How Effective is TMS for Smoking Cessation Compared to Other Methods

Quitting smoking is a challenging journey that many people struggle with throughout their lives. While there are numerous methods available to help individuals kick the habit, from nicotine replacement therapy to prescription medications, researchers are constantly exploring new and innovative approaches. 

One such method that has gained attention in recent years is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) for smoking cessation. 

In this article, we’ll explore how TMS works for smoking cessation, its effectiveness compared to other methods, and what current research tells us about this promising treatment option.

Understanding TMS for Smoking Cessation

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive brain stimulation technique that uses magnetic fields to stimulate specific areas of the brain. Originally developed to treat depression, TMS has shown potential in addressing various neurological and psychiatric conditions, including addiction.

When applied to smoking cessation, TMS targets brain regions associated with nicotine cravings and addiction. 

The procedure involves placing an electromagnetic coil against the scalp, which delivers magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in the targeted brain area. This stimulation is believed to modulate neural activity and potentially reduce cravings and the urge to smoke.

How TMS Smoking Cessation Works

The mechanism behind TMS for smoking cessation is based on the understanding that addiction involves changes in brain circuitry. 

Specifically, TMS targets the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), an area of the brain involved in decision-making, impulse control, and reward processing.

By stimulating the DLPFC, TMS may:

  1. Reduce cravings for nicotine
  2. Improve impulse control
  3. Alter the reward pathways associated with smoking
  4. Enhance cognitive control over addictive behaviors

TMS treatment for smoking cessation typically involves multiple sessions over several weeks, with each session lasting about 30 minutes. The exact protocol may vary depending on the individual and the specific TMS device used.

Effectiveness of TMS for Smoking Cessation

While research on TMS for smoking cessation is still in its early stages, several studies have shown promising results. Let’s take a look at some of the key findings:

Short-term Efficacy

A 2013 study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry found that high-frequency TMS applied to the DLPFC significantly reduced cigarette consumption and nicotine cravings in the short term. 

Participants who received active TMS treatment showed a greater reduction in the number of cigarettes smoked compared to those who received sham treatment.

Long-term Effects

A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis published in the journal Addiction examined the long-term effects of TMS on smoking cessation. 

The review found that TMS may have a modest but significant effect on smoking abstinence rates at follow-up periods ranging from 3 to 6 months.

Combination with Other Treatments

Some studies have explored the potential of combining TMS with other smoking cessation methods.

For example, a 2018 study published in the journal Brain Stimulation found that combining TMS with nicotine replacement therapy led to higher quit rates compared to nicotine replacement therapy alone.

TMS vs. Other Smoking Cessation Methods

To understand how TMS compares to other smoking cessation methods, let’s look at the effectiveness of some common approaches:

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)

NRT, which includes products like nicotine gum, patches, and lozenges, is one of the most widely used smoking cessation aids. 


According to a 2018 Cochrane review, NRT increases the chances of quitting smoking by 50% to 60% compared to placebo or no treatment.

Prescription Medications

Prescription medications like varenicline (Chantix) and bupropion (Zyban) have shown effectiveness in helping people quit smoking.

A 2020 meta-analysis published in the journal JAMA found that varenicline was associated with the highest abstinence rates at 6 months or longer, followed by bupropion.

Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other forms of counseling can be effective in helping people quit smoking. A 2019 Cochrane review found that individual counseling increased the chances of quitting by 40% to 80% compared to minimal support.


While controversial, some studies suggest that e-cigarettes may help smokers quit. A 2021 Cochrane review found moderate-certainty evidence that e-cigarettes with nicotine increase quit rates compared to NRT and nicotine-free e-cigarettes.

TMS Comparison

When comparing TMS to these established methods, it’s important to note that research on TMS for smoking cessation is still limited. While initial results are promising, more large-scale, long-term studies are needed to establish its effectiveness relative to other methods definitively.

That said, the available evidence suggests that TMS may be:

  1. More effective than placebo or no treatment
  2. Potentially comparable to NRT in the short-term
  3. Possibly more effective when combined with other treatments like NRT
  4. Less studied than established methods, making direct comparisons difficult

Advantages of TMS for Smoking Cessation

While more research is needed, TMS offers several potential advantages as a smoking cessation treatment:

Non-invasive and Well-tolerated

TMS is a non-invasive procedure that doesn’t require surgery or anesthesia. Most patients tolerate the treatment well, with minimal side effects such as mild headache or scalp discomfort.

No Systemic Side Effects

Unlike medications, TMS doesn’t introduce any substances into the body, potentially reducing the risk of systemic side effects.

Alternative for Those Unresponsive to Other Treatments

TMS may offer hope for individuals who haven’t responded to traditional smoking cessation methods or who can’t use certain medications due to contraindications.

Potential for Personalized Treatment

As research progresses, TMS protocols may be tailored to individual patients based on their brain activity patterns, potentially improving outcomes.

Limitations and Considerations

Despite its potential, TMS for smoking cessation has some limitations to consider:

Limited Availability

TMS is not as widely available as other smoking cessation methods and may require visits to specialized clinics or medical centers.

Cost and Insurance Coverage

TMS can be expensive, and insurance coverage for its use in smoking cessation may be limited or non-existent in some cases.

Time Commitment

TMS treatment typically requires multiple sessions over several weeks, which may be challenging for some individuals to commit to.

Ongoing Research

As a relatively new application of TMS, more research is needed to establish optimal treatment protocols and long-term effectiveness.

The Future of TMS for Smoking Cessation

As research on TMS for smoking cessation continues, we may see advancements in several areas:

  1. Optimized treatment protocols
  2. Combination therapies integrating TMS with other cessation methods
  3. Personalized TMS approaches based on individual brain activity patterns
  1. Improved TMS technologies for more targeted and effective stimulation

These developments could potentially enhance the effectiveness of TMS and make it a more widely accepted option for smoking cessation.


TMS for smoking cessation represents an innovative approach to tackling one of the most challenging addictions. While early research shows promise, it’s important to recognize that TMS is still an emerging treatment in this field. 

The available evidence suggests that TMS may be effective in reducing cigarette consumption and cravings, particularly in the short term, and may enhance the effectiveness of other cessation methods when used in combination.

However, compared to well-established methods like nicotine replacement therapy, prescription medications, and behavioral interventions, TMS for smoking cessation lacks the same depth of long-term efficacy data.