the habit.

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I smoked for more than 44 years and knew I needed to stop. I had smoking-induced asthma. My parents, both heavy smokers, died of smoking-related diseases. Secondhand smoke contributed mightily to my four children’s recurring upper respiratory ailments in their younger years. Yet I continued to smoke. Every winter I dealt with pleurisy attacks from breathing cold air. I had to lie flat on my back for days, the slightest movement sending knifelike pains through my chest. After I’d recovered,...

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With a growing number of options available, doctors are now able to create personalized treatment plans tailored to an individual smoker’s needs and preferences.

What’s right for you? Here are stop-smoking aids and drugs to consider:

Nicotine Replacement Therapies

The idea is simple. To help smokers manage nicotine withdrawal, nicotine replacement therapies deliver the potent drug in ways that are far healthier and safer than cigarettes. Ideally, ex-smokers can gradually reduce the amount of nicotine or stop nicotine replacement therapy all at once after they’ve broken the habit of smoking. Even when used for long periods of time, nicotine replacement therapies are far safer than smoking. Quit rates range from 19% to 26%. 

Is it right for you? If you’ve tried to quit before and failed because the craving for nicotine was too strong, nicotine replacement therapies may help. Gum, lozenges, and patches are available over-the-counter. Nasal sprays and inhalers require a prescription. Gums and lozenges are handy to use and offer something for smokers to put in their mouths instead of a cigarette. Some smokers prefer inhalers because the process of inhaling mimics smoking a cigarette. All of these forms are about equally effective and they can be used in combination. Indeed, evidence suggests that combining patches with inhalers, gum, or nasal sprays improves long-term quit rates. But you cannot continue to smoke while using nicotine replacement therapy. You must quit tobacco before you take alternate forms of nicotine.

Expert advice: “Don’t be in too much of a hurry to go off nicotine replacement,” says Scott McIntosh, PhD, associate professor of community and preventive medicine at the University of Rochester in New York and director of the Greater Rochester Area Tobacco Cessation Center. “One common problem we see is people stopping too early and then experiencing cravings that they can’t resist.” McIntosh recommends using nicotine replacement therapies for two to three months. And after you’ve stopped using them, he recommends keeping some gum or lozenges handy just in case you suddenly experience an intense craving.

Chantix (Varenicline)

Varenicline, the latest antismoking drug to win FDA approval, works by blocking nicotine receptors in the brain. It is sold under the trade name Chantix in the U.S. and Champix in other parts of the world. Chantix is usually prescribed for a 12-week period, with the option of another 12-week maintenance course. About 33% of smokers who use the drug successfully quit.

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