There s a catch with the patch, and the gum is dumb

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If we frequently promote useful smoking cessation aids such as smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes, it s because there are promising signs that these methods deliver a much higher quit rate than the methods that are conventionally promoted which have frustratingly low rates of success. Now, the dismal reality of cessation aids like nicotine gum and patches has been demonstrated in the most rigorous long-term study to date and it s making headlines.

The study s authors, led by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health s Center for Global Tobacco Control, recruited nearly 2,000 adult smokers who were either trying to quit or had recently quit. During five years of follow-up, the researchers interviewed the participants three times, asking them about their use of gum, patches, and other cessation aids, as well as their periods of cessation and relapse. The most striking finding was that a person s likelihood of relapse were unaffected by their use of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). That is, even if a person used nicotine gum or patches, their quit attempts were no more successful than those of the people who used no NRT whatsoever.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross is glad to see the study, published in Tobacco Control, get the attention it deserves. As he points out, too many clinical trials of conventional NRT don t use the one-year mark as their standard for success; they report successful quit rates in terms of weeks or months, even though many of these individuals will be back on cigarettes within the year. Furthermore, the headlines often use terms like this method increased cessation rates by 50 percent, without mentioning that both rates are around 10 percent. When you also consider that the participants in clinical trials are generally highly motivated and supported, as opposed to the average person trying to quit, says Dr. Ross, the success rates of conventional NRT are abysmal. But those who oppose harm reduction products seem to ignore this fact when they advise smokers not to use them for various reasons.