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Fighting cigarette addiction with help from a surprising ally


November 21, 2003
Friday - 1:00 am

It makes sense if you think about it for a minute: addiction to cigarettes is actually addiction to the drug nicotine, so your local pharmacist, who already knows about a lot of medications, might logically be able to give you some good advice on how to quit smoking. Smoking is a disease state that pharmacists can help manage, says Cindi Brennan, assistant director of Harborview Medical Center Ambulatory Pharmacy Services in Seattle.

"People can approach their local pharmacist for help with quitting smoking," Brennan says. "If the patient is really committed to quitting, the pharmacist can help him or her set a quit date and discuss some options. If the patient is just exploring the idea, the pharmacist can also help with information on local classes or even statewide hotlines designed to help people get ready to quit. Pharmacists can even provide some ideas to help make quitting cold-turkey a little easier."

While most pharmacists get some education in smoking cessation during their six years of college, some also become certified smoking cessation counselors during their required continuing professional education. Pharmacists also have a little more time to spend with each patient than the primary care physician, who may be very supportive of the decision to quit smoking, but may not be able to provide advice on the physical and psychological effects of quitting smoking. If the doctor prescribes a medication to assist in quitting smoking, the pharmacist will be able to suggest other over-the-counter medications and strategies that will support the plan, perhaps after a phone consultation with the doctor.

Buying pills, patches, gum and toothpaste isn't the end of the story, though. For one thing, a few smokers forget to read the instructions.

"Some patients haven't made the decision to really quit smoking, so they apply a nicotine patch and then continue smoking the way they always have," Brennan says. "They end up with a lot of nicotine in their systems, with the result that their blood pressures go up and they are very jittery."

Most smokers have tried to quit several times, but the more often smokers try to quit, the more likely they are to eventually succeed. Even if the patch or the gum are not the right approach, the pharmacist can still help.

"Not all patients go on drug therapy to quit smoking," Brennan says. "Some use hypnosis, acupuncture or whatever it takes to quit smoking and not start again. We're here to support them in whatever method works for them."

She adds, "People don't understand that this is an addictive drug, and it's very hard to quit an addiction."

Quitting smoking, for more enjoyment of life, better stamina, less expensive lifestyle, reduced dental fees, improved health, increased longevity or whatever reason, is not necessarily easy. Most ex-smokers will tell you it is worthwhile.


University of Washington - Health Sciences and Medical Affairs
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