How can I get the most from nicotine replacement therapy?

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) only deals with the physical addiction. It is not meant to be the only method used to help you quit smoking. You should combine it with other smoking cessation methods that help the psychological (emotional and habitual) part of smoking, such as a stop smoking program. Studies have shown that this approach -- pairing NRT with a program that helps to change behavior -- can double your chances of quitting and staying quit.

The US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Clinical Practice Guideline on Smoking Cessation in 2000 recommended NRT for all adult smokers except pregnant women and people with heart or circulatory diseases. But more recent data suggest that NRT (specifically the nicotine patch) can be used safely under a doctor's careful monitoring, even in people who have heart or blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease. These studies have found the benefits of quitting smoking outweigh the risks of NRT in people with cardiovascular disease. When looking at these situations, the benefits of quitting smoking must outweigh the potential health risks of NRT for each person. One 2009 US study found that NRT use during pregnancy led to a higher risk of low birth weight babies and pre-term birth. Of course, these are just some of the risks to the baby if a woman smokes while pregnant. Pregnant smokers should talk with their doctors to get help in choosing the best way for them to quit smoking.

The best time to start NRT is when you first quit. At this time the companies that make NRT products say that they should not be used if you are still smoking. There is some research being done with smokers using NRT while still smoking, but it is still too early to tell if this is dangerous to your health. The most important thing is to make sure that you are not overdosing on nicotine, which can affect your heart and blood circulation. It is safest to be under a doctor's care if you wish to try smoking and using NRT while you are tapering down your cigarette use.

Often smokers first try to quit on their own then decide to try NRT a day or more into quitting. This method does not give you the greatest chance of success, but do not let this discourage you.

Note that NRT has not yet been proven to help people who smoke fewer than 10 cigarettes per day. You may want to talk with your doctor about a lower dose of NRT if you smoke less than half a pack per day but feel you need nicotine replacement.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.