Ask an Expert: Best bets to help you quit smoking for good

Q: “I’ve tried to quit smoking several times, but it never sticks. With Oregon’s new smoking ban in effect, I’m ready to be done with it. Are there any new drugs or programs that can improve my results? What is the most effective, proven way to quit for good?”

Answer from Meera Jain, M.D., co-medical director, Providence Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program:

If it’s been a while since the last time you tried to quit, I have good news: Today, we understand more about the psychology and behavior of smoking; we know more about why it’s so hard to quit; and we have better systems set up to help you succeed.

The tobacco-cessation medications available now have been proven to double the success rate for quitting. Participating in a smoking-cessation program will further enhance your chances of success. My most important advice is to get help – don’t try to quit alone.

I urge you – and anyone interested in quitting – to start by calling the Oregon Tobacco Quit Line: 1-800-QUIT-NOW. This free service puts you in touch with a trained counselor who can help you make a plan to quit, discuss medication options, and connect you with local smoking-cessation classes and programs.

There are many approaches to quitting; the one that works best for you will depend on your preferences and your medical history. Here is an overview of the leading tobacco-cessation programs and medications, followed by a few additional tips for success.

Smoking-cessation classes and support programs

I strongly encourage you to enroll in a class or program that addresses both withdrawal symptoms (through medication, as appropriate) and the behavioral/psychological aspects of quitting (through education and social support). Without addressing both of these, tobacco addiction is very hard to overcome.

Enrolling in a class or program is very affordable when compared to the cost of smoking. (Use our calculator to find out how much smoking is costing you.)

Providence Smoking Cessation Class

Based on the American Lung Association’s “Freedom from Smoking” program, this award-winning class series offers intensive support and takes you through a systematic approach to quitting that includes:

  • Education about behavior modification techniques and coping skills
  • Planning a quit date
  • Preparation for life during and after quitting
  • Social support from peers and professional counselors
  • Information on weight and stress management
Get details and registration information.

Quit for Life®
For people who feel too busy to attend classes, Quit  for Life offers the alternative to get information and support by phone. The program offers 12 months of phone-based support and, depending on your health plan coverage, may also include free or discounted nicotine replacement therapy.

Get details and registration information, call Quit for Life at 1-866-QUIT-4-LIFE (1-866-784-8454), or visit www.quitnow.net.

Medications for smoking-cessation

Today’s smoking-cessation medications double the success rate for quitting and are generally safe. Check with your health plan or your employer – many offer these medications free or at discounted rates. Enrolling in classes or in Quit for Life also entitles you to discounted or free medications.

Varenicline (Chantix)
The newest and most effective of the smoking-cessation medications, varenicline significantly reduces cravings by targeting the nicotine receptors in the brain. Many of my patients have had wonderful success with this non-nicotine drug. Studies suggest that it may be the most effective smoking-cessation therapy we’ve had yet: In one study, the three-month quit rate with varenicline was 44 percent, compared to 30 percent with bupropion and 18 percent with placebo.

Varenicline is generally safe and very effective when taken under a physician’s supervision, but it is not right for everyone – it may cause side effects that need to be monitored. Talk to your doctor about whether this medicine is right for you.

Available by prescription only, varenicline is taken twice a day for 12 weeks, with an option to continue for an additional 12 weeks.

Bupropion (Zyban)
If you prefer not to take varenicline due to the potential side effects, then bupropion is an effective alternative. It also may be a more affordable option, since it is available in generic form.

Originally developed as a treatment for depression, this non-nicotine therapy also has been found to reduce tobacco withdrawal and cravings. In addition, it appears to prevent some of the weight gain that is associated with quitting smoking. With a few exceptions, bupropion is generally very safe and well tolerated.

Available by prescription only, bupropion is taken twice a day for 12 weeks.

Get more information on non-nicotine medication therapies.

Nicotine-replacement therapy
Nicotine-replacement therapy can reduce withdrawal and cravings by continuing to supply your body with some nicotine, in gradually declining dosages. Nicotine patches, lozenges and gum can be purchased over the counter; inhalers and sprays are available by prescription only. Not many people use the sprays; I usually recommend using the patch and supplementing it with gum or lozenges as needed. If you are pregnant or you have active heart disease, talk to your doctor before using any form of nicotine replacement.

Get more information on nicotine-replacement therapy.

Other resources       

Oregon Tobacco Quit Line: 1-800-QUIT-NOW
Call the
Oregon Tobacco Quit Line for free advice and support before, during and after you quit. Expert “quit coaches” are available from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week to help you make a quit plan, get started, find other resources or programs in your area, and stick with it.

Tips and encouragement

A final note: Even though you’ve tried to quit before and “it didn’t stick,” don’t despair. Try again. Most people try to quit multiple times before they finally succeed. The next time might be the time that works for you.

Quitting smoking is one of the toughest things you will do. The people who are most successful at quitting tobacco for good are those who get support, rather than going it alone.

To boost your odds of success:

  • Call the Oregon Tobacco Quit Line: 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
  • Enlist the help of your physician.
  • Think about what is motivating you to quit: Are you doing it for your family? For your health? To save money? Focus on what motivates you every day; the stronger your motivation, the better your chances of success.
  • Consider medication therapy.
  • Enroll in a smoking cessation class or a telephone-based program.
  • Involve your family, spouse, co-workers and friends.
  • If you know someone else who wants to quit, do it together – it will improve the chances of success for both you and your quit partner.
  • Take good care of yourself. Exercise regularly, eat right, drink lots of fluids and get plenty of sleep.
  • Reward yourself for quitting!

Finally, let me assure you: You can do this. You deserve to succeed, and you will succeed – just keep trying.  I’m rooting for you.

Updated 2013