Medically Approved

Easier ways to quit smoking 

Woman applying a nicotine skin patch

A ban on menthol cigarettes may help more people quit. But until then, try these other proven ways to kick the habit. 

Hallie Levine

By Hallie Levine

If you’ve tried to quit smoking before and failed, you’re certainly not alone. Most adult smokers — a whopping 68% — want to stop. And more than half say they’ve tried over the past year. But fewer than 1 in 10 succeed in kicking the habit.  

Of course, ending any bad habit is tough. But the government may be about to make it easier for you. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a ban on menthol cigarettes. And they think about 1.3 million smokers could stop for good because of it. 

Why is the FDA so confident that will happen? For one thing, teenagers and young adults tend to prefer menthols because they’re less harsh. Without menthol cigarettes, many teens may not start smoking in the first place. And nearly 85% of African American smokers choose menthol cigarettes over regular ones. They may be likely to stop smoking altogether, too. There’s also evidence from Canada. Canada banned menthol cigarettes in 2017. After that, menthol-cigarette smokers quit at a higher rate than those who puffed on nonmenthol brands. 

Until the U.S. ban takes effect, however, there are other science-based ways to kick the habit for good, says David Tzall, PsyD. He’s a licensed psychologist in Brooklyn, New York, who specializes in addictions and accompanying behavioral changes. So if you’re ready to save money and your health, here’s how to do it. 

Recommended reading: How these 4 people finally quit smoking for good.  

Go the medication route 

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

Nicotine replacement products 

There are roughly 600 different ingredients in cigarettes. But the one that gets you hooked is nicotine. When you stop smoking, nicotine withdrawal can make you jittery and irritable. You will likely have trouble falling asleep and you may even get depressed. 

Instead of stopping cold turkey, a nicotine replacement lets you taper off gradually. The withdrawal symptoms won’t be as bad, making it easier for you to quit. All of these products are safe, too. “We’ve worked with people who could only quit using these products. They’ve used them forever,” says Tzall.  

These products are also effective. When used along with therapy, they double your odds of quitting forever. And you can use more than one at a time. If the nicotine patch keeps you wide awake at night, for example, skip it while snoozing. Then chew nicotine gum as soon as you wake up. 

Your choices for nicotine replacement include: 

  • OTC skin patches. When you wear one of these, nicotine is absorbed from the patch on the skin and enters the bloodstream. If you smoke at least half a pack daily, go for a high-dose patch (21 milligrams). If not, pick a lower-dose patch (14 milligrams). You should use it for at least 12 weeks.  
  • OTC gum. As you chew, the gum releases nicotine. It works best when you absorb the nicotine through your cheek. So chew it long enough that you feel a tingling sensation as the nicotine is released. Then hold the gum inside your cheek until that feeling disappears. 
  • OTC lozenges. Like gum, these release nicotine into your mouth. Some people like them better because they dissolve slowly.  
  • Prescription inhalers. These are small plastic tubes that release nicotine when you inhale through a mouthpiece. If you have asthma or a chronic cough, skip this option, as it can irritate the mouth and throat.  
  • Prescription nasal sprays. These products deliver a liquid solution of nicotine right into your nose, which causes a quick hit of nicotine in your blood. They’re safe but can irritate the nasal passages. 

FDA-approved medications 

There are also 2 prescription medications that can cut cravings and help you stop smoking, Tzall notes. They are: 

  • Varenicline (Chantix®). This tablet works by blocking nicotine’s effects on the brain. In other words, it reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms. You take it every day with a full glass of water, right after you eat, for at least 12 weeks. Side effects include nausea and unusual dreams and nightmares. That’s why your doctor will probably start you at a low dose and gradually increase it over the first week. Just be warned: The vivid dreams can turn people off the medication, says Tzall. According to Cambridge University’s Journal of Smoking, a triple combo of varenicline, nicotine patches and lozenges works very well, but additional data on tolerability and efficacy is needed.  
  • Bupropion (Zyban®, Wellbutrin®). Bupropion is an antidepressant that is also approved for smokers who want to quit. Start taking it 1 to 2 weeks before your quit day. Side effects include dry mouth and insomnia. 

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Unfortunately, these medications don’t come cheap. So be sure to search the Optum Perks app for a discount before heading to the pharmacy. You could save up to 80%.

Get backup support 

Medications can help you go the distance. But you also need to change your behavior. Therapy may help, as can your phone (yes, really).  

Craft a plan. “People who have trouble quitting smoking often struggle with the behavior modification part of things,” explains Jay Trambadia, PsyD. He’s a clinical psychologist in Atlanta, who also specializes in helping people quit smoking. He encourages his patients to identify the situations that trigger their cravings, then develop a plan to deal with them. For example, don’t spend as much time with other smokers. Avoid the places you typically hang out where smoking is allowed. Also, find ways to reduce stress, a big trigger for smokers. Find a support system, take an exercise break during the day or go for a mindful walk around the block.  

Find phone support. Programs such as Text2Quit and SmokefreeTXT send advice and tips to your cell phone. They can double your success rates, one study found. Or get an app, such as iCanQuit. It uses a technique known as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which helps you find ways to cope with your cravings instead of avoiding them. It also walks you through all the stages of quitting. Apps that use ACT techniques also double your chances of quitting for good, according to JAMA Internal Medicine.  

If you can make it past the first few months, your odds of starting smoking again drop dramatically. But if you fall off the wagon, don’t beat yourself up. Just try again. After all, every time you quit, it’s a victory for your health. And the longer that time lasts, the better. 

If your stop-smoking plan involves prescription medication, don’t hesitate to download our prescription coupon app. Use it to find and share savings with your loved ones. 

 

Additional sources:
Menthol ban: U.S. Food and Drug Administration 
Cigarette ingredients: American Lung Association 
Apps that help smokers stop: JAMA Internal Medicine (2020). “Efficacy of Smartphone Applications for Smoking Cessation”