How Do Smoking Cessation Aids Work?

Reviewed on 10/7/2021

How do smoking cessation aids work?

Smoking cessation aids are medications that help smokers quit smoking. Smoking cessation aids are usually a part of smoking cessation programs which include behavioral and cognitive techniques to cope with the craving and negative mood states that occur with cessation of smoking, and to prevent relapses.

Smoking cessation aids help reduce withdrawal symptoms such as the urge to smoke, irritability, headaches, anxiety and depression that can occur with smoking cessation. Most smoking cessation medications are nicotine replacement therapies, the first line treatment for smoking cessation.

Nicotine replacement therapies provide controlled amounts of nicotine without the other harmful chemicals in tobacco products, reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms, and help gradually wean off smoking. Nicotine is the substance that primarily causes addiction to tobacco by stimulating the nervous system and the pleasure centers in the brain.

Nicotine binds to nicotinic receptors, protein molecules on nerve cell (neuron) membranes that respond to nicotine and stimulate the release of mood-elevating neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine. Most smoking cessation aids are lower doses of nicotine and work by stimulating the nicotinic receptors.

Two non-nicotine smoking cessation medications that have been approved by FDA to help smoking cessation are:

Varenicline: Varenicline does not contain nicotine, but binds to nicotinic receptors, produces milder effects than nicotine, and reduces its rewarding effects.

Bupropion: Bupropion is an antidepressant drug that increases dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain by preventing their reabsorption (reuptake), a normal process in the brain. It is not clear how exactly bupropion works for smoking cessation, but studies suggest it is effective for smokers with or without depression.

How are smoking cessation aids used?

Smoking cessation aids are typically used for several weeks to help wean off smoking and prevent relapse. Smoking cessation aids are available over the counter and on prescription in the following forms:

  • Oral: Gum, lozenges, tablets and inhalants
  • Intranasal: Sprays
  • Transdermal: Skin patches

What are side effects of smoking cessation aids?

Side effects of smoking cessation aids may include the following:

Information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible side effects, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure these drugs do not cause any harm when you take them along with other medicines. Never stop taking your medication and never change your dose or frequency without consulting your doctor.

Generic and brand names of smoking cessation aid drugs include:


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