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Ways to quit

There are many ways to quit smoking or quit using smokeless tobacco products. Some people quit suddenly, while others gradually reduce their tobacco use. The more motivated and prepared you are to quit smoking, the more likely you are to succeed.

Some people can quit on their own. But people generally have the best chance of quitting when they use a program that offers counselling or support and a quit aid.

Quitting on your own

You might quit smoking or using tobacco products on your own. Success usually depends on a number of factors, including how much you smoke, chew or snuff, how long you’ve used tobacco products, how much support you have and your general health.

There are many self-help materials and online resources that can help you quit without joining a formal program. For example, the Canadian Cancer Society’s One Step at a Time booklets offer tips and support to help you quit.

Self-help programs or materials usually work best for people who have low levels of nicotine addiction, such as occasional smokers or people who smoke less than 10 cigarettes a day. It also really helps to have support from family and friends.

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Quit programs

Many people benefit from joining programs designed to help people quit smoking or using other tobacco products. Counselling and advice from doctors, dentists, pharmacists or nurses can be very helpful. Some programs are tailored to the needs of certain age groups, such as teenage smokers. For example, Health Canada’s Quit 4 Life is designed to help young Canadians quit smoking.

Telephone quitlines

Smokers’ helplines, or quitlines, are widely available across Canada. These free, confidential telephone services are available to all smokers, whether or not they are ready to quit. Callers get information, guidance and support. They are also given print resources and referrals to local programs and services. Family and friends can also use quitlines to learn how they can help a smoker quit.

Some quitlines may also offer interactive, web-based programs. These programs offer access to self-help programs, discussion forums, inspirational e-mails, text messaging programs and other resources to help you quit smoking.

Individual counselling

Many people benefit from one-on-one counselling. Specialized smoking cessation programs or addiction clinics run by trained professionals may be available in your area. They can be very helpful for smokers who are highly addicted, have tried to quit many times without success or are trying to deal with other medical or addiction problems.

Group programs

People who feel comfortable in and enjoy group settings may benefit from group programs. Some group programs are run by specially trained counsellors or facilitators. Others provide an opportunity for smokers to help each other quit smoking without a formal counsellor.

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Medicines to help you quit

Some medicines help wean smokers off nicotine in the early stages of quitting by reducing nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Research shows that these medicines can help smokers quit when they are used as directed. They are usually most effective when they are combined with other resources, such as counselling or support. Check with a healthcare professional before using any of these products.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) works by managing the cravings caused by nicotine withdrawal. NRT is widely available from drugstores without a doctor’s prescription. NRT comes in different forms, dosages and brands. There is no evidence that one type of NRT is better than any other. But all forms of NRT make it more likely that you will successfully quit smoking.

Type of NRTHow it works

nicotine chewing pieces (gum)

Chewing the pieces releases nicotine, which gets into the bloodstream through the lining of the mouth.

nicotine inhaler

An inhaler delivers nicotine in a vapour that gets into the bloodstream through the lining of the mouth.

nicotine lozenge

A lozenge releases nicotine as it slowly dissolves. The nicotine gets into the bloodstream through the lining of the mouth.

nicotine spray

Nasal and mouth (oral) sprays deliver nicotine in a mist. It is absorbed through the lining of the nose or mouth and enters the bloodstream quickly.

nicotine patch

A patch delivers nicotine to the body through the skin.

NRT patches are mainly designed to deliver a continuous, controlled dose of nicotine over time. NRT gums, inhalers, lozenges and sprays give you a more instant hit of nicotine.

Prescription medicines

Some medicines designed to help people quit smoking require a doctor’s prescription. These medicines don’t contain nicotine. They are designed to help ease withdrawal symptoms.

DrugHow it works

bupropion (Zyban)

Bupropion stimulates the same areas of the brain that nicotine does. It may help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings when quitting. Bupropion was first developed to treat depression.

In some cases, bupropion and NRT can be used together.

varenicline (Champix)

Varenicline was developed to help people stop smoking. It stimulates the same areas of the brain that nicotine does and prevents the pleasurable effects of smoking. In doing so, it helps lower the urge to smoke and reduces withdrawal symptoms.

Varenicline should not be used with NRT.

Talk to your healthcare team to find out if these medicines might work for you. People often start taking them 1–2 weeks before they quit and keep taking them for a certain amount of time after the last time they use tobacco. You should be aware of possible side effects and interactions with other drugs before you take these medicines.

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Other ways to quit

Other methods that may help you quit smoking include acupuncture, laser therapy or hypnosis. Some people also try to use nicotine products, such as lollipops or lip balm, or e-cigarettes to help them quit. There isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove these methods are effective in helping people quit, but some people find them useful. Check with your doctor before using these methods to help you quit.

Other people turn to herbal products, such as clove or herbal cigarettes, to help them quit. These products are not recommended because they can pose health risks.


Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine. It uses very thin needles pushed through the skin at certain points on the body (acupoints) to help restore balance to the body. Specific spots on the body are thought to be related to the urge to smoke. Acupuncture is also thought to help the body release natural pain relievers called endorphinsendorphinsA substance made in the body that relieves pain. to mimic the effects of nicotine in the brain.

Laser therapy

Laser therapy is based on the same theory as acupuncture. Weak laser beams are used instead of acupuncture needles to stimulate the body’s acupoints.


Hypnosis is a state of relaxed and focused attention in which the person concentrates on a certain feeling, idea or suggestion. Hypnosis tries to change the person’s attitude about smoking or using other tobacco products to help them quit. The person is given certain suggestions while hypnotized. These suggestions include reminders to relax when they have a craving, to resist the urge to smoke or how unpleasant smoking is.

Nicotine products

There are a wide variety of products and devices that deliver nicotine or that people use as a substitute for tobacco products. Products that deliver nicotine include nicotine lollipops or lip balm. These have not been scientifically proven to help people quit.

E-cigarettes are small, battery-powered devices that usually look like cigarettes. The e-cigarette cartridge is usually filled with propylene glycol, which makes the vapour, and glycerol. Some cartridges also contain flavouring. People may use e-cigarettes to simulate the feeling of smokingwithout actually smoking tobacco.

Many e-cigarettes also contain nicotine. Different brands and models of e-cigarettes have different amounts of nicotine. When you puff on the e-cigarette and inhale the vapour, the nicotine enters the lungs as a vaporized solution.

E-cigarettes with nicotine have not been approved by Health Canada for safety and efficacy. They can’t be sold legally anywhere in the country. Researchers are still looking at how effective e-cigarettes with nicotine can be in helping someone quit smoking. Some studies have shown that e-cigarettes with nicotine may help users quit smoking. More research is needed.

E-cigarettes that don’t contain nicotine can be legally sold in Canada. However, researchers haven’t shown that they are effective in helping people quit smoking. A few studies have shown that there may be low levels of harmful substances in some e-cigarettes, even if they don’t have nicotine.

Herbal products

Some people turn to herbal products because they think they are healthier alternatives to smoking tobacco. This isn’t true. The smoke from any plant product, including clove or herbal cigarettes, may contain toxins that cause long-term damage to the airways and lung tissues. Research hasn’t shown that clove or herbal cigarettes are a safe or effective way to quit smoking. Similarly, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support using other herbal products, such as herbal supplements or herbal patches, to help people stop smoking.

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Charlaine Hitchcock I learned about Smokers’ Helpline Online Quit Program quite by accident.

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