Will Nicotine Replacement Really Help Me Stop Smoking?

Well, that’s what the people who sell Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) products would like you to believe, but according to the American Cancer Society, 91.4% of all successful long-term quitters quit “cold turkey”, while only 6.8% used NRT (with or without other drugs or quitting aids)1.

I will freely admit that math was never my strong suit, but I’m pretty sure that 91.4 times 2 does not equal 6.8. The truth is, you’re 13 times more likely to go back to smoking if you use NRT than you are if you don’t.

Then how can they get away with saying that NRT doubles smokers’ chances of quitting?

Simple: by fudging the numbers. As Mark Twain once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” In other words, you can get statistics to show pretty much whatever you want them to show if you’re clever enough about it.

The fact is that the snake-oil salesmen’s own paid researchers came to pretty much exactly the same conclusion as the Cancer Society report mentioned above: according to a study by Doctors J R Hughes, S Shiffman, P Callas, and J Zhang (at the time of the study, Doctors Hughes and Shiffman were paid consultants to Glaxo Smith Kline, manufacturers of Nicorette, Nicoderm, and other over-the-counter NRT products), the percentage of quitters who used NRT and who were still quit after 6 months was a whopping 7%2.

In other words, after 6 months of using Nicotine Replacement Therapy, 93% of quitters were back to smoking again.

And it gets worse: a team of researchers (including the two primary authors of the study mentioned above) concluded in another study that approximately 7% of NRT users were still using it after 6 months (BTW: in case you were wondering, the recommended “treatment” period with these products is 8 weeks)3.

In other words, that 7% of people who used Nicotine Replacement and were still quit after 6 months were simply feeding their nicotine addiction with the NRT instead of with cigarettes.

I’ve seen this time and time again; friends and coworkers who quit smoking with the aid of NRTs (gum, patches, inhalers, whatever the delivery method) would go back to smoking as soon as they stopped using the NRT. In fact, I experienced the same thing myself a couple of times (using nicotine gum and patches). And I thought there was something wrong with me.

Have you tried quitting by using Nicotine Replacement Therapy before? What was your experience?


1 Cancer Facts and Figures 2003; American Cancer Society; http://www.cancer.org/downloads/STT/CAFF2003PWSecured.pdf

2 A meta-analysis of the efficacy of over-the-counter nicotine replacement; J R Hughes, S Shiffman, P Callas, J Zhang; http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/12/1/21

3 Persistent use of nicotine replacement therapy: an analysis of actual purchase patterns in a population based sample; S Shiffman, J R Hughes, J L Pillitteri, S L Burton; http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/12/3/310

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