Medical Aids for Stopping Smoking

Michael Kwan
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Breaking a cigarette

It can be incredibly difficult to quit smoking, particularly if you have been smoking for a number of years. There are many cessation aids on the market that facilitate the process of "kicking the habit." Some medications and aids require a prescription from a family doctor, but many are available over-the-counter from the neighborhood pharmacy.

Nicotine Replacement Therapies

Each cigarette contains myriad chemicals, but it is the nicotine that is largely responsible for the addiction. To help smokers get past this addiction, nicotine replacement therapies deliver the drug in a much safer fashion, eliminating the tar and other harmful chemicals found in cigarettes. This helps smokers better manage withdrawal symptoms from the nicotine, gradually allowing them to reduce the dosage and ultimately quit smoking (and nicotine) altogether.

Nicotine can be administered in a number of different forms and can sometimes be used in combination with one another for greater success. According to WebMD, success rates with nicotine replacement therapies range from 19% to 26%.

Non-Prescription Patch, Gum and Lozenges

Available without a prescription, the nicotine patch provides a slow and steady dosage of nicotine into the body, getting absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. The most common brands are Habitrol and Nicoderm, both of which offer a "step" system where the nicotine dose is lessened with each progressive step.

Unlike the patch, nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges deliver a more potent dose of nicotine right away rather than providing a steady, lower dose. This provides more of the nicotine "hit" that many smokers desire. They are available over-the-counter from a number of different brands like Nicorette and Nicotrol. The American Heart Association recommends chewing one piece of gum every one or two waking hours without taking more than 20 pieces per day. They also recommend avoiding coffee, orange juice, alcohol or cola for 15 minutes before and after, as they reduce the effectiveness of the nicotine lozenge or gum.

Prescription Inhalers and Nasal Sprays

Working in a more direct fashion than the non-prescription options, prescription nicotine inhalers and nasal sprays introduce a potent dose of nicotine into the bloodstream. This provides more of an immediate effect, but the fundamental idea is the same as the nicotine replacement therapies that do not require a prescription from a doctor.

Chantix (Varenicline Tartrate)

Based on a poll conducted by Kelton and sponsored by Legacy and Pfizer in late 2012, an increasing number of smokers are resolving to quit smoking but less than half of those surveyed indicated that they discussed this goal with a healthcare provider. While 39 percent of those surveyed used non-prescription aids like nicotine gum, only 13 percent used prescription medication to help them quit smoking.

Increased Dopamine

One of the more popular prescription medications used for the purpose of smoking cessation is Varenicline Tartrate, sold under the brand name Chantix in the United States and as Champix in other parts of the world. Unlike nicotine replacement therapy, Chantix does not deliver a dose of nicotine to the body. Instead, it encourages the brain to release more dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with positive feelings. Nicotine stimulates the brain to release dopamine, so by directly stimulating greater dopamine release, the effect should be similar. This helps address nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Chantix also blocks nicotine receptors in the brain, so smoking a cigarette does not produce the same positive feelings.

A research paper posted by the US National Library of Medicine stated that this drug "appears to be more efficacious than nicotine replacement therapy."

Zyban (Bupropion SR)

Another prescription medicine used to facilitate smoking cessation is Bupropion SR, which is sold under the brand names Zyban and Wellbutrin SR. Like Chantix, Zyban does not contain any nicotine itself. Instead, it helps to control nicotine cravings and acts as an anti-depressant. While it is not recommended to take nicotine replacement therapy in tandem with Chantix, it may be appropriate to do so with Zyban under the supervision of a medical professional.

According to The NetDoctor Medical Team, Zyban "works best if used as part of a carefully managed programme of professionally supported smoking cessation." However, the Canadian Lung Association notes that there are potential negative side effects to taking Zyban. Health Canada has indicated that some patients may encounter negative behavioral changes including feelings toward self-harm while taking Zyban. This warning could also apply to the anti-depressant properties of Chantix.

Commitment Necessary

There are many smoking cessation aids on the market, including pharmaceuticals and herbal remedies, but none of them will work if the smoker isn't committed to kicking the habit. It will still take a great deal of willpower and dedication, which is all the more powerful with the support of loved ones and the advice of healthcare professionals. A smoker doesn't have to feel like he or she is alone in this goal.

For help with quitting smoking, speak to your physician.

Medical Aids for Stopping Smoking