Your pharmacist can help you quit smoking

There are lots of ways to quit smoking, including "cold turkey," using self-help guides (e.g., self-help books, audio tapes, Internet sites), general advice or guidance from a health care provider (one-on-one or in a group program), customized counselling, specialty smoking cessation clinics, medications, alternative methods (e.g., acupuncture, hypnosis, and herbal therapy) or a combination.

The best method is the one that works for you. Sounds corny, but quitting smoking is not a one-size-fits-all package. Smoking involves both physical and psychological challenges that require self-evaluation and reflection to unravel. That's why many people find it hard to quit smoking on their own.

Quitting without help from medication or a trained counsellor only works for about 5% of people. Smoking cessation medications are effective when used correctly – about 25% to 33% of people who use medications can stay smoke-free for over 6 months. Research has also found that combining different methods of quitting smoking will often give better success rates than using them alone.

So what combinations work? Most successful combination methods of quitting involve counselling as one of the components. In fact, as effective as medications can be, they work best when combined with counselling help from a professional who is trained in smoking cessation.

For a smoker who isn't yet ready to quit, even brief encounters with health care professionals have been shown to enhance a smoker's motivation and increase chances of future attempts at quitting. Overall, studies have shown that longer and more intense counselling sessions with a health care provider increase successful quit rates. The most effective counselling sessions last longer than 10 minutes at a time.

Health care professionals, including pharmacists, can help you assess your needs, come up with an individualized plan to help you quit and address any concerns you have about quitting.

Your pharmacist is an accessible health care professional who can play a role in your plan to quit smoking. According to one Canadian survey, almost 90% of respondents are loyal to a single pharmacy and over 50% of them visit a pharmacy about once a month.

Talk to your pharmacist. All community pharmacists can help you in your goal to quit smoking by listening and providing information and advice about:

  • different smoking cessation medications (both prescription and non-prescription choices)
  • managing nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms
  • dealing with slips and relapses
  • coping with stress
  • general strategies to help you quit
  • finding other support networks and resources to help you quit

Your pharmacist can help you assess your level of nicotine dependence and give you recommendations on how best to approach your quit attempt. They can give you detailed information on the various products available to help you quit smoking, many of which are available without a prescription. Your first stop in your plan to quit smoking may even be the pharmacy. Depending on your location, pharmacists are able to prescribe medications for smoking cessation, such as bupropion (Zyban®) or varenicline (Champix®), through collaborative practice agreements with your doctor. That's good news since pharmacists are the health care professionals who are best able to answer your questions about smoking cessation medications and advise you how to use them safely and effectively.

Many pharmacists trained in smoking cessation offer private and customized counselling programs to provide more in-depth support and longer-term follow-up. These may be offered for a small fee but are definitely worth it to improve your chances of success! (And guess what? Depending on your eligibility, some provincial governments and health insurance providers cover smoking cessation counselling by a pharmacist. Talk to your employer for more information.) Pharmacists trained in smoking cessation are better able to assess your readiness and ability to quit, help you change your behaviours to stop smoking, develop and customize an action plan to help you quit, monitor your progress, and support you through each step of your plan.

Your pharmacist can also work with other health care providers, like physicians and dentists, to ensure you successfully quit smoking.

Whether you are looking for a customized plan to help you stop smoking for good, seeking some advice on nicotine patches or anything in between, talk to your local pharmacist. You can start your plan to quit smoking today! Call your pharmacy to see if there are any clinic days or smoking cessation programs you can join. Or stop by the pharmacy and tell your pharmacist that you want to quit and would like their help.

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