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Quitting smoking methods

There are plenty of ways to quit smoking. But if you want to make it stick, you need to find the one that works for you. On this page, we’re going to look at the various methods you could use as you try to quit — including tips for quitting smoking and where to find support.

Just remember, everyone is different. What might work for someone else may not work for you. So, if you find one method isn’t working, try another instead. Using a combination of methods (like nicotine replacement and counselling) will improve your chance of successfully quitting.

Be persistent. Understand that setbacks happen. All you need to do is keep trying.

Some common quitting methods include:

Counselling

Creating a support network that you can call on when needed will help as you quit. Talking to your loved ones and your GP is a great start, but there are other quit smoking support options out there;

Quitline: A free, specialised support service dedicated to helping people quit smoking, with highly skilled staff is available 8am to 9pm, seven days a week on 13 7848.

One-on-one advice: You may choose to discuss quitting with your doctor, health educator, psychologist, psychiatrist, or other health professional who has been trained to help people quit. These health professionals typically aim to help you understand why you smoke, and then provide strategies to help you quit.

Courses: Attending a quit course could provide both information on how to quit smoking, and support as you quit.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)

Quitting smoking will usually mean you experience certain cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) aims to reduce those side effects, and when used properly, can make a big difference in helping you quit successfully.

With a wide range of NRT products out there, it can be a good idea to speak to your GP or Quitline about finding the best option for you. These products are available from pharmacies and some supermarkets. You may also be able to receive these products at reduced cost via a prescription from your doctor.

How does NRT work? NRT provides a small, measured dose of nicotine into the bloodstream, without the harmful chemicals that come from tobacco smoke. This dose of nicotine works to reduce the physical withdrawal symptoms that come with quitting, allowing you to focus instead on the emotions and situations that can trigger your desire to smoke.

NRT products include nicotine patches, gum, inhalers, nasal and oral sprays, and lozenges or tablets. Combining two forms of NRT is often recommended rather than using a single method, as each works in a different way. For example, while the patch releases nicotine slowly to give you a steady dose, the spray or gum releases nicotine more quickly, helping to ease sudden cravings.

Prescription medications

Available on prescription, quit smoking medication can help to reduce withdrawal symptoms as you quit, with options such as bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Champix) working to block the nicotine receptors in your brain, making smoking less enjoyable.

As these medicines are not suitable for everyone, they must be prescribed by a GP. Both are subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). Bear in mind that to get the PBS subsidy, you must also be receiving counselling for quitting smoking from your doctor or a support service such as the Quitline.

Cold turkey

When you go ‘cold turkey’, this essentially means you quit smoking suddenly, without any support or outside help. Using this method, you rely on your own willpower — which can make it harder to stick with. For that reason, it tends to be not as successful as using a combination of methods and quit smoking support.

If you think cold turkey is the method for you, you may want to distract yourself with new activities, and avoid situations that tend to trigger your desire to smoke. It can also help to focus on the benefits of not smoking, while pulling in the support of family and friends.

Alternative treatments

Aside from the above methods, there are alternative ways to quit smoking, such as acupuncture, hypnosis and herbal preparations. While the theory behind each of these methods varies, there is no clear evidence to show how much they help.

  • Hypnosis - which proposes to act on underlying impulses to weaken the desire to smoke and strengthen your will to stop.
  • Acupuncture - a traditional Chinese medicine that involves inserting fine needles into the skin at specific points in the body. Related techniques include acupressure, laser therapy and electrostimulation. The aim of these therapies is to reduce withdrawal symptoms.

If you want to try these, just be aware that there is no clear evidence to support these methods as effective ways to quit smoking.

Methods proven to be effective include nicotine replacement therapy, prescription medications and support from a health professional or Quitline counsellor.


Quitting methods not recommended

From e-cigarettes to light, low-tar or filtered cigarettes, there is a wide range of products out there that are promoted for their ability to help users either quit smoking, or to allow them to ‘safely’ smoke. However, you should know that there is no safe smoking option. Tobacco is always harmful.

E-cigarettes

You’ve probably seen people 'vape' or use e-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes). Battery operated e-cigarettes work by heating a solution that creates an aerosol — or vapour — that users breathe in, hence the term ‘vaping’. Even though they may be labelled nicotine free, the liquids in e-cigarettes may sometimes contain nicotine, as well as a range of toxic chemicals.

Scientists are still learning about e-cigarettes, which means they cannot be considered safe. Why? Even if e-cigarettes don’t contain nicotine or produce tar in the same way as cigarettes, there is concern that using e-cigarettes could increase risk of lung disease, heart disease and cancer.

And while some people may believe e-cigarettes help in quitting smoking, there is not enough evidence to back that claim. For that reason, the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods has not approved any e-cigarettes for sale to help people quit smoking. And what’s more, by law, e-cigarettes are considered the same as tobacco cigarettes. So, where you can legally use and smoke them is exactly the same as cigarettes anyway.

More on e-cigs

Switching to low-nicotine or low-tar cigarettes

More than half of all Australian smokers mistakenly believe that low-tar or low-nicotine cigarettes marketed as ‘gold’, ‘smooth’, ‘silver’ or ‘fine (previously known as ‘light’ and ‘mild’ cigarettes) are less dangerous than regular cigarettes. However, there is no evidence that this is the case.

Research shows that there is little difference in the levels of nicotine, carbon monoxide and other toxins inhaled by smokers of so-called low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes compared to smokers of regular cigarettes. This is because smokers generally take more frequent and deeper puffs of these ‘lighter’ cigarettes to get the amount of nicotine they are used to.

The same applies to using filters or filter blocking products. There is no such thing as a safe cigarette.

Quitting smoking can be hard. You may find you try several times before you manage to give up for good. But, trying gives you practice, which can help you plan what you need to do to succeed next time you quit. The important thing is you keep trying.

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