Quitting

Methods and medications

There are many effective ways to quit smoking, and no one way works for everyone. To increase your chances of quitting for good, it’s helpful to know which evidence-based methods have been proven to increase your odds of success. Evidence shows that combining telephone counselling with medications or NRT can increase your chances of successfully quitting. Learn about the various methods and medications to help you determine what will work best for you.

Quit with extra help. Explore our resources and tools to make quitting easier. 

Prescription medications

Prescription medications do not contain nicotine but reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms by affecting how nicotine interacts with your brain. Using quitting medications can increase your chances of quitting smoking successfully. It's even more effective when combined with counselling support.
Varenicline (brand name Champix®)
Varenicline (Champix®) is only available by prescription from your doctor. It blocks the effects of nicotine and reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms. If you start smoking again while taking the medicine, you won't feel as satisfied. This improves your chances of quitting.

Varenicline (Champix®) is one of two prescription medications covered under the BC Smoking Cessation program.

Effectiveness

Evidence suggests that varenicline is the most effective medication for helping people quit. When used as directed, there is evidence that varenicline can increase your chances of quitting successfully.

Advantages

Varenicline works by changing the way the brain reacts to nicotine. It makes it harder to get pleasure from nicotine and also helps to reduce cravings by blocking the receptor in the brain that responds to nicotine. Other advantages include:

  • It's easy to use
  • It does not contain nicotine

Common side effects

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Gas and constipation
  • Insomnia and abnormal dreams
  • Headache
  • Mood & behavioural change

How to use

Varenicline is available as a pill that you take by mouth. 

  • Start taking varenicline one week before you quit smoking. This builds up the level of medicine in your body.
  • Continue to smoke as usual while taking varenicline until your quit date.
  • The recommended dose of varenicline to help you quit smoking is:
    • Days 1-3: take one 0.5mg tablet once a day.
    • Days 4-7: take one 0.5mg tablet twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.
    • Day 8 to the end of treatment: take one 1mg tablet twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.
  • Take varenicline after eating and with a full glass of water to decrease the nausea and vomiting side effect.

Warnings & precautions

As with any prescription medication, there are benefits and risks to taking varenicline. Health Canada has determined that for varenicline, the benefits outweigh the risks.

Heart or stroke events

Talk to your doctor if you have any changes in cardiovascular symptoms, including:

  • Chest discomfort for more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. 
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach. 
  • Shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, vomiting, or feeling lightheaded associated with chest discomfort.

Get emergency medical help right away if you have symptoms of a stroke, including: 

  • Weakness or sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg even if temporary. 
  • Trouble speaking, even if temporary. 
  • Vision problems, even if temporary.

Do not use varenicline if one of the following applies to you:

  • Have an allergy to varenicline.
  • Currently using nicotine replacement therapy (like gum or patch). The combination of taking both does not increase your chance of quitting and increases the likelihood of experiencing side effects.
  • Less than 18 years old.
  • You are pregnant.

Speak to a doctor or pharmacist about whether varenicline is right for you if one of the following applies to you:

  • Depression or other mental health problems
  • Breast-feeding
  • Kidney problems
  • Currently taking medications such as insulin, theophylline, or warfarin

Stop taking varenicline and speak to your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Depressed mood
  • Agitation
  • Changes in behaviour that are not typical
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviour
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or others

Nicotine replacement therapy

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) works by providing the body with nicotine to help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. NRT is one of the most effective tools to help people quit and can increase your chances of quit success. It's even more effective when combined with counselling.

Other methods

There are other quit methods and approaches that people use to quit, but some are more effective than others. Read more about which methods will increase your likelihood of quitting in the long run.