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How a Doctor Can Help You Quit Smoking

Rena Goldman

In a doctor's office, a white woman is sitting down and looking at her doctor, a smiling Black woman.

Jul 13, 2022

In This Article

  • Getting started
  • Giving expert advice
  • Prescribing medication
  • Providing a personalized quitting plan
  • Takeaway

Most people who successfully quit smoking make many attempts before kicking nicotine for good.

In fact, it could take as many as 30 or more tries to quit, according to a 2016 study (1). Estimates by the American Cancer Society put the number at 8 to 10 attempts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts it at 8 to 11 attempts.

Smoking’s negative effects on health are well known, but it’s still a very hard behavior to change. Enlisting a doctor’s help could boost your success rate for quitting and staying quit.

Here’s how working with a doctor can help you quit smoking.

Getting started

The first step to working with your doctor on a quitting plan is to let them know you’re interested. If you have a primary care doctor, someone you see for regular checkups and general health concerns, tell them you’re trying to quit smoking and ask what they suggest. 

If you don’t have a doctor who you feel comfortable talking to about quitting, Oar Health offers a confidential, physician-guided quit smoking program.

Primary care doctors are the most likely to talk with people about smoking.  They can help with an effective quit plan, saysScott Sherman, MD, MPH, professor of population health, medicine, and psychiatry at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine and an Oar Health medical advisor.

Your doctor may have already asked you about your smoking habits.  They likely have some ideas for getting you started with a plan to quit.

Giving expert advice

It can be challenging to design your own plan to quit smoking. Each person is different, so you’ll want to find the approach that works for you (2). 

Your doctor has likely seen and helped other patients who have successfully quit smoking, so they can share general information on what works well based on experience.

You might not know how nicotine replacement therapy or medications can be used to increase your success. A doctor can outline the different options, explain how they’re used, and make recommendations based on your needs.

Sherman recommends using your doctor as a sounding board to think through practical solutions and lessons learned from previous quit attempts. They can help you identify smoking triggers and talk through a plan to create new habits.

A doctor can also help you take stock of quitting approaches you’ve already tried. For example, maybe you’ve tried to quit through tapering (slowly reducing the number of cigarettes smoked each day). If it was really challenging to take the leap to zero cigarettes a day, your doctor might say this isn’t the right approach for you.  

In Sherman’s experience, tapering causes people to think more about smoking because they’re often counting down until the next cigarette. It’s something he generally doesn’t recommend.

Since your primary care doctor usually knows your health history, they can also tell you how smoking is causing or worsening any existing health issues. Knowing the personal health impacts of smoking might motivate you in your quitting journey.

Prescribing medication

You can buy over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy such as gum, lozenges, and patches. 

The Food and Drug Administration has also approved two medications for quitting smoking: bupropion and varenicline.  They need a prescription from a doctor.

Bupropion is an antidepressant that has shown effectiveness for smoking cessation (3). Varenicline, also sold under the brand name Chantix, works by reducing the enjoyment your brain gets from nicotine (4).

Research suggests that using medications can increase the success rate of a quit attempt (5). Sherman agrees, saying someone who uses medications is more likely to make a quit attempt than someone who doesn’t.

Providing a personalized quitting plan

There are many approaches to quitting smoking, and there’s no one-size-fits-all. A doctor can create a personalized quitting plan based on your health history, preferences, and lifestyle.

For example, some people may not be able to use prescription medications because of other preexisting health conditions, like liver problems. Your doctor can talk about any potential safety risks of medications and recommend an alternative plan.

Although you don’t need a prescription for nicotine replacement therapy, Sherman suggests having a doctor recommend the types and dosages rather than experimenting with it on your own.

“The medications work better if somebody sees their doctor,” he says. “There is data suggesting that when people just buy nicotine replacement on their own, they don’t use it as effectively as when the doctor gives it to them.” 

If you do have a smoking relapse, your doctor can talk with you about what worked and what didn’t. They can adjust your personalized plan as needed.

Takeaway

Quitting smoking is hard, but it’s definitely possible. You can boost your chances of success by taking advantage of as many resources as possible, including asking your primary care doctor for help (6).

A doctor can give the personalized medical advice you need to learn how smoking is harming your health. They can design a personalized quitting plan that’s likely to have a higher success rate.

About The Author

Rena Goldman is a freelance journalist and editor based in Los Angeles. She has over a decade of experience and enjoys writing and learning about health, wellness, mental health, and how politics and policies impact our daily lives. Her articles have been featured in national publications and lifestyle brands.

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