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The Nicotine Patch Doesn’t Really Work… Major Studies Reveal the Truth


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Every major study of the nicotine patch returned low success rates with the average success rate being just 9.3%. That’s even lower than going cold turkey which has a success rate of 11.5%.

A survey of 787 smokers conducted in 2013 confirmed that cold turkey is more effective when quitting smoking.

“We were disappointed. We didn’t get the results we hoped we would get. The findings say that we are pretty good at getting people to quit, but not great at getting people to stay quit,” said Gregory Connolly, director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at Harvard School of Public Health and a co-author of the paper.

Here are the summarized findings of 4 major studies on the effectiveness of the nicotine patch to quit smoking.

1. Tobacco Control Journal, 2012

Conclusion: Nicotine patches aren’t any more effective than quitting cold turkey in helping people quit long-term. The odds of relapse were unaffected by the use of NRT (nicotine replacement therapy such as the patch) or by receiving professional counseling. Relapse rates were highest among prior heavy smokers who used NRT for any length of time without professional counseling.

Study Authors: Hillel R Alpert, Lois Biener, and Gregory Connolly, director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at Harvard School of Public Health

Study Subjects: 787 adult smokers in Massachusetts who had recently quit smoking. They answered questionnaires at three different times between 2001 and 2006 about whether they had started smoking again.

Methodology: Participants were interviewed three different times between 2001 and 2006 about whether they had started smoking again. The response rate was 46% at the first interview, 56% at the second interview and 68% at the third interview. The purpose of the interviews was to determine if there was any relationship between relapses and use of NRT or the nicotine patch.

2. American Journal of Epidemiology, 1997

Conclusion: Only 11% of people on the 21-day patch were still not smoking at six months. The success rate was higher (22.7%) in those on the 14-day patch, but the placebo patch also had an 18.4% success rate.

Study Authors: : Sønderskov J, Olsen J, Sabroe S, Meillier L, Overvad K., Department of Epidemiology and Social Medicine, University of Aarhus, Denmark

Study Subjects: 522 pharmacy customers who smoked 10 or more cigarettes per day were given either nicotine patches or placebos from January to March 1994.

Methodology: The authors examined the effect of 24-hour nicotine patches in smoking cessation among over-the-counter customers in Denmark, based on a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial.

3. Archives of Family Medicine, 1998

Conclusion: Only 8.2% of smokers on the patch and 4% of people in the placebo group were still not smoking after six months. Also, 57% of people who were on the patch reported at least one adverse event.

Study Authors: Davidson M, Epstein M, Burt R, Schaefer C, Whitworth G, McDonald A., Chicago Center for Clinical Research

Study Subjects: 802 adults (mean age of 39 years) who smoked at least 20 cigarettes a day for a year or more. Most (89%) were white and 54% were female.

Methodology: Nicotine patches were given away at the shopping mall along with instructions and a smoking cessation self-help booklet. Study follow-up was conducted with those who had quit smoking after 6 weeks.

4. American Journal of Public Health, 1999

Conclusion: After six months, the smoking cessation rate among the free patches group was 8.7% for the active patch and 4.3% with the placebo group. In the group that paid for patches, the smoking cessation rate was 10.8% at six months.

Study Authors: Hays JT, Croghan IT, Schroeder DR, Offord KP, Hurt RD, Wolter TD, Nides MA, Davidson M., Mayo Clinic

Study Subjects: 958 participants who were 18 years or older and had smoked at least 15 cigarettes a day for at least six months were enrolled at three study sites. Some purchased the patches and others were given 22-mg, 24-hour nicotine patches for free.

Methodology: Six-week trials were conducted and outcomes were measure by self-reported smoking abstinence confirmed by carbon monoxide measurements.

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