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Quit Smoking Now: 5 Ways to Curb Cravings

November 2011

quit smoking nicotineby Dawn Dorsey

If you're a smoker, craving a cigarette with your morning coffee isn’t all in your mind. Smoking causes a real physical addiction that can be tough to shake.

Nicotine replacement therapy may help you curb those urges and wean you off tobacco once and for all. And, that’s definitely something you want to do: cigarette smoking accounts for about one-third of all cancers, including 90% of lung cancer cases.

“Nicotine replacement therapy is a great place to start when you’re ready to stop using tobacco,” says Paul Cinciripini, Ph.D, director of MD Anderson’s Tobacco Treatment Program and professor in the Department of Behavioral Science. “It’s easy to use, has few side effects, and research shows it works for many people.”

Options to tame the nicotine beast

Your local drug store stocks several nicotine replacement products. But for some of these, you’ll need a doctor’s prescription.

1. Patch

A small, plastic patch is applied once a day somewhere on your body. It delivers a steady dose of nicotine, making it a good choice for heavy smokers.

Potential side effects:

  • Skin rash
  • Allergy
  • Sleep problems or unusual dreams
  • Racing heartbeat

quit smoking nicotine2. Lozenges

Candy-like lozenges are great for a quick jolt of nicotine. Like the patch, they help curb cravings. And, they may satisfy the need to keep your mouth busy so you’re not tempted to smoke.

Potential side effects:

  • Bad breath
  • Sleep problems
  • Nausea
  • Hiccups

3. Gum

Nicotine gum starts to work right away — if you use it correctly. It comes in different flavors and doses and works only if you follow the instructions and use the proper dose.

Potential side effects:

  • Bad taste
  • Hiccups
  • Nausea
  • Mouth sores
  • May stick to dentures

quit smoking nicotine4. Inhaler

The inhaler is a plastic tube similar to an asthma inhaler. When you take a puff, it instantly releases nicotine. It feels kind of like smoking. Note: You’ll need a prescription to buy one.

Potential side effects:

  • Most expensive method
  • Can be awkward to use in public
  • Coughing
  • Throat irritation
  • Nausea

5. Nasal spray

Similar to allergy or congestion nasal sprays, these are easy to use and quickly send nicotine to your bloodstream. It works best for heavy smokers who get strong cravings. Note: Nasal sprays require a prescription.

Potential side effects:

  • Nasal irritation
  • Runny nose and watery eyes
  • Can be harmful to children and pets

Know your smoking personality

Before you slap on a patch or smack on some gum, take a close look at your smoking habits to decide which product might be best for you.

“I usually recommend people start with a patch and use gum or lozenges for intense cravings that the patch can’t handle,” Cinciripini says.

He also suggests:

  • Trying another product if you’re not successful with the first one — or two.
  • Reading the instructions closely. A too-high dose makes side effects more likely; a too-low dose may not control withdrawal symptoms.

Fight cravings on all fronts

Whichever route you take:

  • Talk to your doctor about your plans to quit, especially if you are considering using more than one nicotine replacement product or if you have other health problems.  
  • Get extra help. According to the National Cancer Institute, pairing nicotine replacement therapy with counseling sessions doubles your chances of success.
  • Get free counseling by calling one of these quit lines:
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 1-800-QUIT NOW
    • National Cancer Institute: 1-877-44U-QUIT

Remember, quitting smoking offers significant health benefits — no matter how long you’ve been smoking. And, all smokers start enjoying improved circulation and lung function within just weeks of quitting.

So, what are you waiting for? Chart your course to quit smoking, so you can breathe easier.

Related Links
6 Steps to Quit Smoking (MD Anderson)
MD Anderson Tobacco Treatment Program
Do You Need Help to Quit? (American Cancer Society)


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center