November 23, 2015

Don’t be afraid to use these medications as you quit smoking.


Kicking your smoking habit is the single best thing you can do for your health. Want to improve your odds of quitting for good?

Use FDA-approved medications designed to help you break your cigarette addiction. These medications include prescriptions and common over-the-counter nicotine-replacement products (the patch, gum and lozenges).

These tools help ease withdrawal symptoms, minimize cravings and gradually decrease the amount of nicotine you take in over a period of time, usually three months. Nicotine is the main addictive substance in tobacco. But nicotine replacements contain nicotine at safe doses, and without other harmful chemicals found in cigarettes, to help you wean yourself from your smoking habit.

“Many people want to quit medicine-free,” said Hilary Tindle, M.D., an associate professor in medicine, physician, and founding director of the Vanderbilt Center for Tobacco, Addictions and Lifestyle. But these medicines are specifically designed to help people quit, a challenge most smokers find difficult.

Here, Tindle busts myths about using medications to help you quit smoking:

“I can do it without meds.”

Many clinical studies show that “people are two to three times more successful in their quit attempts when they use medication,” Tindle said.

“I don’t want to add chemicals to my body.”

The only active ingredient in nicotine replacement products is nicotine. Nicotine replacement delivers less nicotine, and more slowly, than cigarettes. Cigarettes contain more than 7,000 chemicals, at least 70 of which are known to cause cancer! (Think formaldehyde, arsenic and benzene, for starters.) Cigarette smoke also contains carbon monoxide, which makes it harder for your blood to carry oxygen to your organs and muscles. So if you’re using the patch and not smoking cigarettes, you’re taking in 6,999 fewer chemicals than you were when you were smoking.

“The meds are addictive.”

The amount of nicotine in FDA-approved nicotine replacement medications is less than the amount in cigarettes. Also, the way your body absorbs the nicotine from nicotine replacement therapy is very different. Most people taper off these medications over a two- to three-month period. Few people want to keep using them longer than that, but if necessary it is safe to use them for a longer period in some cases. If you have questions about the quit-smoking medications that you are using, talk to your doctor or look for a support group or counselor who can help you figure out the nuances of your nicotine addiction.

“Using meds is a sign of weakness.”

These medications are tools to help you make a change that will significantly improve your health.

“We use tools in every aspect of life,” Tindle notes. For example, she notes, is it a sign of weakness to drive to work instead of walking? Use a calculator instead of doing math in your head? If using medication helps you break a powerful addiction, it is not a sign of weakness – you have found the strength to conquer a challenging goal.

Medications soften the physical withdrawal symptoms that come with quitting cigarettes, allowing you to better focus on behavior-related aspects of quitting.

“Meds do all the work.”

While medication is a powerful tool, it is only a tool. Medications will not get rid of withdrawal symptoms (including irritability, frustration and anxiety) and cravings entirely. Talk to your doctor about how to use these medications the right way. Also, medications are only one tool. Others include support groups and working with a counselor trained to help people quit smoking. Your best strategy for quitting cigarettes is combing these tools.

Finally, don’t give up hope if you give in to the temptation of a cigarette now and then as you’re trying to quit. Smokers typically make five attempts before finally quitting for good. Forgive yourself any lapses and keep trying.

To work with a counselor to help you create a plan for quitting, call the Tennessee Tobacco Quitline, 1 800-784-8669, or use it online at

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Those at highest risk for lung cancer are ages 55 to 74; and current or former smokers with 30 or more pack years. See if lung cancer screenings are right for you.