Quitting smoking is hard. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance, which makes it difficult for people to give up cigarettes and other tobacco products. However, quitting smoking is possible, and several smoking cessation aids can help people kick the habit for good.

Smoking cessation support comes in various forms, including medications, nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs), and counseling.

Some cessation aids are available over the counter (OTC), while others require a prescription from a doctor.

This article discusses some of the most effective methods for quitting smoking.

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There are various types of smoking cessation aids.

Some aim to replace nicotine using a less harmful delivery method than cigarettes. These products are called nicotine replacement therapies, or NRTs.

Common types of NRTs include:

  • gum
  • patches
  • lozenges
  • inhalers

There are also prescription medications that can help with smoking cessation. These drugs work by affecting the brain and making it easier to resist the urge to smoke.

Prescription vs. OTC

Some smoking cessation aids are available OTC, while others require a prescription.

A person can buy NRTs over the counter in most countries. In the United States, NRT products are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

There are two prescription-only smoking cessation medications: varenicline tartrate and bupropion hydrochloride. If an individual wants to try either of these drugs, they will need to speak with a doctor first.

OTC nicotine patches are available to people aged 18 years and older. A person can purchase skin patches, also called transdermal nicotine patches, in three strengths: 7 milligrams (mg), 14 mg, and 21 mg. The right dose depends on how much the person smokes.

If someone smokes more than 10 cigarettes daily, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the 21-mg patch as a starting point. Over 8–12 weeks, the person would lower the dose by changing to the 14-mg patch and then the 7-mg patch.

Nicotine patches work by releasing small amounts of nicotine into the body over time. This helps ease withdrawal symptoms and curb cravings.

The advantages of nicotine patches are that they provide a steady level of nicotine to the body to help lessen withdrawal. They are also beneficial because they:

  • are easy to use
  • are convenient
  • work in combination with other NRTs

However, some people may experience skin irritation.

A person can also buy nicotine gum and lozenges over the counter. These products are available in strengths of 2 mg and 4 mg. A person may begin with 4 mg and lower the dose over 8–12 weeks until they can stop altogether.

People may use nicotine gum or lozenges when they feel the urge to smoke. They work by releasing nicotine into the body as the person chews or sucks on them.

Nicotine gum and lozenges can help with cravings and withdrawal symptoms. They are also easy to use and widely available.

However, some people may experience mouth irritation.

These options require a prescription. Nicotine nasal spray is a quick-acting option that people can use when they feel the urge to smoke. It comes in a pump bottle that a person sprays up the nose.

A nicotine inhaler is a plastic cylinder with a mouthpiece that contains cartridges filled with nicotine. A person inhales on the mouthpiece to get a dose of the nicotine.

The advantage of nicotine inhalers over other NRTs is that they replicate the hand-to-mouth motion of smoking cigarettes.

However, it can take a few weeks to get used to using the inhaler correctly.

This prescription medication is available under the brand names Chantix and Champix.

Varenicline tartrate works differently than other smoking cessation options, so it may help those who have not had success with other methods.

There are various side effects that a person may experience when taking varenicline tartrate. These include:

Bupropion hydrochloride, also known by the brand names Wellbutrin and Zyban, is a prescription antidepressant medication. It can help ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

This medication may be a good option for people who have tried to quit smoking without success in the past.

Bupropion hydrochloride may cause some side effects, such as:

Some people choose to use electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, as a means of quitting smoking.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that heat a liquid — which may or may not contain nicotine — and turn it into an aerosol vapor. They are referred to as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).

While e-cigarettes are often marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, there is limited evidence to support these claims. Additionally, e-cigarettes may carry some of the same risks as regular cigarettes. Due to this, the FDA does not currently consider e-cigarettes to be an effective smoking cessation aid.

If a person is pregnant and trying to quit smoking, they should speak with their doctor about safe and effective cessation aids.

Smoking while pregnant can cause a range of health issues for both the parent and child. These can include:

  • an increased risk of pregnancy loss
  • an increased risk of stillbirth
  • congenital anomalies
  • other pregnancy complications

A pregnant person can safely try counseling and support groups to help them quit. Their doctor may also suggest certain NRTs to help them quit. Using NRTs is likely safer than continued smoking.

There are many resources available to help a person quit smoking. Besides speaking with primary care doctors, people can also seek help at Smokefree.gov. There are texting programs, smartphone apps, and a hotline (800-784-8669) to help people find support and information.

Quitting smoking is difficult, but it is possible with the right tools and support.

Below are the answers to some common questions about smoking cessation aids.

Will insurance cover smoking cessation aids?

Yes, federal laws and rules require most health insurance plans to cover some form of smoking cessation treatment. However, the coverage may vary depending on the policy and insurance company.

For example, Medicare covers nicotine nasal spray, nicotine inhalers, bupropion, and varenicline. It also covers four sessions of individual counseling. However, people should note that it only covers two quit attempts annually.

A person should check with their insurance provider to see what type of coverage they have for smoking cessation aids.

How does someone choose the cessation aid that is right for them?

When trying to quit smoking, a person should try to find a method that works for them. Some people may do well with over-the-counter NRTs, while others may need the help of prescription medications.

It is also important to remember that quitting smoking is a process and often takes multiple attempts.

A person should speak with their doctor about which cessation aids are right for them. A doctor can help determine which method offers the best chance of quitting smoking for good.

What other treatments are available to help someone quit?

In addition to cessation aids, other treatments can help a person quit smoking. These include:

Smoking cessation aids can help people quit smoking. There are many different types of aids available, including OTC nicotine replacement therapies, prescription medications, counseling, and support groups.

Insurance plans are required to cover some form of smoking cessation treatment, but coverage may vary depending on the policy.

People should speak with their doctor to find out which type of aid is right for them to maximize their chances of success.