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Nicotine Replacement Therapies May Not Help Smokers Quit Long-Term

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If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to quit smoking, you may have turned to nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) like patches and gum to help you kick the habit. But new research indicates that even when such therapies are combined with smoking cessation counseling, they aren’t all that much help in quitting long-term.

In the study, which appears in the journal Tobacco Control, almost 800 adult smokers who’d recently quit were surveyed over three time periods — 2001-2002, 2003-2004, and 2005-2006 — and asked whether they’d used a nicotine replacement therapy in the form of the nicotine patch (placed on the skin), nicotine gum, nicotine inhaler, or nasal spray to help them quit.

Participants who did use an NRT were asked additional questions about the longest period of time they’d continuously used the product, and whether or not they’d also joined a quit-smoking program or received help from a doctor, counselor, or other professional.

The results?

For each time period, almost a third of recent quitters said they’d relapsed, and there was no difference in that relapse rate among those who used NRT for more than six weeks, with or without professional counseling. What’s more, these results were unaffected by whether people were light or heavy smokers.

“This study shows that using NRT is no more effective in helping people stop smoking cigarettes in the long-term than trying to quit on one’s own,” observed lead study author Hillel Alpert, research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). While clinical trials have found NRT to be effective, he said the new findings demonstrate the importance of empirical studies regarding effectiveness when used in the general population.

Study co-author Gregory Connolly, director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at HSPH, added the study highlights the need for the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees the regulation of both tobacco products and medications to help smokers quit, to “approve only medications that have been proven to be effective in helping smokers quit in the long-term and to lower nicotine in order to reduce the addictiveness of cigarettes.”

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