Reducing the cravings

If you’re trying to give up smoking, you may find you have cravings. This is because you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms. There are various treatments available that can help you fight the desire to smoke. Using medicines can be an effective way to reduce cravings.

For example, nicotine replacement therapy (NTR) will provide your body with nicotine and reduce cravings. Buprion (Zyban®) and Varenicline (Champix®) are non-nicotine tablets that help relieve withdrawal symptoms and stop you wanting a cigarette. Zyban® and Champix® are only available on prescription because they are not suitable for everyone and don’t work well with certain medicines. You should always tell your doctor if you feel depressed or have suicidal thoughts while taking Zyban® or Champix®. If you use medicines along with an NHS support service, you are four times more likely to stop smoking for good.

Electronic cigarettes are now available as an alternative to cigarettes. However, they are not regulated and cannot be obtained on prescription.

Coping with cravings for cigarettes

It’s often the physical craving for a cigarette that causes people to start smoking again. There’s a range of different treatments available to help you cope with the symptoms of physical withdrawal. Using medicines to help reduce cravings can double your chances of success. And if you combine a stop smoking medicine with an NHS support service, you’re up to four times more likely to become a non-smoker.


Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)

NRT works by giving your body enough nicotine to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings when you stop smoking. It comes as skin patches, chewing gum, tablets, lozenges, inhalers, mouth (oro-mucosal) sprays and nasal sprays. You can buy these products over the counter or you can get them on prescription from your GP or NHS Stop Smoking Service. Using NRT doubles your chances of stopping smoking.

‘I rang the NHS and I went on the patches. I’ve quit for nine months now.’

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Bupropion (Zyban®)

Zyban is a non-nicotine tablet that works by reducing the urge to smoke and other withdrawal symptoms. It’s not suitable for everyone and is not recommended for people who have had brain or spinal cord tumours or a history of seizures (fits).

You start taking the tablets 1–2 weeks before you stop smoking, and a course usually lasts for 7–9 weeks. The tablets are only available on prescription. Certain medicines should not be taken with Zyban, so it’s important that it’s prescribed by a doctor who knows your full medical history and which other medicines you’re taking. Some people have reported feeling depressed whilst taking Zyban, but this could also be due to the symptoms of withdrawal from smoking.

It’s important that you tell your doctor if you feel depressed or have suicidal thoughts during treatment with Zyban.

‘I went to my GP, I did a written programme of my intention to give up smoking and was started on Zyban, which personally I found marvellous.’

Giving up smoking booklet


Varenicline (Champix®)

This is a non-nicotine tablet that can help relieve craving and withdrawal symptoms when giving up smoking. Champix is only available on prescription. You start taking the tablets 1–2 weeks before you stop smoking. A course of treatment usually lasts for 12 weeks.


Warning about Champix and Zyban

Some people have reported feeling depressed whilst taking Zyban and Champix, but this could also be due to the symptoms of withdrawal from smoking. It’s important to tell your doctor if you feel depressed or have suicidal thoughts during treatment with Zyban or Champix.

Like all medicines, NRT, Zyban and Champix have potential side effects. Read the information leaflet that comes with the drugs. Your doctor or pharmacist can tell you more about these treatments.


Electronic cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes are now widely available to buy as an alternative to cigarettes. They look very similar to cigarettes and are battery powered. They contain nicotine which is inhaled as a vapour after sucking on the mouthpiece. They are sometimes called vapourisers or electronic nicotine delivery systems.

E-cigarettes are not currently available on prescription and are not regulated. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) are looking into regulating e-cigarettes and other nicotine containing products (NCPs) as medicine. More research is needed to learn whether e-cigarettes can help people to stop smoking.

The best option to quit smoking safely and effectively is to speak to your GP or local NHS stop smoking service. They will also be able to answer any more questions you have on e-cigarettes.

Back to Giving up smoking

Reasons to quit

Whether you’re living with or after cancer, giving up smoking has important health benefits.

Preparing to stop

Giving up smoking can be challenging. There are several things you can do that will help you quit.

Staying stopped

If you’ve decided to give up smoking, several things can help you stay stopped.