Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to better your health almost immediately with progressive benefits the longer you stay off cigarettes. Cigarette smoking is one of the leading causes of lung cancer, cervical cancer and heart disease plus other health concerns such as premature aging. It is responsible for close to 4 million deaths a year.
If you’re like my patients who smoke and want to quit, I’d like to share with you some of the pros and cons of the quit-smoking products that are out there.
Anti-Smoking Products: Which Work The Best?
Just like weight loss, there are many commercial products available that claim to be able to help you quit smoking. You’ve likely seen many ads on television for products with Chantix and Zyban being the most well-known. However, there are other stop-smoking products that actually have more pros to them than these. The following is a general rating of some of the most popular methods of quitting smoking to help you decide which one may be of most benefit.
1. Cold turkey. No, this isn’t a product; it’s the method of stopping smoking on your own without the use of any products. You pick a day you want to quit and you just do it. The pro to this method is that it’s cost free. That’s basically it. The cons are that quitting smoking cold turkey is the least successful of all the methods, with only 3% of people succeeding at quitting. The reason for the high failure rate of this method is that your body goes through withdrawal of the chemical nicotine from your blood. Symptoms include anxiety, hyperirritability, insomnia, inability to concentrate and depression, which can last 3 months or more. My opinion: This method doesn’t get my vote.
2. Chantix, Zyban. These are popular, commercial anti-smoking products that are available by prescription. They work about the same, helping your body withdraw from nicotine gradually. Chantix offers a support system, however, Zyban does not. In addition, like most prescription drugs they both come with side effects. Chantix’s side effects include nausea, sleep disturbances, constipation, flatulence, vomiting, plus “additional effects” not cited. Zyban is actually the drug Wellbutrin, an antidepressant, which acts to counter one of the nicotine withdrawal symptoms of quitting smoking – depression. Like most antidepressants, however, Zyban can have serious side effects such as dry mouth, insomnia, headaches, agitation, jitters (shakiness), appetite increase, and even seizures (though rarely, reports the literature). My opinion: I think there are better, safer, nonprescription ways to go about quitting smoking.
3. Hypnosis. Hypnosis works, in theory, by placing suggestions in the hypnotized person’s subconscious mind while they are in a state of light sleep. It can work well as a relaxation device, which may be what some smokers need to help them quit. However, some people are resistant to hypnosis and for them hypnosis likely will not work. For people who are open to the idea hypnosis may be helpful. My opinion: Used in conjunction with other therapies, hypnosis can be beneficial for relaxation and reinforcement of the positive benefits of quitting smoking.
4. Laser. Actually works more like acupuncture or acupressure in helping stop smoking where laser energy is applied to specific points on hands, wrists, ears, face that correspond to addiction in humans, resulting in stimulating endorphin producing nerve pathways. Endorphins are “feel good” hormones that decrease stress and help you relax, therefore, decreasing the need for “stress smoking”. Laser therapy ads claim 85% to 90% success rate, but actually the rates are much lower. Plus these treatments are costly and there are no guarantees. My opinion: I think there are better, cheaper ways to quit smoking.
5. Lobelia. Lobelia contains “lobeline”, a natural, herbal, nicotine-like substance that is non-addicting and non-toxic. It reduces nicotine cravings and has a tranquilizing effect. It can help soothe jangled nerves and irritability which almost always accompanies quitting smoking. It does this by “tricking” your nervous system into thinking its getting nicotine but without the toxic side effects. My opinion: As it’s a natural, herbal product that can help get over the first few weeks of an antismoking effort, Lobelia gets a high mark from me. However, it must be used exactly as directed as too much lobelia can cause vomiting and/or respiratory depression.
6. Smoke Deter. Another natural, homeopathic, based anti-smoking product that uses several homeopathic remedies together for a synergistic effect against the most trying of withdrawal symptoms: Abies nigra (black spruce), Aconitum Napellus (wolfbane), Avena (oates), Nux Vomica (Poison nut). Used in a spray beneath the tongue whenever cravings/symptoms arise. My opinion: Independent reviews of Stop Smoking products rate this product very high at 98%. As a natural homeopathic remedy, I believe it can be safely used as an anti-smoking assistant along with other measures.
7. Nicotine Replacement Therapy. Like trying to lose weight by eating “diet cookies”. Does nothing to re-train the body’s cravings for nicotine because you replace the nicotine in cigarettes with nicotine in chewing gum, patches, and inhalers, and now even water! The success rate is very low for this method, only 3%. Not surprisingly, people also get addicted to the replacement therapy as their body has not purged of the nicotine. My opinion: Just say no.
Quitting smoking is difficult and you may want to try some of the better methods here. I feel a multi-method approach seems to work the best though. Gradually reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke a day progressively reduces the body’s need for nicotine; using relaxation techniques like exercise, and even hypnosis, helps reduce stress triggers to smoke; biofeedback reinforces positive benefits of nonsmoking. Relaxants, in the form of natural supplements, such as a few drops of Valerian in a glass of water a few times a day, helps soothe jangled nerves. All these things can help you reach your goal of a new, smoke-free, healthy new you in the New Year!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.