Ways to quit smoking

Smokers seem to have as many options of how to quit smoking as they do cigarettes themselves. All promise to break the habit, offering enormous costs savings and health benefits all in a simple quit smoking pill.

Fortunately, numerous controlled studies exist comparing the effectiveness of each kind of anti-smoking medicine or alternative practice, including several FDA-approved methods which have been shown to be quite effective. All of the FDA approved methods to quit smoking produce a far higher quit rate among patients than unaided quitting or placebos.

FDA approved smoking cessation drugs

The following methods have been approved and evaluated by the FDA, and include controlled studies measuring the efficacy of the approach:

1) Nicotine replacement therapy, including the nicotine patch, nicotine gum, lozenges, sprays, and inhalers.

2) Anti-depressants

3) Stop smoking prescription drugs, particularly varenicline.

All FDA approved methods show increased quit rates compared to the placebo groups in controlled studies.

Therapeutic approaches have been studied as well, such as physician advice, phone and computer-based quit lines, and psychological counseling, all of which have been shown to increase the likelihood of quitting, especially when combined with the approved medications. Combined treatments of medication and counseling showed higher quit rates than either treatment alone.

However, alternative methods such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, laser therapy and self-help have shown no value in quitting smoking, with a success rate equal to the placebo, and thus of no value at all. Hypnotherapy trials have proven inconclusive, or show no effect.

Comparison of success rates

Over 300 studies have been gathered over a 30 year period to determine the effectiveness of various methods to help quit smoking, with 600 additional reports being used in aiding recommendations. The report concluded that while no treatment or stop smoking pill was capable of majority success, many treatments vastly increased the likelihood of staying smoke-free for a period of 6 months or more.

Single treatment success rates:

Control group (no help): 10%

Telephone quit lines: 12.7%

Placebo: 13.8%

Counseling: 14.6%

Nicotine gum: 19%

Nicotine patch, lozenges, sprays and inhalers: 22.5-26.7%

Recurring clinical cessation programs: 26-38%

Varenicline (prescription stop-smoking pill): 33.2%

Multiple treatment success rates:

Simultaneous treatments of various types were shown to significantly increase effectiveness rates above individual treatments:

Multiple-format psychosocial interventions: 15.1% for single, 18.5% for 2 formats, and 23.2% for three or four formats.

Quitline counseling combined with medication: 28.1% (compared to 12.7% for quitlines alone and 23.2% for the average medication alone)

Nicotine patch plus lozenges or inhalers: 25.8-28.9%

High intensity counseling and medication: 27.6-32%

Nicotine patch plus gum or spray: 36.5%, the highest consistent rate for any kind or combination of medication or treatment.


The studies show the most effective method of treatment is to combine the nicotine patch with use of nicotine gum or spray as needed. Comparable effectiveness rates for varenicline, a quit-smoking medication requiring prescription, marketed by Pfizer, shows nearly the same success rate, though should be taken as advised by a doctor due to its potential side effects.

No method is close to 100% effective, and even at best success rates are in the minority, as cigarettes are designed with addiction in mind. But on the upside, smokers can take comfort in the fact that after 30 years of studies we now have conclusive results of controlled tests of many methods, and finding a method with a 1 in 3 chance of kicking the habit isn't bad.