Which smoking cessation aids work?

Every week I hear about another new product claiming to help people to quit smoking. Unfortunately the vast majority of them have no solid evidence that they actually do anything useful. Most are marketed in the hope that there is a gullible idiot born every minute and it’s not too hard to get them to part with their money. They make very positive sounding claims and provide a pseudoscientific sounding rationale, but have no reliable data to back it up.

So how can you tell if a product works or not? Well fortunately its pretty simple. Each country has an agency whose role is to evaluate whether medicines or other devices are effective and safe in improving the health problem they claim to treat. For example, in Europe it is the European Medicines Agency, and in the United States it is the Food and Drug Administration. These agencies require the manufacturers to provide high quality data from controlled clinical trials to demonstrate that their products work, and do so safely. They also check that the products have accurate labeling informing the consumer how to use it, and warning of any potential risks.

Some products make statements that sound like they are approved by the medicines regulatory agency when they are not, so you have to be a little bit careful. In the United States the only products proven to help smokers quit and approved by FDA for that purpose are nicotine gum, patch, lozenge, inhaler and nasal spray, and non-nicotine medicines bupropion and varenicline. No other products have been shown to work and are being marketed for smoking cessation.

I recommend use of this website that explains all of this very clearly:

If you click on the tab for “FDA approved product list” it will provide details on these, and if you click on “Other Cessation Product List” it will take you to a much longer list in alphabetical order, of unproven products. It is reasonable to assume that none of these products help people to stop smoking and it is possible that some of them may be harmful to your health (as the manufacturers have never produced sufficient evidence to show they are safe and effective).

Most of these products have a nice website, a guy in a white coat saying it works, or user testimonials saying it works. But none of that means a thing in the absence of solid evidence from placebo-controlled trials. My advice is to stick to the products that have been shown to work and approved by the regulatory agency in your country. Don’t waste your money on any of the others.
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About the Author

MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.