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Thinking about Quitting Smoking? - Medications Can Help

Contributed by Julianne Himstreet, Pharm.D.

A doctor advising a patient about smoking

The Great American Smokeout may be recognized in November, but it's never too late to think about quitting smoking--and for good. If kicking the habit is more challenging than you imagined, VA provides counseling on how to quit, as well as FDA-approved medications to increase your chances of staying quit.

You may get medications to help you quit smoking from several places.

  1. Your primary care provider

  2. Your mental health provider

  3. The smoking cessation clinic at your VA

Here are some of the medications that are often used as part of treatment to help with quitting smoking, as well as information on how they are used:

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)

Nicotine is the part of tobacco that causes addiction. It is not harmful to your body like the other chemicals found in tobacco. Other chemicals found in tobacco cause cancer, heart disease and lung damage. Nicotine replacement therapy can be used to help you stop smoking. It can help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings for tobacco. You should not smoke when using nicotine replacement products.

Nicotine replacement therapies are over-the-counter medications that do not require a prescription. They include:

A woman being advised by a doctor

One patch is placed on your skin and nicotine is absorbed through your skin and into the blood. The patch is applied once a day and removed after wearing for 24 hours. If using the patch causes difficulty sleeping or bad dreams, the patch can be removed before bedtime and a new patch applied the next day.

One piece of gum is placed in the mouth every 1-2 hours. You should use at least 9 pieces a day if you are smoking more than one-half of a pack of cigarettes a day. You will slowly decrease the amount of gum used over 12 weeks. The gum is chewed a few times until you taste a peppery flavor and feel a tingling sensation, and then place the gum between your cheek and gum. When the peppery taste is gone, then chew the gum again a few times and place it on the inside of your cheek. When you no longer taste the peppery flavor when chewing the gum, you may throw it away. You should not drink liquids 15 minutes before, while using the gum, and 15 minutes after using the gum.

One lozenge is placed in the mouth every 1-2 hours. You should use at least 9 lozenges a day if you are smoking more than one-half of a pack of cigarettes a day and you will slowly decrease the amount of lozenges used over 12 weeks. The lozenge is placed between your cheek and gum. Nicotine is absorbed from the lozenge into the skin on the inside of the cheek. The lozenge should be moved around the mouth to avoid soreness in the mouth. The lozenge should not be chewed and you should not drink liquids 15 minutes before, while using the lozenge, and 15 minutes after using the lozenge.

  • Nicotine Patch

  • Nicotine Gum

  • Nicotine lozenge


This medication is also used to treat depression and is available only with a prescription. Bupropion works in the brain to decrease cravings for tobacco. It does not contain nicotine. If you are prescribed medications for the treatment of depression or other mental health problems, you will need to talk to your health care provider to see if this medication would work for you. This medication is not used in people who have a history of seizures.

Combination Therapy

Nicotine replacement products can be used together to help with quitting smoking. Your health care provider may also suggest that you use Bupropion with nicotine replacement products in combination therapy. When these products are used together, they can increase your chances of quitting, especially if you smoke more than 1 pack a day. There are several options for combination therapy including:

  • Nicotine patch and nicotine gum

  • Nicotine patch and nicotine lozenge

  • Nicotine patch and bupropion

  • Bupropion and nicotine gum

  • Bupropion and nicotine lozenge

Your health care provider can help you choose which product or medication would be best for you, based on your medical history and your smoking history. Medications and counseling used together are the best way to help you quit for good. When you are ready to quit smoking, contact your health care provider for help. It is one of the most important things you can do for your health and for those you care about.

Read More

Smoking and Tobacco Use Cessation (VA) Quit for a day, quit for life! It may be the best thing you'll ever do for your health. VA has the tools to help you succeed.

Quit Tobacco. Make Everyone Proud (DoD/VA) a resource to help with quitting tobacco use for good. Learn more about increasing your chances for success.

Quit Smoking Today! ( helpful tips and topics about how you can quit smoking

Smoke Free Women ( quitting smoking and staying smoke free is easier with the support of others. Here are some ways you can connect with other smoke free women.

Smoking and Tobacco Use (CDC) a list of resources to help you learn about the health consequences of smoking, secondhand smoke, and smokeless tobacco use plus suggestions to help you quit smoking.

Updated November 17, 2011