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Medically Approved

Easier ways to quit smoking

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Find your reasonMedicationsCombining medicationsMental healthSummary
Quitting smoking is not always easy, but there are plenty of resources available to help you on your way.
Medically reviewed by Nick Villalobos, MD
Written by Faye Stewart
Updated on February 26, 2024

With the upcoming proposed introduction of a menthol cigarette ban, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hopes millions of smokers will quit for good.

However, if you are not a menthol cigarette smoker and still want to quit, there are many pathways to success, lots of resources, and helpful tools to ensure that you stay on track.

Why quit smoking?

Adult friends sitting around an outdoor picnic table sharing food and smiling after looking for easy ways to quit smoking
Photography by Jeffrey Glas/Getty Images

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised that 68% of smokers wanted to stop. However, 2018 data shows that only around 55% of those said that they had tried to quit the year before.

The first step can be finding your reason to quit. You might ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • How will quitting smoking affect my everyday life?
  • What will I miss out on by quitting smoking?
  • How will quitting affect my health?
  • How much money will I save by quitting smoking?

Whatever your reasons, keeping them in mind may help you to stay focused on your quitting goal.

Medications for quitting smoking

Many prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications may help you stop smoking. The key is to find one that works best for you.

Nicotine replacement products

There are roughly 600 different ingredients in cigarettes, but nicotine is the most addicting. When you stop smoking, it is the nicotine withdrawal that can:

  • increase your appetite
  • make you feel irritable
  • affect your sleep
  • give you cravings
  • make you feel anxious or depressed

Instead of quitting right away, a nicotine replacement can help you to taper off smoking gradually, and the withdrawal symptoms may be easier to manage.

Nicotine replacement products include:

Over the counter (OTC) skin patches

When wearing a skin patch, nicotine enters your bloodstream through the skin.

Patches come in three strengths — 7 milligrams (mg), 14 mg, and 21 mg. If you smoke at least 10 cigarettes each day, you can consider using a 21 mg patch, but you should not increase the dose by using more than one patch unless a healthcare professional advises you to.

You can keep a nicotine patch on for 24 hours, and you can wear it in the bathtub or shower.

You can usually expect to reduce the dosage in 8–12 weeks and keep reducing the dose until you no longer need the patches.

OTC nicotine gum

As you chew nicotine gum, it releases nicotine that is absorbed through your cheek.

It is different from regular chewing gum. You should slowly bite it until you feel a tingling sensation, and then hold the gum against the inside of your cheek for around 1 minute. Repeat this process until the tingling wears off, usually after around 30 minutes.

Nicotine gum comes in doses of 2 mg and 4 mg. If you usually have a cigarette within half an hour of waking, you should consider starting with 4 mg.

For the first 6 weeks of using the gum, you can chew a new piece every 1–2 hours or before you expect to get a nicotine craving.

OTC lozenges

Like nicotine gum, nicotine lozenges release nicotine into your mouth. They are available in regular and mini sizes, and both come in 2 mg and 4 mg doses.

You should keep the lozenge in your mouth, between your cheek and gums, until you feel a tingling sensation. You can move it around your mouth now and again, perhaps from one side to another. The lozenges typically dissolve within 20–30 minutes, but you should not chew, suck, or swallow the lozenge whole.

Unless a healthcare professional advises otherwise, consider starting with a 4 mg lozenge if you usually have a cigarette within 30 minutes of waking up.

You can use one lozenge every 1–2 hours for up to 6 weeks before reducing the amount or dosage.

Prescription inhalers for quitting smoking

Prescription inhalers, like Nicotrol inhaler, are small plastic tubes that release nicotine when you inhale through a mouthpiece. If you have asthma or a chronic cough, this may not be the best option for you as it can irritate your mouth and throat, possibly worsening symptoms.

A cartridge will typically last around 20 minutes, but you should not inhale the medication as you would a cigarette or an asthma inhaler. Take short puffs on the inhaler without taking it into your lungs.

Always follow the directions and advice of a healthcare professional when using a nicotine inhaler.

Prescription nasal sprays for quitting smoking

Nasal sprays, like Nicotrol NS, deliver a liquid solution of nicotine into your nose, which provides a quick dose of nicotine to your bloodstream. They can sometimes cause irritation to your nasal passages.

After blowing your nose, spray once into each nostril without inhaling or sniffing. If your nose runs after using the spray, gently sniff to keep the medication in your nose so your body can absorb it fully.

Always follow a doctor or healthcare professional’s directions when using nicotine nasal sprays.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medications

There are two FDA-approved medications that can help you quit smoking.

Varenicline

Varenicline (Chantix) is a tablet that works by blocking nicotine’s effects on the brain, reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

You would typically take it every day for around 12 weeks, with a full glass of water after eating.

Side effects may include:

  • nausea
  • unusual dreams or nightmares
  • constipation or gas
  • headaches
  • skin rashes
  • changes in taste

Due to the side effects, a healthcare professional may start you at a low dose and gradually increase it over the first week.

Bupropion

Another option is bupropion (Wellbutrin). Bupropion is an antidepressant that is also approved for smokers who want to quit. It works by reducing cravings and nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

You would usually start taking the medication 1–2 weeks before your quit day. A typical dosage is one or two 150 mg tablets per day.

Side effects include:

  • dry mouth
  • insomnia
  • unusual dreams or nightmares
  • constipation
  • nausea
  • stuffy nose
  • tiredness
  • headaches

A doctor or healthcare professional will ensure it is safe for you to take this medication, but you should not take it if you have ever had seizures, as it can make them worse. Also, avoid this drug if you drink a lot of alcohol, have a liver condition called cirrhosis, have had a serious head injury, have disordered eating, or have bipolar disorder.

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Combining medications

In some cases, you can use more than one medication at a time.

For example, you may be able to use a combination of nicotine patches, gum, and lozenges. This may give you the best chance of quitting, but always discuss the options with a healthcare professional for safety.

Mental health and quitting smoking

Quitting smoking also means breaking a habit, and therapy can help you with behavioral adaptations.

“People who have difficulty quitting smoking often also have difficulty with the behavior modification part of things,” explains Jay Trambadia, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in Atlanta, who also specializes in helping people quit smoking.

He encourages people to identify the situations that trigger their cravings and then develop a plan to deal with them. For example:

  • not spending too much time with other smokers
  • avoiding smoking areas
  • finding ways to reduce stress
  • finding a support system
  • taking an exercise break during the day or going for a mindful walk around the block

You can also find phone support programs, such as Text2Quit and SmokefreeTXT. These services send advice and tips to your cell phone. A 2020 study found that these services could double your success rate.

There are also apps, such as iCanQuit, that use a technique known as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to help you find ways to manage cravings instead of avoiding them. It also walks you through all the stages of quitting.

Summary

There are many positive reasons to quit smoking, and if you persevere through the initial weeks of quitting, you will be more likely to succeed. There are OTC and prescription medications to help you, as well as therapy and behavioral support.

However, if you don’t manage the first time, be kind to yourself. You can try again when you are ready and use the tools you have read about to help you on your way.

If your stop-smoking plan involves prescription medication, use the Optum Perk Discount Card to see if you can save money on your medications.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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