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Why it’s never too late to stop smoking (and the best ways to succeed) 

Why it’s never too late to stop smoking (and the best ways to succeed) (Getty Images)

Quitting may be tough, but the health benefits make it worthwhile, no matter what your age. Here are some methods to help curb tobacco cravings for good.

Ready to quit smoking for good? We probably don’t need to tell you that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. And even if you’ve been smoking for years, it’s never too late to kick the habit. 

The tobacco in cigarettes is filled with toxic chemicals that can harm your body.1 And quitting can help lower your risk of all the health problems they cause. Even people in their 60s and 70s will get big benefits when they stop smoking.2 

Read on to learn why quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health, plus tips for getting started. 

How quitting cigarettes helps you breathe easier 

“Our lung health declines as we age; it’s just how our bodies work,” says Lawrence Shulman, DO. He’s a pulmonologist at Optum in Lake Success, New York. 

This can make it harder to breathe as you get older.3 So, if you’re a smoker, breathing can be even more difficult. Smoking can also lead to lung diseases and cancer.1  

But once you stop smoking, you may notice that breathing feels easier. Quitting can also lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.2 Plus, your sense of taste and smell may even improve. 

So, let’s say you’ve decided to quit, once and for all. (Congratulations, by the way.) First, you’ll want to talk to your doctor about ways you can do it.  
Quitting isn’t easy. Maybe you’ve even tried to do it before. But if you stick to your plan, the health benefits will make it worthwhile. Here are some tips that can help you succeed.

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Method #1: Nicotine replacement therapy 

One option your doctor might suggest is nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).4 Nicotine is the powerful chemical that makes tobacco so addictive. (That’s why it’s so hard to stop smoking.) 

NRT gives your body less and less nicotine over time. Nicotine alone is less dangerous in small amounts, says Dr. Shulman. And NRT does not expose you to the toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke. If you replace the nicotine in your body, you’re less likely to crave the cigarette.5   

You don’t need a prescription from your doctor to try NRT. Over-the-counter (OTC) options, which release small amounts of nicotine into your body, include:4 

  • Skin patches. These are patches you stick on your skin like an adhesive bandage.  
  • Chewing gum. Nicotine chewing gum is not the same as normal chewing gum. You chew it a few times, and then let the gum rest between your cheek and gumline.  
  • Lozenges. Like cough drops, nicotine lozenges melt in your mouth. 

Or your doctor might suggest a prescription NRT, such as a nasal spray or inhaler.5 These release nicotine into your body quickly. And they can ease withdrawal symptoms, which might happen when your body is not getting the nicotine it’s used to.5   

Some NRTs may work better for you than others. But any form of NRTs may double your chances of quitting smoking for good.6 

Method #2: Prescription medications from your doctor 

If NRTs don’t do the trick, your doctor might write you a prescription for a quit-smoking medication that does not contain nicotine.4 These are drug in pill form that can help curb your nicotine cravings.  

The two that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are:4, 7 

  • Bupropion (Zyban). This lowers nicotine cravings and reduces withdrawal symptoms. You’ll typically start it one week before your target quit date. 
  • Varenicline. You can start taking varenicline up to four weeks before your target quit date. This medicine sends signals to your brain that reduce the effects of nicotine. So, if you cheat and have a cigarette, you won’t get that nicotine “buzz” you felt in the past, Dr. Shulman explains. 

The pills, which you take by mouth, can help you kick the habit by lessening the effects of nicotine on your brain.7   

You can also take bupropion with OTC NRTs. But it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before mixing and matching treatments.7   

Method #3: A counselor  

Quitting smoking isn’t just hard because of the cravings. The withdrawal symptoms can also affect your mental health. For example, you may experience:8 

  • Anxiety 
  • Restlessness 
  • Sadness 
  • Stress 
  • Trouble sleeping or concentrating  

Those symptoms may make it even harder to stop smoking. That’s where a counselor or support group can come in. They may be able to help you create a plan and learn new ways to quit and stay motivated.9 And sharing your feelings with others who understand what you’re going through may help you feel less alone. 

Pairing counseling with prescription medications, NRTs or both may give you the best shot at quitting for good, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.10 

You can find counselors or support groups in your community. You can also get help from your:9  

  • Health insurance company 
  • Local health department 
  • Local hospital  

An Optum doctor can help you quit smoking and connect you with support groups in your area. Find an Optum doctor.  

You don’t have to meet with a counselor or group face-to-face either. Many counseling options are available virtually and over the phone. One to try: the confidential telephone quitline 1-800-QUIT-NOW.9  

Method #4: Complementary and alternative medicine    

If you want to try non-standard methods for quitting like hypnosis, talk to your Optum doctor. The evidence for these methods is mixed at best, but Dr. Shulman notes that they can work for certain people. Some options include11 

  • Hypnotherapy may change your awareness and allow you to make different behavioral choices. Some people have been helped by it. If you’d like to try it, ask your Optum doctor to recommend a licensed hypnotherapist.  
  • Mind-body practices, including meditation, mindfulness and yoga. Meditation and mindfulness help you focus on your breathing or surroundings instead of your thoughts. Yoga combines gentle stretches with breathing. There’s some evidence that they can lower cravings, though more research is needed. 
  • Acupuncture  uses needles to trigger pressure points in your body. There’s little evidence to show it works, though, according to the American Cancer Society. 

Method #5: Your Optum healthcare team  

Your Optum care team is there to support you every step of the way. Your provider can suggest the best ways to help you quit, based on your goals and whether you’ve tried to quit smoking in the past. They can also recommend a smoking cessation program such as Quit for Life, which can give you the support you need for success. 

“Most patients don’t stop on their first try,” Dr. Shulman says. But as they say, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And if you do quit, you know that you’ll immediately be living a healthier life. Not a bad way to spend your golden years, right?  


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health effects of cigarette smoking. Last reviewed October 29, 2021. Accessed December 8, 2023.  
  2. National Institute on Aging. Quitting smoking for older adults. Last reviewed January 17, 2019. Accessed December 8, 2023.   
  3. American Lung Association. Lung capacity and aging. Last updated November 17, 2022. Accessed December 8, 2023. 
  4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Want to quit smoking? FDA-approved and FDA-cleared cessation products can help. Last reviewed July 21, 2022. Accessed December 8, 2023. 
  5. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Nicotine replacement therapy. Last reviewed February 28, 2023. Accessed December 8, 2023.  
  6. Smokefree.gov. Busting NRT myths. Accessed January 18, 2023. 
  7. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Smoking cessation medications. Last reviewed November 28, 2022. Accessed December 8, 2023.  
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 7 common withdrawal symptoms. Last reviewed December 12, 2022. Accessed December 8, 2023.  
  9. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Stop smoking support groups. Last reviewed February 28, 2023. Accessed December 8, 2023.    
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How to quit. Last reviewed October 25, 2023. Accessed January 18, 2024. 
  11. American Cancer Society. Ways to quit tobacco without using medicines. Last revised October 10, 2020. Accessed January 18, 2023. 

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