Date Published: 9 January 2012

Nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) may not be effective in the long-term

Health News from the United States of America (USA)

Nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) designed to help people stop smoking, specifically nicotine patches and nicotine gum, do not appear to be effective in helping smokers quit long-term, even when combined with smoking cessation counseling, according to recent research from the United States - Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Smoking cessation products and medications e.g. nicotine patches and nicotine gum have been available in the USA and elsewhere in the world for over 15 years.

The researchers conducting the recent study followed 787 adult smokers in Massachusetts who had recently quit smoking. The participants were surveyed over three time periods: 2001-2002, 2003-2004, and 2005-2006. Participants were asked whether they had 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, and if so, what was the longest period of time they had used the product continuously. They also were asked if they had joined a quit-smoking program or received help from a doctor, counselor, or other professional.

The results showed that, for each time period, almost one-third of recent quitters reported to have relapsed. The researchers found no difference in relapse rate among those who used nicotine replacement therapies for more than six weeks, with or without professional counseling. No difference in quitting success with use of nicotine replacement therapies was found for either heavy or light 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," said lead author Hillel Alpert, research scientist at HSPH. He added that even though clinical trials (studies) have found nicotine replacement therapies to be effective, the new findings demonstrate the importance of empirical studies regarding effectiveness when used in the general population.

Co-author Lois Biener of the University of Massachusetts Boston's Center for Survey Research said that using public funds to provide nicotine replacement therapies to the population at large is of questionable value, particularly when it reduces the amount of money available for smoking interventions shown in previous studies to be effective, such as media campaigns, promotion of no-smoking policies, and tobacco price increases.

" What this study shows is 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-term and to lower nicotine in order to reduce the addictiveness of cigarettes," said co-author Gregory N. Connolly, director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at HSPH.


Ref. to Paper:
"A Prospective Cohort Study Challenging the Effectiveness of Population-based Medical Intervention for Smoking Cessation," Hillel R. Alpert, Gregory N. Connolly, Lois Biener. Tobacco Control, doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2011-050129, online January 9, 2012.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Cancer Institute, State and Community Tobacco Control Interventions Research Grant Program.


Source: Harvard School of Public Health, USA

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