Cessation aids

To free yourself from tobacco, above all you need to be motivated. But even with determination, quitting smoking remains a demanding process for most smokers. The good news is that by adding effective cessation aids and support to your motivation, you can increase your chances to succeed!

However, ensure that you make enlightened choices: the cessation aids are not all of equal value and will not all meet your needs.

In this section, you will find answers you have always asked yourself on this subject.

You can also download our tool “I’m getting ready to stop smoking”, which summarizes the main facts about cessation aids.

Pharmacological aids

To reduce the effects of physical withdrawal

The nicotine contained in tobacco may create a dependency similar to cocaine addiction. When you stop smoking, the brain, deprived of its usual dose, indicates that something is missing through symptoms such as headache, insomnia, and irritability. This is known as physical withdrawal. But did you know that there are treatments that reduce the effects of physical withdrawal and lessen your desire to smoke? Using them can really boost your chances of success and reduce your risk of relapsing.

You can assess your degree of dependency on tobacco by answering a short questionnaire (Fagerström Test) on the Canadian Cancer Society. If you get a high score, you may be more dependent and would benefit even more from using a pharmacological aid.

How to choose a treatment

Three pharmacological treatments have been proven effective through scientific testing.

Ideally, each should be used in combination with smoking cessation counselling to increase your chance of success. Your physician or pharmacist will help you choose the treatment that’s best for you, taking account of your needs, your health, the contraindications, and the possible side effects.

    • Nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs)
      NRTs are offered in the form of a patch, gum, lozenges, inhaler and even mouthspray (such as Habitrol, NicoDerm, Thrive, and Nicorette).

      How they work: they help the body get used to living tobacco-free by supplying it with part of the nicotine dose to which it is accustomed.

      When to stop smoking: you must have stopped smoking before starting the treatment.

      Duration of treatment: around 12 weeks, during which the nicotine dosage is gradually reduced.

    • Varenicline tablets (Champix)
      Available by prescription only, varenicline – which does not contain nicotine – is one of a new generation of smoking-cessation products.

      How it works: It acts on the nicotine receptors in the brain, by reducing the intensity of the desire to smoke. It also reduces nicotine-withdrawal symptoms by diminishing the satisfaction or sense of well-being that smoking provides.

      When to stop smoking: It is recommended that you start the treatment 1 week before quitting. This allows the concentration of medication to increase sufficiently in your body.

      Duration of treatment: The treatment usually lasts 12 weeks, but may be extended up to 6 months for those who have successfully quit smoking, in order to increase the chances of long-term abstinence.

    • Bupropion tablets (Zyban)
      Available by prescription only, bupropion – which does not contain nicotine – was originally an anti-depressant, and has been discovered to be an effective smoking cessation aid.

      How it works: The exact mechanism by which it works in smoking cessation is not known, but it has proved to reduce the need to smoke and the withdrawal symptoms.

      When to stop smoking: It is advised that you begin to take the tablets 1 week before stopping smoking to allow the medication time to take effect.

      Duration of treatment: usually 12 weeks, sometimes longer.

Do the pharmacological aids produce undesirable side effects?

Although capable of helping reduce and alleviate a number of physical and psychological symptoms caused by withdrawal from nicotine, pharmacological aids can also have certain side effects, depending on the aids used and the individuals who use them. Among other things, they can cause nausea, sleep problems and headaches.

Feeling unwell because of withdrawal can be confused with certain side effects associated with pharmacological aids. It must be borne in mind that giving up smoking may entail certain symptoms, whether or not pharmacological aids are used. If you’re using a pharmacological aid and are not feeling well or are experiencing symptoms, consult your physician or pharmacist to discuss the matter, rather than abandoning your treatment.

Are the treatments expensive?

Most treatments are covered by the public prescription drug insurance plan or private insurance plans. A prescription from your doctor or pharmacist is necessary for refund. Ask one of these professionals to know how to get a refund.

Alternative methods

Certain alternative approaches, such as acupuncture, hypnosis, aversion therapy, phytotherapy, and homeopathy, claim to help with smoking cessation. However, no scientific study has confirmed their effectiveness in helping you beat your dependency on tobacco.

The relaxation effect of some approaches may be of help as a complement to a pharmacological aid. But before turning to one or another of these approaches, get information on the therapist’s training, the safety of the method or means used, the number of sessions, the cost, and whether that cost can be reimbursed by your insurance plan.

If you are planning to use natural products, remember that they are not automatically safe. Get information from a pharmacist on the risks of interaction with other medications that you might be taking.

A word about electronic cigarettes

An electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) is an electronic device containing a battery and a microprocessor that produces a vapour. There are 2 types of e-cigarettes: those that contain nicotine and those that do not. Even though the sale of electronic cigarettes has not been regulated in Canada, they are gaining in popularity, in part due to Internet marketing. E-cigarettes appear to be promising cessation aids for certain types of smokers. However, Health Canada and the Direction nationale de santé publique du Québec (Quebec Public Health Department) recommend that Canadians exercise caution, because their composition may not correspond to what is indicated on the packaging; for example, they may contain nicotine even though is it written “without nicotine” on the packaging. It is therefore recommended to discuss the issue with your doctor or pharmacist.

To read the Health Canada advisory, click here.
To read the Quebec Public Health Department advisory, click here.

During the Challenge, participants are allowed to use e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid. However, note that all prize winners must pass a nicotine screening test, regardless of the cessation aid used. To learn more, please see the "Rules" section.

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Latest update: 01/02/2015