Giving up smoking for good

Published in Medicinewise Living

Date published: About this date

Over half of all Australian smokers are thinking about quitting at any given time — and with good reason.

Quit smoking and improve your healthHalf of all lifetime smokers die from diseases caused by smoking — such as a heart attack, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, throat or lung cancer — and half of them die before the age of 70. On the other hand quitting has immediate benefits and plenty of support and advice available for people who want to quit.

Really wanting to quit smoking is the key to successful quitting, and is the first and most crucial step to take. But as every smoker knows — it’s not easy. Here are some things you can do to help you quit for good.

What quitting can do for you

Quitting smoking has immediate and long-term health benefits.

  • Within days you’ll be breathing and moving around more easily.
  • Within one year your chance of having a heart attack is halved.
  • Within 10 years your chance of dying from lung cancer is halved.

Quitting smoking is the most important thing that smokers with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can do to slow the progress of their disease.

By improving your overall health, you may also need fewer medicines for other smoking-related diseases. 

Making it work for you

Once you’ve made the decision to quit there are many different paths to success — different methods work for different people and may involve a combination of two or more methods.

Some people go ‘cold turkey’. Others gradually reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke each day, and then quit. Some people use treatments such as medicines, counselling, or complementary and alternative therapies like acupuncture, meditation or hypnosis.

Talk to your doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or Quitline (137 848 or 131 848) about the various methods for quitting smoking to help choose an approach that suits you. Quitline can also send you a free ‘Quit Pack’ which contains information about quitting, what to expect, and ways of dealing with the challenges you may face when quitting.

And if at first you don’t succeed at quitting smoking don’t be disheartened, try again. People normally need more than one attempt to quit successfully — in fact it takes an average of 4 attempts to stop smoking for good.

Support equals success

Getting help and support right from the start can increase your chance of quitting smoking.

Studies have found counselling and support in person from a GP, pharmacist, or practice nurse, or from a telephone counselling service such as Quitline, increases the number of people who successfully quit smoking.

Attending individual or group counselling sessions, enrolling in a quit course, or joining a stop-smoking group can also get you motivated and increase your chances of quitting. They give you the opportunity to obtain ongoing encouragement, support and helpful information from fellow quitters or someone experienced in helping people to quit.

The support of family and friends is often vital as well when you’re trying to quit and can give you the day-to-day encouragement you need, particularly when you are craving a cigarette.

Quit smoking medicines can boost your chances

Most smokers choose to quit without medicines and many succeed. But if you smoke more than 10–15 cigarettes a day, and counselling and support isn’t helping on its own, you may find a medicine useful.

Research shows that taking a medicine to quit smoking while also getting counselling or support can double your chances of quitting successfully.

Nicotine replacement therapy and the prescription medicines bupropion (e.g. Zyban SR) and varenicline (Champix) have all been found to increase the number of people who stop smoking. If you’re considering a medicine to help quit smoking, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which one best suits your individual circumstances and preferences.

Nicotine replacement therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy (like the brands Nicorette and QuitX) gives you a steady small dose of nicotine which replaces what you previously obtained from cigarettes. It comes in various forms including a skin patch, chewing gum, lozenge, micro-tab, mouth spray and inhaler. This is often the first medicine used to help with quitting smoking and is safe for most people to use.

The small dose of nicotine from these products helps you reduce the cravings and withdrawal symptoms you often experience when quitting. This makes it easier to break old smoking habits, and to learn to live without cigarettes.

You can get nicotine replacement therapy without a prescription from pharmacies. Nicotine patches are also available on prescription which can make them cheaper for you.

Nicotine replacement products are much safer than cigarettes, because they do not contain the cancer-causing substances and other dangerous chemicals found in tobacco smoke. They are also less addictive than cigarettes.

Prescription medicines

Varenicline is thought to mimic the effect of nicotine in the brain. This reduces the symptoms of craving and withdrawal. Bupropion works differently to varenicline.

Bupropion and varenicline are prescription medicines available under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) to help smokers quit, but only in certain circumstances.

Talk to your doctor about how these medicines might help you. Each has its own pros and cons.

Bupropion, for example, can be used if you have depression. But it can rarely cause seizures (fits) and has some important interactions with other medicines, which makes it unsuitable for some people.

Varenicline is also not suitable for everyone. People with a mental health condition (like depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder), heart disease, or another serious medical condition like epilepsy should speak to their doctor about other options to help them quit. Read more in the Medicine Update on Varenicline (Champix) for quitting smoking.

More about medicines for quitting smoking

Find more information on nicotine replacement therapy, bupropion and varenicline from the consumer medicine information (CMI) leaflet. Download the CMI for a medicine from the NPS Medicine Finder or ask your pharmacist or doctor to print it out for you.

You can also call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) from anywhere in Australia (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm AEST) to get information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamin and mineral) medicines.