Patches and drugs just don t help smokers quit, again

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Researchers continue to investigate how to help smokers kick their lethal and addictive habit. Unfortunately, two recent studies involving nicotine patches and individualized therapy fall vastly short of a breakthrough.

One such study, published in the American Journal of Cardiology, has shown that the nicotine patch is in fact safe for patients to use after being discharged from the hospital following a heart attack or chest pains. The concern had been that the nicotine in the patch might further constrict heart arteries that are already partially blocked.

In order to examine this possible risk, researchers analyzed medical information on 663 smokers just released from the hospital after having experienced acute coronary syndrome (ACS, including unstable angina or a heart attack). Upon discharge, doctors prescribed 184 of these patients a nicotine replacement therapy product (usually the patch). It turned out that, one year later, the patients who had received a nicotine patch fared about as well as those who hadn't. That is, about 29 percent of those people using a nicotine patch, and 31 percent of those without, either died or suffered another major cardiac event during that time.

Based on their results, the study researchers are urging smokers to talk to their doctors about nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). "This study adds support to safely using this medication after an acute coronary syndrome," said lead author Dr. Kevin Woolf, a cardiologist at Hillsboro Cardiology in Oregon.

But Dr. Ross remains skeptical about how effective such methods really are when it comes to helping smokers quit. Though it is imperative for physicians to take the lead and tell their smoking patients to quit, products such as nicotine patches and gum will do little by way of helping in this regard. It s all well and good to learn that NRT is safe for post-ACS patients but why bother if the stuff fails to work?

It s a point that happens to be illuminated in two other recent studies that we discuss below.