Lots of people are greeting the new year with plans to quit smoking. The good news is, there is more evidence than ever on the best ways to boost your chances of success. Below we cover the different methods that science suggests are worth a shot.
1. Behavioural counselling. The science shows that support for quitting smoking makes you more likely to quit and stay quit than going it alone. Counselling on how to stop smoking is widely available from healthcare professionals and stop-smoking advisers. High-quality evidence from over 300 studies in over 250,000 people shows that receiving stop-smoking counselling increases long-term quit rates.
2. Remote support. There are many reasons – particularly this year – why you might not be able to see someone face to face for behavioural support. The good news is that studies haven’t found any clear difference between the effects of support delivered face to face versus remotely – for example, counselling delivered by telephone or video calls. There is also growing evidence that stop-smoking support delivered via text messages can boost quit rates.
3. Monetary rewards for quitting. There is new high-quality evidence that programmes that reward people for successfully quitting smoking increase long-term success. These rewards can include money or vouchers for goods or services. These programmes can be offered by workplaces and in some areas of the world are also available via local governments. They offer the benefit of an immediate positive outcome of stopping smoking, as many people find it difficult to think about the longer-term health benefits of quitting.
4. Nicotine replacement therapy, known as NRT, has been used safely to help people quit smoking for decades. It can be prescribed by healthcare professionals, but in many countries is available to buy without a prescription from grocery stores and pharmacies. Evidence shows that using two forms of NRT rather than one increases your chances of quitting – in particular, using a patch and another form such as gum, sprays or lozenges.
5. Varenicline, commonly known as Champix or Chantix, is a medicine for stopping smoking that works by reducing the pleasure people experience from smoking. It also eases withdrawal symptoms when people quit. Studies show that varenicline approximately doubles the chances of successful long-term quitting. Varenicline is available on prescription from healthcare providers.
6. Electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes). A recent review covering 50 studies and over 12,000 participants found that nicotine e-cigarettes probably do help people to stop smoking for at least six months, and probably work better than NRT and nicotine‑free e-cigarettes. The review didn’t find an association with serious harms. However, we still need more, reliable evidence to be confident about the effects of e-cigarettes. The good news is, more evidence is on its way.
7. Combining medication and behavioural support. Studies show that using both behavioural support, such as counselling, and a medicine, such as nicotine replacement therapy, increases quit rates more than using either alone. So for your best shot, try a combination of some of the methods above.
8. Cut down on how much you smoke. If you feel like you can’t quit, then try reducing your smoking. Evidence shows that if you reduce how much you smoke, you are more likely to successfully quit in the long term. When you’re ready to try quitting completely, consider using one or more of the methods listed above.
A few things to remember
First, try not to worry about becoming addicted to stop-smoking medication. Most people can stop these medications without problems (if you end up using NRT long-term, remember that the harm from cigarettes comes from the tar and not the nicotine). Second, if you have a slip, don’t give up. This happens to many people, and you should continue your quit attempt.
Finally, don’t be discouraged if you have tried to quit smoking before and it didn’t stick. Lots of people who have tried unsuccessfully to stop smoking eventually manage to quit. It can take a few times to try to stop smoking for good, and there are more ways than ever to help you quit.
Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, Senior Research Fellow, Departmental Lecturer and Co-Director of Evidence-Based Healthcare DPhil programme, Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, University of Oxford and Nicola Lindson, University Research Lecturer, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford