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Nicotine gum, patches may not help smokers quit

A lit cigarette.
A lit cigarette.
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Trying to kick the cancer sticks? Well, looks like cold turkey might still be the best way to go. According to a new study by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Massachusetts Boston, gums, patches and nasal sprays that dose smokers with nicotine, don’t appear to more effective at helping smokers quit long-term than going it alone.

The researchers followed 787 adults who had recently quit smoking and found that over time about a third of them had relapsed, whether they were using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) or not. Worse than that, the study also found that seriously addicted smokers using NRT without professional guidance might actually be increasing their chances of relapsing.

Study co-author Gregory Connolly says this study shows the “need for the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees regulation of both medications to help smokers quit and tobacco products, to approve only medications that have been proven to be effective in helping smokers quit in the long-terms and to lower nicotine in order to reduce the addictiveness of cigarettes.”

However, previous studies have shown NRT to be an effective approach to quitting smoking. And if smokers use nicotine gum or lozenges instead of smoking, they’re not subjecting their bodies to all those pesky carcinogens found in cigarette smoke.

So, do nicotine replacement therapies help smokers quit? Or might they actually make it harder? How much do we really know about these therapies, which bring in more than $1.5 billion each annually?


Gregory N. Connolly, co-author of the study; Professor of the Practice of Public Health; Director, Center for Global Tobacco Control, Harvard School of Public Health