By: Allison Nimlos
Smokers are often consulted by healthcare professionals who want to support them in quitting smoking. While there are more former smokers than current smokers, there is still an estimated 42 million Americans addicted to cigarettes because quitting smoking is very difficult.
Withdrawing from cigarettes can be such a painful endeavor that many smokers abandon their plan. In fact, withdrawal symptoms are the number one reason quitters return to smoking. Smokers may have to try to stop five or six times before they are smoke-free. But there are ways they can successfully stop smoking. Here are some recommendations for how smokers can quit their nicotine addiction.
Nicotine replacement therapy: Nicotine patches, gum and lozenges are among some of the products available for people looking for help in quitting smoking. These products contain nicotine, but none of the other harmful chemicals found in cigarettes. They work by releasing small amounts of nicotine in the body to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal. Patches and gum come in various doses of nicotine, so quitters slowly lessen their nicotine cravings rather than going cold turkey.
There are some side effects of using NRT, including headaches, nausea and trouble sleeping. Non-nicotine medications: Chantix (varenicline tartrate) and Zyban (buproprion) are two prescription-based bills that are FDA approved for the purposes of smoking cessation. Chantix works by affecting the site in the brain affected by nicotine. It provides some relief from withdrawal symptoms, and it blocks the effects of nicotine if a quitter resumes smoking. Zyban is a low-dose formula of the same medication used in the anti-depressant Wellbutrin. It also helps to reduce the cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Side effects for Chantix include nausea, constipation, gas vomiting, and trouble sleeping, whereas Zyban can cause dry mouth and insomnia. Unfortunately, in 2009, Chantix was given a black box warning by the FDA for an increase in depression and suicide in users.
Quit lines and texting: Taking advantage of technology is another option for helping smokers find ways to stop successfully. Quitlines, such as 1-800-QUIT-NOW, are staffed in every state by counselors trained in smoking cessation techniques, including information on the aforementioned medications. Quit lines are reportedly more successful at helping quitters, increasing success rates from 7% without the help to 30% with the help. Research has found that smokers have an easier time stopping when they have access to support and guidance. Quit lines are typically free and, because they are phone-based, offer a convenient way for quitters to reach out when they need extra help. Most quit lines are proactive, in which smokers call when they need counseling, while some quit lines offer counselors who will call the smoker attempting to quit.
SmokefreeTXT, a program run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is another option for folks who need support in quitting. Users who sign up receive random texts throughout the day with encouragement, advice and tips on quitting smoking. They can also choose to receive additional messages when they send a text with one of the keywords, like CRAVE or SLIP.
E-cigarettes: Not a safe substitute
Studies are mixed on whether or not e-cigarettes work as a method for quitting smoking. E-cigarettes are marketed as only containing nicotine, so users blow water vapors instead of smoke. A New Zealand study looked at participants who quit smoking using e-cigarettes, traditional patches, and a placebo e-cigarette without nicotine.
Researchers found that 7.3 percent of those in the e-cigarette group successfully stopped smoking compared to 5.8 percent in the nicotine patch quit group. However, the difference is not statistically significant, and users have about the same chance in either group.
Researchers from the University of California San Francisco did a meta-analysis of 84 studies on e-cigarettes and concluded there is no reason to believe that e-cigarettes help to stop smoking. Even if e-cigarettes could help someone to quit smoking, new research is finding that they are not nearly as safe as marketers are leading us to believe. New research shows that e-cigarettes may have more harmful chemicals than just nicotine. Researchers at RTI International, a North Carolina research institute, found that smokers of e-cigarettes still inhale harmful particles that can cause respiratory problems, like asthma and bronchitis.
Another study from UC San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education found chemicals like formaldehyde, propylene glycol and acetaldehyde in e-cigarettes. Propylene glycol turns into propylene oxide, a known carcinogen, when heated. Research has also found that the vapors of e-cigarettes are not free of toxins. A study published in the December issue of the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health found increased amounts of nicotine, 1,2-propanediol, glycerine and aluminum in the air of a ventilated room after two hours.
The FDA has so far not evaluated the safety of e-cigarettes, but because new research shows that e-cigarettes could be harmful, many experts are calling for FDA regulations. States are now moving to regulate e-cigarette sales more heavily. Louisiana recently banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and New York State is considering a ban on smoking e-cigarettes in public.