Quit-Smoking Aids: Know Your Options

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 11, 2023
4 min read

Congratulations! You’ve decided to quit smoking, one of the best choices you can make for your health. Right after you take that last puff, your body will start to recover. Carbon monoxide levels in your blood will drop. In less than a week, it’ll be easier to breathe.

Quitting is hard, and so you’ll want to give yourself your best shot at success. Going cold turkey, where you simply stop smoking without any help, is a popular method. But it isn’t easy. About 95% of smokers who attempt it will start smoking again. If you’re one of them, there are tools to help you reach your goal.

Nicotine Replacement Products

These slowly break your addiction with controlled doses of nicotine. They let you manage your cravings and provide some relief from withdrawal symptoms.

The doses get lower and lower as you take them, so you get used to less and less nicotine before you stop altogether. You may have up to a 70% greater chance of quitting if you use one of these products.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, check with your doctor before you start.

Patch: Placed right on your skin, patches release a small amount of nicotine into your body. They’re available over the counter (OTC), which means that you don’t need a prescription.

Place a new patch on a different spot on your body every day. You can reuse a spot after a week has passed. It may be more effective to start using the patch a few days before your quit date and to use it along with another nicotine product.

Gum: You chew this OTC product just like regular gum. Your dose depends on how much you smoke. When you feel a tingle in your mouth, stop and put it in your cheek. When the tingling is gone, start chewing again. Do this over and over again until the tingle is gone – usually after about 30 minutes. For the first 6 weeks, you’ll chew one piece every 1 or 2 hours. Treatment should last around 12 weeks. If you feel the need to continue, talk to your doctor.

Lozenge: You take these OTC capsules after meals. They dissolve in your mouth. Your dose depends on how much you smoke. Treatment should take 12 weeks.

Spray: This delivers nicotine through your nose or mouth. Some you can buy over the counter, and for others, you’ll need to visit your doctor to get a prescription. Like other nicotine products, you should use it for 12 weeks.

Inhaler: Just like the asthma treatment, you place this cartridge into your mouth and breathe in a puff of nicotine. It’s by prescription only, and you’ll use it for about 12 weeks.

Prescription Medications

You can only get these medicines with a prescription from your doctor. You’d need to start either drug before your quit date to give it time to build up in your system.

Varenicline (Chantix) is probably the first medicine you'll try if you need a prescription. It works with the part of your brain that reacts to nicotine so you enjoy smoking less. It also eases withdrawal symptoms. Varenicline is safe to use with nicotine products, and one study shows that a combination of the two may improve your chances of quitting for good. Side effects may include nausea, trouble with sleep, headaches, and vomiting.

Bupropion is an antidepressant that lowers your desire to smoke. You’re most likely to get it if varenicline doesn’t work or if there’s a reason you can’t take it. Don’t take it with nicotine products unless your doctor tells you to. Common side effects are insomnia, nightmares, and a dry mouth.

Other Methods

Counseling: You can use it as your main method or a support tool. Brief sessions, even as short as 3 minutes, have been shown to help. Programs differ, but in general, they help you pick a quit date, give you techniques to make the change, and teach you how to manage the process and prevent a relapse. Many hospitals and clinics offer solo and group sessions with counselors for free or at a low cost. If that isn’t an option, every state has a quit-smoking hotline you can call.

Hypnosis: A trained hypnotherapist will place you into trance-like state. They’ll then make suggestions that will help you get rid of the urge to smoke. Doctors still don’t know how effective this method is or if it works at all. Some studies say that it works better than using nicotine products, while others say there’s no benefit.

Apps and online support groups: Do some research and find one that meets your needs, so that you’re more likely to stick with the program.

Acupuncture: This might work if you’ve had side effects from other quitting methods. A trained practitioner uses thin metal needles to stimulate pressure points on your body. Spots on your ears, in particular, seem to boost brain chemicals that help curb your desire to smoke. Studies haven’t confirmed that it works for this purpose. You’ll need several sessions, and you’ll want to check on whether your insurance covers it, unless you’re OK paying for it out of your own pocket.

Laser therapy: This works like acupuncture, but instead of needles, it uses low-level lasers that won’t hurt your skin. Studies haven’t confirmed that it works.