what's the best way to stop smoking
The short answer: whatever works for you! But here are some pointers. For a start, let’s take a look at the success rates for various quit smoking methods.
Going it alone: The generally accepted 6-month quit rate for someone who tries to quit without motivation, education or support (so-called ‘cold turkey’ or ‘pure willpower’) is 10% (5% at 12 months). Don’t fancy your chances? I don’t blame you! Let’s take a look at some quit smoking aids, drugs and programs…
Nicotine replacement therapy: These products include patches, gum, e-cigarettes, nasal inhalators and lozenges containing nicotine. Whilst a lot of smokers (quite rightly) feel that there is something odd about a nicotine addict taking nicotine to help them stop using nicotine (it’s a bit like telling an alcoholic to drink wine instead of beer), manufacturers claim that these products can ‘double your chances of quitting’ versus using nothing at all. But all this does is to take the success rate from 3-5% to 6-10%. People are surprised at these poor success rates, but they are confirmed by real-world OTC nicotine patch studies by pharmaceutical industry consultants. For an example, go to http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/288/10/1260 .
Hypnosis / NLP / EFT: while many practitioners make extravagant claims about their success rates, these claims don’t stand up to scrutiny. According to Cochrane’s (the ‘bible’ of evidence-based treatments) “We have not shown that hypnotherapy has a greater effect on six-month quit rates than other interventions or no treatment”. http://www2.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab001008.html
Champix / chantix: This drug (chemical name: varenicline) is manufactured by Pfizer www.chantix.com. Their website claims a success rate of 44% but it is important to understand that this is at 9-12 weeks, not at 6 or 12 months, which is the accepted industry standard. During weeks 9-12, the quitter is still taking the drug. Surely potential quitters are more interested in what their chances are in the weeks and months after they stop taking the drug at the end of week 12.
We should also remember that the quitters in this study also received self-help materials and one-on-one counselling (up to 25 sessions totalling over four hours), so that even 18% of study participants given a sugar pill were not smoking.
In terms of longer term success rates for Chantix / Champix, one study showed the 6 month and 12 month success rate to be similar to the nicotine patch (http://thorax.bmj.com/content/early/2008/02/08/thx.2007.090647.full.pdf ). The stand-alone, real-world, 12-month quit rate is probably around 9%.
Zyban (Wellbutrin): Zyban, manufactured by Glaxo (www.zyban.com) is an anti-depressant that was approved by the FDA as a quit smoking medication in 2002. The most notable thing about Zyban is the number of users who describe adverse events (negative side-effects) when taking it. In a 2006 study, 70.4% of Zyban users reported an adverse event. There have been a number of studies looking into the efficacy of Zyban. 12-month success rates range from 8% to 23%.
Herbal pills and potions: After countless trials showing them to be nothing more than placebos, the medical community does not accept the efficacy of homeopathic or herbal remedies for smoking cessation. Many manufacturers of such products make extravagant claims for their efficacy, but more often than not, this lands them in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration. In a typical May 2008 case the FTC stated: ‘The defendants have claimed that their product has a 97% success rate, but there is no substantiation for these claims.’
Acupuncture / laser therapy: According to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Clinical Practice Guidelines for Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence ‘Evidence did not support the efficacy of acupuncture as a smoking cessation treatment.’ The Cochrane Review says: ‘The long-term result shows no effect of acupuncture compared with sham acupuncture’
Education, motivation and support: One might argue that that the poor success rates of the other methods mentioned is entirely due to the fact that none of them help smokers with the real problem: the desire to smoke. If someone believes, for example, that smoking relieves stress, then when they try to quit and experience a stressful situation, they will have a desire to smoke, and will need to use willpower to try to overcome that desire. This creates a conflict: part of them wants to quit, but part still wants to smoke. This conflict is what makes quitting difficult for so many. In order to find it easy to quit, the desire to smoke needs to be eliminated and this can be achieved through education, motivation and support. It is therefore not surprising that quit smoking programs that really help smokers understand addiction and challenge the beliefs they have that create the desire or perceived need to smoke appear to have the highest success rates. In fact, one In one program (Allen Carr’s Easyway) 53.3% of smokers attending a single five-hour seminar were still smoke-free 12-months later.
Whilst it is certainly true to say that there is no magic bullet when it comes to quitting, you can load the dice in your favour by doing some simple research.