Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nicotine Patches Do Work!

Here is another example of less than responsible journalism. Both the Wall Street Journal and Fox News report "Quit smoking: A new case for going cold turkey." Even NPR asked Do Nicotine Patches And Gum Help Smokers Quit? Other reports similarly headline with questions regarding the effectiveness of the nicotine patch, which has been a tried and true treatment to help smokers quit. All these reports stem from a study done by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Massachusetts in Boston and published online in the journal Tobacco Control, that found that over a 5-year period, former smokers who used nicotine-replacement products were just as likely to relapse as those who quit on their own.

This is indeed an important study because it shows that relapse rates are high, and nicotine patches may be insufficient to prevent quitters from relapsing.  Indeed, other methods should be sought for recent quitters to prevent them from relapsing. 

The problem with the way the media is reporting the study is that it is confusing quitting and relapse.  Countless studies show that nicotine replacement about doubles the chance that you will successful quit, which is usually defined as not one cigarette for 12 weeks (though better studies use 52 weeks to define quitting).  In this study, all the people studied had recently quit.  
This study was not measuring whether or not the patch helped these folks quit, but whether people who had quit using the patch were any different than people who had quit without the patch in terms of relapse several years down the road.  

People interested in quitting smoking should not be confused by the reports in the media.  Nicotine replacement will help you quit. The evidence for using medication (nicotine, bupropion, varenicline) is so strong that the US Surgeon General's guidelines recommends that all smokers (even those at risk to medication side effects such as heart patients and pregnant women) be offered some form of medication, since it is so effective. 
Again, the study is an important one because it shows we need to look beyond nicotine replacement to prevent long term relapse.  However, the journalists who reported on this study shouldn't have suggested that smokers consider going cold turkey. 


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your views. I completely agree with your comments. Problem is that different so called authorities on smoking cessation confuse people by claiming one method to be absolute in comparison to others. Go for cold turkey as nothing else works. Go for this or that otherwise you will not be successful. Why they do that, I think is a matter of long debate. But truth is that every smoker needs open choices and shall be supported in a positive manner. At one he or she is trying one method and after reading some stuff on web, stop that method and go for another. In the end, after long frustration period, drops the idea of smoking cessation and continue to smoke. This is sad. I think patches are really helpful as they reduce the initial anxiety of the smokers and one important fact that I have found about patches is that slowly you get out of daily routine of picking up fags and start living as non-smoker. This makes the whole experience lot more easy.

Anonymous said...

"confusing quitting and relapse"

Thanks for clearing this key issue. I remeber reading the aricle on NRTs on wikipedia a while ago and a similar study was cited there to argue that NRTs do not help much. That got me confused too