Health Education

What are my options for OTC and prescription smoking cessation drugs

We value pharmacists at SingleCare, and we recognize how important they are to your healthcare team. That’s why we launched our Pharmacist Knows Best series. Each month our in-house pharmacist, Ramzi Yacoub, Pharm.D., will educate us about medications, health, or wellness topics the average person should know about. After all, pharmacists do know best! 

It’s never too late to quit smoking. Your risk for disease and early death is greatly reduced when you stop. There are health benefits at any age—and the sooner you stop, the greater they are. 

There are many different effective smoking cessation drugs to help you kick the habit. It’s important to find the stop smoking aid that works best for you and that will help you give up cigarettes for good. 

Why is it so hard to quit smoking?

Nicotine is the primary substance in tobacco products that causes addiction. When you try to quit smoking, you may have symptoms of nicotine withdrawal because your body is dependent on its effects. Common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include irritability, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and increased appetite. The discomfort they cause can make you want to pick up the habit again, just to be rid of them. 

7 stop smoking aids that work

Fortunately, there are different options that help you gradually wean off of nicotine and reduce the withdrawal symptoms that make it so hard to quit. 

  1. Gum
  2. Lozenge
  3. Patch
  4. Inhaler
  5. Nasal spray
  6. Chantix
  7. Zyban

They fall into two main categories: nicotine replacement therapy and non-nicotine smoking cessation products.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products provide consistent levels of nicotine that gradually decrease over time. 

NRTs are available in different formulations and strengths—over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription. They are indicated by the FDA to be used for 8-12 weeks, but can be used longer if you and your healthcare provider feel that is necessary. 


The OTC products are all available from various name brands and are available as generics. They include:

  1. Gum is chewed slowly until it tingles. Then place the gum between the cheek and gum until the tingle is gone. Repeat this process until most of the tingle is gone (approximately 30 minutes). Nicorette is a common brand name.
  2. Lozenge should be allowed to dissolve slowly (approximately 20-30 minutes) and should not be chewed or swallowed. Nicorette is a common brand name.
  3. Patch is applied to a clean, dry area of your skin on the upper body or upper outer arm. Patches may be worn for 16-24 hours and every patch should be applied to a different site to avoid skin irritation. Nicoderm Cq is a common brand name.

Prescription NRTs

The prescription formulations of NRT are only available under the brand name Nicotrol and are available as: 

  1. Inhaler formulation is breathed in by mouth multiple times a day. It may cause irritation of the mouth or throat when first using the inhaler. Nicotrol is a common brand name.
  2. Nasal spray is sprayed in the nose multiple times a day. It may cause irritation in the nose or throat when you begin using it.

Before beginning any NRT product, you should always consult your healthcare provider, especially: 

  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • People with diabetes, asthma, or a heart condition
  • People with high blood pressure or irregular heartbeat

You should stop taking an NRT product and call your healthcare provider if you have any of the following symptoms: nausea, dizziness, vomiting, or irregular heartbeat.

Non-Nicotine Smoking Cessation Products

If you can’t use an NRT product because of a health condition, or you know you won’t remember to use it multiple times a day, there are two prescription smoking cessation drugs available in tablet form:

  1. Chantix (varenicline tartrate) 
  2. Zyban (bupropion hydrochloride)

Zyban is available in generic form, but Chantix is only available as a brand. 

Both of these stop smoking aids affect chemicals in your brain to help reduce your nicotine cravings and are taken twice a day. The duration of therapy for these medications is generally 12 weeks, but if you’ve successfully quit smoking, it can be used longer to reduce the risk of smoking relapse. 

Side effects of smoking cessation drugs

The FDA has issued some cautions for taking these medications, but has determined that the benefits of quitting smoking outweighs the risk of taking these medications. The risks are related to mental health side effects and if you notice any changes in mood or behavior while taking these medications, it should be reported to your doctor and stop taking the medication. 

Some common side effects of Chantix include: nausea, sleep problems, constipation, gas, vomiting. 

For Zyban, common side effects include: dry mouth, insomnia, dizziness, constipation, nausea. 

If you are considering medication to stop smoking, speak with your healthcare provider or pharmacist.