5 tips to help you quit smoking for good

The Bottom Line

  • Older adults can successfully quit smoking
  • Smart phone messages, personal support and nicotine replacement drugs can help people quit smoking and stay smoke-free.
  • Try a combination of these strategies to increase your chances of quitting smoking for good.
  • Nicotine is powerfully addictive, and many people find it extremely challenging to quit smoking. If you smoke, keep trying to quit! It is never too late to reap the benefits, some of which occur within days of quitting.

It’s time to follow-through on your New Year’s resolution to quit smoking!

There are so many reasons to live smoke free – most of them related to your health, longevity and quality of life. But for many people the physical addiction to nicotine is incredibly difficult to battle. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean you should quit trying to quit smoking. It is never too late to reap the benefits, some of which occur within days of quitting (1).

Here are five evidence-based strategies for becoming – and staying – smoke-free. Click the links in the reference list to read summaries of the research findings.

1. Smart use of that smartphone

Why not use your phone to help smooth your road to smoke-free living? A systematic review of 12 studies showed that support programs delivered via mobile phone can help you quit smoking and stay on the wagon (2). Most of the studies involved texts sent to participants’ smartphones with information, advice and motivational messages. 

Motivational text messages also worked to help people quit smoking in a previous review (3).

2. Seek out support

Quitting is hard and there is no shame in seeking personal support – in fact, this can increase your chances of quitting successfully. Two recent, high quality systematic reviews show that ‘behavioural support’ such as talking to medical professionals, one-on-one or group counseling, and receiving customized resource materials can encourage people to quit smoking (4, 5). The more regular and intense the support, the more likely participants were to still be non-smokers six months after quitting.

Telephone quit lines – especially those with call-back counselling – may also provide the support you need to quit (6).

3. Try nicotine replacement options

Nicotine is a powerful addiction and there are medication which can help you overcome it. Two recent systematic reviews measured nicotine replacement therapy (including nicotine patch or gum) and other drugs such as bupropion (e.g. Wellbutrin®, Zyban®) to help people quit smoking (4, 5). Compared to the control group (who received minimal support only) participants taking nicotine replacements were more likely to quit successfully.

This approach is not for everyone: side effects of some drugs include increased risk of heart problems. Consult your doctor to find out if this type of strategy is right for you.

4. If one strategy is good, two or more is better!

Recent research supports a “multi-modal” approach: using more than one strategy to help you quit smoking. Ideally, each strategy addresses a specific challenge (nicotine withdrawal, stress and anxiety, boredom etc.) so that you are better able to resist the temptation to light up. For example, research shows that people who take nicotine replacement drugs while getting supportive counseling are more successful at staying smoke free than those who tried just one of the two strategies (4, 5, 7).

5. Feel encouraged: Older smokers can quit (successfully) too!

Do older adults – who may have smoked for many years – have a harder time trying to quit? Are some strategies more effective than others for older adults? A systematic review of 29 randomized controlled trials has ignited what will likely be more research into smoking cessation programs for this population (8).

So far the good news is that not only do seniors respond to drug and behavioural therapies, they have a slightly higher success rate than younger groups.

Other promising options:

Financial incentives (such as vouchers or cash) do seem to encourage people to quit, but are unlikely to last after the incentive is removed and unlikely to help you break the habit for good (9).

E-cigarettes show some promise of helping people quit smoking in the long term – their effectiveness may be similar to nicotine patches (10) – but so far our confidence in this approach is not strong and the long-term safety of e-cigarettes isn’t yet known. More research is needed before recommending e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking.

If you still haven’t ‘kicked the habit,’ try some or all of the five tips listed above, or try something else. Everyone is different and there is no simple solution to nicotine addiction. Just don’t give up until you’ve found the one that works for you!

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  1. Health Canada. Health concerns: Quit smoking [Internet]. 2015 Jan 19. Available from  http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/tobac-tabac/quit-cesser/index-eng.php 
  2. Whittaker R, McRobbie H, Bullen C et al. Can programmes delivered by mobile phones help people to stop smoking? Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016; Art No. CD006611. doi: 1001/14651858.CD006611.pub4
  3. Free C, Phillips G, Galli L et al. The effectiveness of mobile-health technology-based health behaviour change or disease management interventions for health care consumers: A systematic review. PLoS Med. 2013; 10(1):e1001362. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001362 
  4. Patnode CD, Henderson JT, Thompson JH et al. Behavioural counseling and pharmacotherapy interventions for tobacco cessation in adults, including pregnant women: A review of reviews for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2015; 163(8):608-621. doi: 10.7326/M15-0171
  5. Stead LF, Koilpillai P, Fanshawe TR et al. Combined pharmacotherapy and behavioural interventions for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2016; Art No. CD008286. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008286.pub3 
  6. Stead LF, Hartmann-Boyce J, Perera R et al. Telephone counselling for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2014; Art No. CD002850. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002850.pub3
  7. van Eerd EA, can der Meer RM, van Schayck OC et al. Smoking cessation for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2016; (8):CD010744. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD010744.pub2
  8. Chen D, Wu LT. Smoking cessation for adults aged 50 or older: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Drug Alcohol Depend, 2015; 154:14-24. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.06.004
  9. Mantzari E, Vogt F, Shemilt I et al. Personal financial incentives for changing habitual health-related behaviors: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Prev Med, 2015; 75:75-78. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2015.03.001 
  10. Hartmann-Boyce J, McRobbie H, Bullen C et al. Electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2016; Art No. CD010216. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD010216.pub3

DISCLAIMER: The blogs are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own healthcare professionals.

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