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  » Smoking and health effect  »  Effective treatments and programs
Methods of quitting: What are your options?

There are many methods to quit smoking. Some people like to quit cold turkey (i.e., all of a sudden) while others like to gradually reduce their smoking. Either method can work. Select the method you are most comfortable with. For more information on quitting gradually, see our section called cutting down the amount you smoke.

Self help. Some people prefer to quit on their own. There is a wide variety of materials and resources to help you including self help book and pamphlets, videos, audio tapes, internet sites (like this one), computer programs, and telephone recordings. In general, although self help methods can be helpful, they are less likely to work than those that involve even brief contact with a counsellor, facilitator or health care professional. Self-help programs and services are especially well suited for people with low levels of nicotine addiction, those with moderate to high levels of social support, and people who do not have any serious illnesses that might be affected by smoking. For information on how to obtain additional self help materials see the section on Other Helpful Resources.

Individual advice and counselling. Individuals who don't want to quit on their own also have many choices available to them. Brief counselling by a doctor, dentist, pharmacist or nurse has been shown to be helpful. Some areas of the country also have set up telephone Helplines or Quitlines. Telephone services may offer a variety of services including the chance to order materials, get information on local programs and services, chat briefly with a trained counsellor about how to quit smoking, chat extensively with a specially trained counsellor. Some telephone services can even arrange for you to receive a series of calls prior to and after your quit attempt. In general, telephone helplines are effective. The more services they offer and the more intensive the service, the more likely they are to help callers.

Intensive counselling. In some areas of the country, smokers have access to special smoking cessation or addiction clinics. These facilities usually have one or more highly trained specialists. They can be particularly helpful for highly addicted smokers, smokers who have tried several times to quit without success, and/or smokers who are also trying to deal with other complex medical or addiction problems.

Group programs. Another approach to smoking cessation is the group program. It usually consists of between 4 and 12 people who are all trying to quit smoking. Some programs are led by a specially trained facilitator/counsellor. Other programs, called mutual aid groups, provide an opportunity for smokers to help each other without a formal counsellor. Research shows that, in general, group programs are among the most successful types of services to help people quit smoking. However, not all people feel comfortable in group situations.

Medications. A variety of medications are used to help people quit smoking. However, in Canada only three types are widely available: nicotine chewing pieces, nicotine patches and buproprion (a pill originally developed to treat depression). Special medical clinics occasionally prescribe other specialized medicines such as clonodine and nortriptyline. Research suggests that, when used as directed and when combined with other behaviour programs (e.g., self help, brief counselling, etc.), these medications dramatically increase the odds that a person will quit smoking. Nicotine chewing pieces and nicotine patches are available without a prescription and can be purchased from most drug stores in Canada. You start using them on your designated quit day. Buproprion requires a doctor's prescription and must be taken for one to two weeks prior to your quit date. Not all people should take medications. If you have questions, ask your pharmacist or doctor. See the webpage on medications for quitting to get more information.

Alternative therapies. While it is possible that some individuals may be helped by alternative treatments such hypnosis, laser therapy, acupuncture, and herbal therapy, a recent review of scientific studies indicated that these approaches were not any more effective than a placebo (i.e., an inactive treatment). Therefore, these types of treatments are not recommended at the present time.

How should I select a method? When selecting a program or service to help you quit smoking, consider these things:

  • Was the program or service developed by a credible organization and/or based on sound scientific and medical recommendations? Programs that are not based on sound scientific practices may actually do more harm than good.
  • Is the program offered or distributed by a credible organization such as a national voluntary agency, a public health department, a community health center, a local hospital, or a licensed health care provider? If the program is led by a facilitator or counsellor, how much training and experience do they have in helping people to quit smoking? Programs designed or implemented by qualified professionals tend to be more effective. The more a health professional is involved in the delivery of the program, the better.
  • Does the program fit your schedule? Does it require you to attend specific sessions and are they offered at a convenient time and place? In general, more intensive programs work better. No program will work if you can't adhere to it.
  • Does the program require you to meet and share with others who are trying to quit? Do you enjoy social interaction? Some people are uncomfortable trying to change their behaviour in front of relative strangers. Others find that they like and need extra social support. In general, group programs are highly effective.
  • How much do you smoke? Heavier smokers (e.g., more than 15 cigarettes per day) tend to benefit more from quit smoking medications, group programs, and more intensive counselling. Light smokers tend to do relatively well with self help programs and brief telephone or in person counselling.
  • How motivated are you to quit? Are you confident that you can quit and remain smokefree? Most programs are designed to help people already motivated to quit smoking. If you aren't sure how committed you are, make sure the program or service will help you build your confidence and readiness to quit.
  • How many times have you seriously tried to quit before? You many find that even the most intensive programs (including medications) are unsuccessful if you have little or no experience in trying to quit. Quit attempts are a special kind of practice. If you are relatively inexperienced at quitting, you may find that self help materials, and brief counselling live or by telephone will help you either quit or get the experience you will need to make the most of more intensive treatments.
  • Do I have any special medical, emotional or social factors that need to be monitored or that could make the treatment dangerous to you? If you are pregnant, breast feeding or under the care of a doctor for a chronic illness such as heart disease, schizophrenia or depression, you should talk to your doctor about what types of quit methods are best for you.

Don't be discouraged if you've tried one or more of these methods and they didn't work for you. People learn something each time they try to quit smoking. Therefore, something that didn't work in the past may work now because you will approach it differently.