Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: What can I do to stop smoking if the "standard" treatments don't work for me?

Q. I am an 84-year-old woman who recently had stents placed in two coronary arteries. The doctors, of course, told me to quit smoking. I told them, as I have told all of my other doctors, that I have tried to quit but just can't. I have tried the patch and Chantix, but neither worked. Support groups aren't for me. I have cut back, but that's as far as so-called willpower goes. Hearing over and over again that I need to quit leaves me feeling depressed and weak. Is there some news about current or future approaches that might give me and others like me some hope?

A. Before I answer your question, let me congratulate you for having tried to quit smoking and urge you to try again. It often takes smokers several "tries" before one takes hold.

As you have discovered, nicotine is a highly addictive substance. For most smokers, "willpower" alone is not enough. Fortunately, smokers today have a number of tools to fight tobacco addiction. Quit-smoking aids include nicotine replacement (nicotine patches, gums, lozenges, inhalers, and sprays), bupropion (Zyban, Wellbutrin), varenicline (Chantix), counseling and behavior-change therapy, and social support. None are miracle workers.

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