Stop smoking treatments and your asthma

Stop smoking treatments, alongside expert support, can help you quit - which is great news for your asthma

How do stop smoking treatments work?
Looking after your asthma while you’re trying to quit
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
Champix® (varenicline)
Zyban® (bupropion)
E-cigarettes
Hypnotherapy and other complementary therapies

How do stop smoking treatments work?

Stop smoking treatments work best when used alongside expert NHS stop smoking services. That way you have good all-round support to boost your chances of quitting for good.

  • Stop smoking treatments stop you wanting to smoke as much, and eventually help you to quit altogether. And if you’re using the right stop smoking treatments for you, you won’t have such a problem with withdrawal symptoms.
  • Some stop smoking treatments use nicotine. Nicotine is addictive, which is why giving up smoking can be hard. But the levels of nicotine in stop smoking products are lower than in tobacco, and because of the way the nicotine’s delivered (for example in patches or gum) it’s less addictive than smoking.

Looking after your asthma while you’re trying to quit

“Whenever you're starting a new treatment it's important to talk it through with your GP, asthma nurse, or smoking specialist first so you can feel confident it won’t make your asthma worse,” says Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP.

Your GP or asthma nurse can also:

  • make sure your asthma action plan is up to date so you know what to do if symptoms get worse.
  • review your asthma medicines so you’re taking the right dose of asthma medicines to stay well with your asthma. Smokers often need higher doses of their preventer medicines to stay well. Once you’ve stopped smoking, speak with your GP or asthma nurse about whether you can consider reducing any of your medicines.
  • give advice if you notice symptoms when you use a stop smoking treatment. For example, some nicotine replacement therapy products might make your cough more. Or you may find the vapour from e-cigarettes sets off your asthma.

Nicotine replacement therapies (NRT)

There are quite a few NRT products to choose from, such as skin patches, gum, tablets and lozenges, inhalators and nasal sprays. You can get them from your doctor, or over the counter.

You might find it helps to use more than one type of NRT product. For example, using patches to cut down background cravings, and a nasal spray for whenever you’re tempted to reach for a cigarette.

Your GP or smoking cessation advisor can help you choose a product with the right strength of nicotine which works well for you, and stops you having withdrawal symptoms. They can support you in gradually reducing the dose before eventually stopping.

Most NRT products are safe for people with asthma. But talk to your GP or asthma nurse if you notice any side effects, for example:

  • NRT inhalators may irritate your throat or make you cough
  • NRT nasal sprays may make you cough.

Champix® (varenicline)

Champix® tablets are available on prescription only.

Asthma isn’t listed as a reason for not taking Champix®. But see your GP, asthma nurse or stop smoking advisor if you notice:

  • you feel breathless
  • you’re coughing more 

Although these are not considered common side effects they do affect up to 1 in 10 people taking Champix®.

For a full list of safety factors and possible side effects read the patient information leaflet.

Zyban® (bupropion)

Zyban® tablets are available on prescription only from your GP or smoking specialist.

Asthma isn’t listed as a reason for not taking Zyban®. But see your GP, asthma nurse or stop smoking advisor if you notice:

  • it’s harder to breathe
  • you’re wheezing more

Although these are rare side effects, affecting just 1 in 1000 people, it’s worth talking it through with your GP or smoking specialist to make sure this treatment won't increase your risk of asthma symptoms.

Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with the medicine for the full safety guidelines and side effects.

E-cigarettes

Lots of people successfully quit smoking using e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes use nicotine to help stop your craving for cigarettes. Some deliver nicotine more quickly and effectively than others.

It’s worth getting expert advice on the right device and the right liquid strength for you and your smoking habit. Your smoking cessation advisor can help you choose a product that gives you the right amount of nicotine quickly, to boost your chances of quitting successfully.

If you’re thinking of trying e-cigarettes to help you stop smoking, remember:

  • your GP can’t prescribe e-cigarettes, so you need to buy them yourself from pharmacies or specialist vape shops. You should buy properly regulated products which meet UK safety and quality standards.

  • properly regulated vaping products work even better as a stop smoking tool if you use them alongside other stop smoking treatments and expert stop smoking support.

  • you need to make sure you completely switch from smoking to using e-cigarettes, so you have more chance of quitting. And if you continue smoking cigarettes, even if you are doing this less than before, it will still harm your lungs.

How safe are e-cigarettes?

Vaping is much less harmful than smoking tobacco. But e-cigarettes are not completely risk-free.

And some people with asthma tell us that the vape from e-cigarettes triggers their symptoms.

“This is an issue where more evidence about e-cigarettes is emerging all the time,” says Dr Andy. “More research is needed on their effects for people with asthma, in the short term, as well as on the long-term health impact of using e-cigarettes.”

If you notice that vaping, or being exposed to the vapour from e-cigarettes, triggers your asthma symptoms, please see your GP, asthma nurse, or specialist stop smoking advisor.

Hypnotherapy and other complementary therapies

Some people find complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, hypnotherapy, or meditation help them quit smoking.

There's no clear evidence to prove they can help people quit, and they’re not available on the NHS as part of a stop smoking plan.

But alongside licensed stop smoking treatments and expert support there’s nothing to stop you trying complementary therapies too. They could support your stop smoking plan - lots of complementary therapies help with stress for example.

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Last updated March 2020

Next review due March 2023