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New Evidence Faults Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Desperate-to-quit smokers spend millions of dollars on nicotine replacement products every year. But the patches, gum, inhalers, lozenges and nasal sprays do little to help them permanently kick the cigarette habit.

So finds new research on nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Massachusetts Boston. A multi-year study of nearly 800 people trying to give up smoking found that those who used NRTs were just as likely to relapse as those who did not. Published in the journal,Tobacco Control, the results are in contrast to previous studies that found NRTs were effective smoking cessation tools. The difference may be that the earlier research took place in clinical trials rather than real-world environments.

The reason why this can matter and why, in general, it is so difficult to quit smoking is that the habit is physical and psychological. Smokers get a mild high and sometimes an addiction to the nicotine in tobacco. Nicotine relieves feelings of stress, fueling emotional dependence as well.

NRTs, which by themselves can be addictive, address bodily cravings for nicotine. They do not satisfy the emotional need that smokers develop for cigarettes. Because of the physical enjoyment people get when they smoke, they reach for cigarettes when they feel overwhelmed, when unwinding during work breaks and when socializing after the workday is over. The rituals of smoking – lighting the cigarette, taking a drag, holding it between the fingers – can be as addictive as that stream of nicotine.

The study results are not an indictment of NRTs. Researchers found them to be good first steps toward quitting but said that support of family and friends and enforcement of new smoking prohibitions are essential to smokers putting out cigarettes for good.

Demand for nicotine replacement products has skyrocketed in recent years. Sales annually top $800 million with many state Medicaid programs and private insurers covering these purchases.

The LHSFNA’s Laborers’ Guide to Tobacco offers suggestions and tips for quitting smoking. The guide, along with brochures and posters can be ordered at Click on Publications.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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