Giving up smoking: what works?

Stoptober – the UK’s annual quitting smoking campaign – is here again. And this year it aims to help smokers to find the most suitable support rather than trying to quit on their own.

According to Public Health England (PHE), two thirds of smokers say they want to quit – but many try to do so without any help, which is the least effective method. In fact smokers who get the right support are more likely to quit successfully, says PHE. The latest PHE figures show that…

  • Using nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) or e-cigarettes makes it one and a half times more likely a person will succeed compared with quitting without help
  • A person’s chances of quitting are doubled if using a stop smoking medicine prescribed by a GP, pharmacist or other health professionals
  • Combining stop smoking aids with expert support from local stop smoking services makes someone up to four times as likely to stop smoking successfully.

So what are the options available to quitters, and how effective are they?

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)

NRT is a medicine that provides nicotine without the tar, carbon monoxide and other toxic chemicals that are included in tobacco smoke. Used correctly, NRT products – which are available over the counter at pharmacies as well as on prescription – can help reduce tobacco withdrawal symptoms, including cravings and irritability. There are various types of NRT available, including:

  • Patches
  • Gum
  • Lozenges
  • Inhalers
  • Oral strips
  • Sprays
  • Microtabs

All of these products release nicotine into your system. A patch will release nicotine slowly while gum, lozenges and inhalers release it quickly, helping to reduce immediate cravings. NRT products are also available in different strengths to help you reduce your intake gradually.

According to PHE, NRT is an effective smoking method that increases chances of stopping smoking for six months or more by more than half. PHE experts also suggest there’s good evidence to show that using more than one type of NRT (combination NRT) is more effective than single product use.

Prescription tablets

Varenicline (Champix) and bupropion (Zyban) are prescription-only stop smoking medicines. If your GP prescribes varenicline, your chances of quitting successfully in the long term are two or three times higher than if you quit without a stop smoking aid. If you take bupropion, on the other hand, your likelihood of staying smoke free is similar to that of using NRT.


Currently e-cigarettes are not a licensed stop smoking aid. However according to PHE they are the most popular stop smoking aid in England, with an estimated 2.5 million users. They work by allowing you to inhale nicotine through a vapour rather than through smoke.

According to PHE, the evidence suggests e-cigarettes are substantially less harmful to health than smoking – but they aren’t risk free. Speak to your local Careway pharmacist or your GP before trying e-cigarettes. For more information, you can also read a Public Health England blog, Clearing up some myths around e-cigarettes.

Your local Careway pharmacist is also the best person to help you choose the type of stop smoking aid and support that would give you the best chance of quitting. Many pharmacies also offer NHS stop smoking services (ask your pharmacist for details).

Find your nearest participating Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.

For more information about Stoptober, visit the NHS One You website.