Help and treatments for giving up smoking

Lesley Dobson / 02 October 2014 ( 16 March 2020 )

Giving up smoking isn’t easy, but there’s always support, advice and resources to help smokers kick the habit.

While it may seem daunting, the health benefits of kicking the habit – longer, healthier lives, reduced risk of heart attack and cancer, and simply being able to breathe more easily – will make it worthwhile.

Some people just stop smoking, and get through the following months with gritted teeth and determination. However you don’t have to do this. There’s plenty of help and support available to you.

Your GP is a good place to start. They will be able to refer you to a free local NHS Stop Smoking Service. (Research has shown that people who quit smoking through the NHS are four times more likely to be successful.) These services have trained advisers to support you, and give you information on nicotine replacement products and other stop smoking medicines which you can buy for the same amount as a prescription – currently £9.

Your GP can help you quit smoking if you’d prefer not to use an NHS Stop Smoking Service. They will look at how dependent you are on cigarettes, what your probable smoking triggers are, and talk about how they can help you stop smoking.

Treatments to help you stop smoking

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)

NRT is useful when you’re trying to give up smoking because it helps to reduce the symptoms of giving up. These can include feeling angry, irritable and frustrated, having headaches, a cough, runny nose, and tightness in the chest and craving cigarettes. Other symptoms include feeling tired, dizzy and restless, and not being able to sleep.

There are explanations for these symptoms – for instance, the cough and running nose happens because your respiratory system is starting its clean-up process. These symptoms should clear up in under a week, but while you have them make sure you drink plenty of water.

There are different ways in which you can take NRT. You can get it in the form of skin patches, chewing gum, inhalators (these look like plastic cigarettes, but aren’t the same as e-cigarettes), tablets, lozenges, nasal spray and mouth spray. These all release nicotine into your bloodstream, replacing some of the nicotine you would have got from smoking, and helping reduce the craving you may feel for cigarettes, but without the dangerous chemicals that come with cigarette smoke.

Your GP can prescribe NRT products for you, or you can buy them from a pharmacist. Some people find it helpful to use a combination of different products – it depends on the type of smoker you are, and your triggers for smoking. Talk to your GP or pharmacist about what might work best for you. A course of NRT usually lasts for about 12 weeks, but talk to your GP about what is best for you.


Electronic or e-cigarettes contain liquid nicotine, and are designed to mimic cigarettes, but in a less harmful way than the real thing. However, an investigation into these products by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) raised concerns about their safety and quality. They aren’t available on the NHS, but since 2016  when the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations (TRPR) were introduced, the MHRA has regulated all products containing nicotine, including e-cigarettes, as medicines in the UK,.

There are two stop smoking medications that are available on the NHS. They are varenicline (Champix) and bupropion (Zyban). Both have been found to have good success rates with people who are giving up smoking. They do, however, have possible side effects, which can including nausea, trouble sleeping and constipation or diarrhoea for Champix, and dry mouth, headaches, trouble concentrating and an increased risk of having a fit for Zyban. Talk to your GP about whether these would be suitable for you.

Top tips for quitting

The Smokefree NHS website has useful, practical advice to help you give up cigarettes. These include;

  • Prepare for the day you quit and avoid temptation, including the pub and other places where people might smoke.
  • Download the free Smokefree app to your mobile phone, for support and expert advice. Talk to your pharmacist, doctor or practice nurse or local Stop Smoking Service about stop smoking medicines. These can help with nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
  • Remember the reasons why you’re quitting, including feeling good and saving money.

More great reasons to give up smoking

  • Research from the Universidade Estadual de Londrina, Brazil, found that smokers felt less energetic than non-smokers, had reduced lung function, and were less likely to exercise. Read about the link between smoking and tiredness here.
  • Research among postmenopausal women, carried out at the University at Buffalo, found that the women who smoked were twice as likely to lose teeth. Read about the link between smoking and tooth loss here.
  • And research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, showed that out of 500 smokers trying to quit, those who managed to go smoke-free for six months had decreased anxiety levels. This was particularly the case with those who had smoked because of stress or other emotional problems. Read about how giving up smoking reduces anxiety here.

Useful websites

British Lung Foundation – advice on giving up smoking from the charity that looks after lungs.

Smokefree NHS – answers to frequently asked questions on quitting smoking. 

NHS Live Well – useful NHS advice. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.